Saturday, February 19, 2005

The blog thing

Music blogs haven't been exempt from the tech-awareness fad hitting certain parts of legacy media. Which is, maybe, odd.

In New York, at least, opera coverage in the regular press may be better than it's been in decades. The Gray Lady has reviewers who may actually like opera (previous chief critics seem to have been shocked at how much disreputable singing their worthy job required them to hear); the upstart Sun covers most everything, often featuring the new (to me) and excellent Fred Kirshnit; meanwhile Peter Davis and others are happily still active. So why blogs, now?

This article set me to thinking about what, ultimately, this enterprise is getting at. It rambles a bit and is too long to excerpt, but is certainly interesting in this context. The author contrasts the journalistic mindset -- which is, of course, his own -- with that appropriate for scholarship or religious faith. Blogs, in this split between engaging what is now and unearthing slower, more lasting truths, are by format pretty much with the former. What's made their name on the wider stage is just that: blogging as a jumped-up, perhaps even ideal form of journalism -- an instrument of unlimited responsiveness and minimally encrusted convention.

In the wider world, part of the recent blog explosion was surely people's sense that eternal truths are now turning on their heads -- or indeed are dead, while others are being born from the previously-humdrum patter of daily news. Did that day change everything? I'm sure of it; but the question here is -- did it change opera? Not visibly, not yet.

Still other currents are afoot. That Atlanta Journal-Constitution article on operablogging suggests one:
The second factor here is the perception that monolithic American commercial culture is breaking apart.

"For the past 50 years, mass culture" -- as consolidated by network TV, Top 40 radio, Hollywood, major trade publishing and the like -- "has permeated everything else," says McLennon. "But those rules don't apply anymore. Niches are much smaller for everything. Even the top-rated TV show will only be 20 percent of the total population, and the best-selling song in a given week might be Christian rock. Everything's become a niche."
I think this is on the right track. The transition of our classical music/opera infrastructure* -- with pretty much every other cultural business -- from a broadcasting to a narrowcasting model seems to me the background story of the age, with eventual repercussions far beyond how we do or don't listen to remote (in time or place) performances. Will it drive arts blogging? Could be.

[* Made more difficult, of course, by its attachment to what was just before "the past 50 years [of] mass culture": that myth-laden age of art's broadcast eminence.]

But I've little more to say about this, really. My main experience is different: while there may (soon) be no scarcity of bandwidth, live performance -- unlike an audio/video stream thereof -- isn't infinitely reproducible. That raw thrill of the unamplified human voice, the dramatic charge of simple presence onstage -- that these may survive or thrive as authenticity-bearing luxuries in complement to a generally more-diffused culture (as, e.g., this sort of marvel now) isn't interesting to me except that they do survive. Then, as now, the elements of opera will carry their own truths, which if eternal are nonetheless most strongly bound up by the irreplacable "is now" of present human performance.

I'd like to blog that -- with a dash of everything else.

UPDATE (2/22/05): More paper media scrutiny.


  1. Although my recent piece on the rise of blogging dealt with Mainstream Media, perhaps it's not that atopical to your query of: why now, why opera blogging?

    Perhaps the answer lies somewhere because the one thing that blogs have which critics in print-media will never have is authenticity. The authentic voice of a non-paid reviewer.

    In blogging, as in anythig on the internet, you cannot truly know who is behind the terminal. That said, most bloggers have no vested connexions to the topics which they speak of, an in this they have all the zeal and honesty of the amateur.

    Amateurs, after all, derive their prefixed soubriquet from the Latin word "to love".

    We blog because we love, not because we're paid to.


  2. Many of the more prominent bloggers are professionals, though.

    Do they too seek authenticity in their downtime?

  3. Yes, this is true*. But it didn't START OUT that way, did it?

    It started out as most bloggers do, to share, to startle, to inspire and to give unfrugally of our time.

    Bloggers are the new Pepys'. He too eventually got paid for his scribblings, but when first he set quill to parchment, he didn't start out knowing that.

    *When I was composing the reply, I had to stay my fingers to prevent myself writing the dread -ette name.


  4. I meant Terry Teachout, Alex Ross, et al., who were all established critics before they began blogging.

    Or, on the political side: Lileks, Hugh Hewitt, Michelle Malkin, usw. -- they already had paid media outlets.

  5. Just stumbled upon your blog. I like eet. Thought-provoking discussion about something that has provoked my thoughts often b4 I read this thread. I wish someone WOULD do an opera blog and stay honest... I mean unemployed by a journalistic publication. The pro opera journalism would is so small and inbred nowadays that one cannot be "in" it and be "out" of it at the same time, most especially if one is paid to write for a 3rd party. Most pro opera criticism in the US is merely a masquerade for (a) spoon-fed hype by the arts organization or (b) brown-nosing by a critic wanting to review his way to the top. Me, I'm happy if I can get a free ticket or two out of the whole blog-thing, and even then I feel guilty that I comprimising the integrity of my reviews. I'm sorry but if u pay your way, u can bitch your way. Once someone begins paying my way, I begin to be constrained by good manners, if nothing else.

  6. I sometimes wonder whether it isn't worth revisiting this in light of the passage of time. I don't know whether blogging could be considered an "ideal" form of journalism, scholarship, or anything else for that matter. Much can happen in the course of a year, and usually does; those more lasting truths are never so eternal after all?by the time they emerge, they're gone. We get involved in the here-and-now, and then wonder how we got to where we are.

    Perhaps too much focus on the medium, rather than the message. Instead of the web, the log of what is or what we perceive to be. Instead of journalism or scholarship, an old-fashioned diary (preferably "unrevised" but highly unlikely)?the source material from which both emerge; a reflection to be evaluated later. Imperative when not only the "common commercial culture" is breaking apart, but also the common memory. Did X really happen that way? Was performer Y really that good? Or, even better, was Z really THAT bad??? Who really knows anymore? And will anyone even care in 20 years? 50 years?

    Did that day change opera? Most likely. And perhaps in ways we'd not expect. Attendance is hasn't really recovered, but who'd have thought that a Eurotrash production would make its own appearance in the culture war, perhaps becoming its own line in the sand. The jury is still out on that and probably will be for a while. Apparently the show will go on. I'm not sure offhand whether they added "extra security", but "extra security" only goes so far, ask...well never mind, I don't want to dwell on that, or I won't sleep tonight.

    On a slightly different tack, monolithic American commercial culture has been breaking apart ever since the introduction of cable television in the early 80s (late 70s?). It's only really now that the technology has caught up to the point where we'll see whether this particular niche has critical mass to be served. And whether the new changes improve what we've had, or will make up for what we may lose.

  7. Just stumbled upon this myself. A very interesting take on opera blogging, but I can't help but wonder: if one's opinion of what they find good or bad is truly personal and devoid of needing the kind of supervision or attention that professional journalism demands, why even blog, and make his or her opinion public? I can only imagine it's for the satisfaction of feeling like their opinion is important and acknowledged by the general public, made all the more special when they receive comments agreeing with them. Is it frustration that when they see a particularly awful production, the critic in the press does not agree with them, and there wasn't a voice or platform for them to disagree before blogging came along? I admire any blogger for devoting their time to reporting their opinion to the masses, but it's a frightful thing for performers to know that these uncredited critics (most of whom are simply music lovers, but often disgruntled has-beens, or never-beens) are taken seriously by anybody. I suppose most performers do not acknowledge these blogs, as the "reporter" is anonymous most of the time and can be anybody (including those who might hold grudges against them, in the worst case scenario), but those who may want to read a review on the internet can't help coming across these blogs that many times masquerade as real music journalism. That is dangerous. Blogs like ionarts pretend to be serious journalism, whereas operachic does no such thing-both are read by people who may not know the difference, or may not even know the difference between these diaries and the "real thing". Perhaps I'm underestimating the general operagoing audience. I hope I am.

  8. Dear "Anonymous",

    Any reader is free to give my opinions whatever weight he wishes. All my operatic likes and dislikes are here freely expressed under one name, leaving plenty on which to judge reliability. You, on the other hand, have tried to obscure that you're the angry Nicole Cabell fan who's pestered me on a recent review post. Given that both namelessness and grudge-holding are against the very simple comment rules here, I suggest that you go grind your axe elsewhere.

    Welcome to internet world. I'm afraid there's no going back -- for anyone.

  9. Does it all matter in the long run ? So called critics can be as stupid as any blogger. There are people who thought Callas was a great "singer " It is all a matter
    of personal taste,and the implied how dare
    you differ from my informed opinion . It really is
    a desire to be noted on any level before
    we are all made equal by the grim one .


Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.