This is curious. Following a scathing review of the Metropolitan Opera's Ring cycle and another essay criticizing the New York opera house's direction, Opera News told the New York Times that it "is not reviewing Metropolitan Opera productions" as of the June 2012 issue.
Okay. Let's break it down. Opera News is a publication of the Metropolitan Opera Guild, a not-for-profit that supports the Met: "a Met fund-raising affiliate," per the Times. The Guild also has some educational outreach programs, but the first point of its mission statement is "to broaden the base of support for the Metropolitan Opera." Fine. General manager Peter Gelb is saying that negative criticism from Opera News, the publication of the Met's Guild, is not "in the best interests of the Met." He's right!
Now, Gelb didn't say the magical phrase "conflict of interest," but a magazine reviewing the productions of its parent company is already very much a conflict of interest. That hasn't seemed to be bother anyone — neither Opera News readers nor its editors nor Met administrators — until now. I would have to think that the main reason it has not been an issue in the 40 years that Opera News has been covering Met productions (the magazine is 76 years old) is because there are occasionally bad reviews within the pages of Opera News of Met Opera productions! Shablam. Put another way: independent reviews, which generally yield a mix of good and bad, give all the reviews credibility.
Here's the thing about that credibility: The Met's decision to remove its own productions from review in an effort to shield them from criticism in what originated as the house publication but what is now regarded as THE English-language opera magazine creates a gap in credibility. What Gelb is saying, what Opera News is saying, is that productions by other opera houses — Atlanta, Boston Lyric, Dallas, Chicago, et cetera — are fair game, can be reviewed, can be critiqued, but the Met is above criticism. It's not.
Alex Ross has handily cited negative reviews of Robert Lepage's Ring in his post here; included in the round-up are critics from The New Yorker, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe and, yes, Opera News. The latter publication could count themselves in good company. Can they still?
UPDATE: The Met has "decided to reverse this new editorial policy."
Press release below:
May 22, 2012
Opera News Will Continue to Review Metropolitan Opera Productions
In view of the outpouring of reaction from opera fans about the recent decision to discontinue Met performance reviews in Opera News, the Met has decided to reverse this new editorial policy. From their postings on the internet, it is abundantly clear that opera fans would miss reading reviews about the Met in Opera News. Ultimately, the Met is here to serve the opera-loving public and has changed its decision because of the passionate response of the fans.
The Met and the Met Opera Guild, the publisher of Opera News, have been in discussions about the role of the Guild and how its programs and activities can best fulfill its mission of supporting the Metropolitan Opera. These discussions have included the role of reviews in Opera News, and whether they served that mission. While the Met believed it did not make sense for a house organ that is published by the Guild and financed by the Met to continue to review Met productions, it has become clear that the reviews generate tremendous excitement and interest and will continue to have a place in Opera News.