Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Reputational lag

One recent article in the local press is a brilliant example of missing the point entirely. It does, however, inadvertently highlight an interesting aspect of audience behavior: the lag in time between a singer's demonstrated and perceived greatness onstage. It's usually several seasons. The 2000-01 Fidelios, for example, showed Karita Mattila to be the Met's greatest soprano, but it took until last season's run of Salome for this to surface in the public consciousness (and, finally, at the box office).

Part of this is just the way audiences function. Not everyone hears everything, many have previous loyalties, and not everyone enjoys a particular singer or conductor's work. And of course each season's successes confirm that the previous weren't some flash in the pan. (The vagaries of advance engagements, cancellations, and the like can of course derail the process.)

Critics, too, suffer from the same lag. But presumably they hear more and hear better, and shouldn't be relying on other people to tell them what to think -- and therefore should be ahead of the curve on these matters, spreading rather than impeding the news.

But perhaps it's the old broadcasting model of big, obvious singer "brands" that gets in their way. Whatever the reason, papers today are comically slow, and I won't be surprised if decades from now, when the next great Verdi soprano is featured in a Vespri, the New York Times (if it indeed continues to exist as such) laments the past where it was the vehicle for the great, now-unmatched stars-we-had-in-those-days -- stars like, you know, Sondra Radvanovsky.

(Meanwhile, a rather better explanation at the bottom of here.)

UPDATE (4/25): Would the starstruck prefer this or this?

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.