Opera Company spokesperson says they only corresponded with National Post editor once over two mistakes in a review.

By H.G. Watson, Associate Editor

A funny thing happened to an opera review in the National Post.

In early May, Arthur Kaptainis, a freelance music critic, reviewed Maometto II for the Post.

The review, which had mixed things to say about the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s 19th century opera, was published on May 3. The next day, it was removed from the National Post’s website.

The review was published in its original form on Musical Toronto on May 17, with this note:

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And as of May 17, an edited version of the review is now back on the Post’s website.

Kaptainis declined a phone interview but told J-Source in an email that he would use Musical Toronto as his preferred outlet. He said that on May 5—two days after the story was originally published online—he first noticed the link to his story was dead. On May 9, he said the editor’s response was that the COC had concerns and the review would be edited.

After “a day of reflection” Kaptainis said he asked the National Post editor not to republish the review. “I asked for the story to be spiked because of the obvious impropriety of pulling down a review in response to the trivial complaints of an arts organization.”

Jennifer Pugsley, the media relations manager for the COC, says she and Dustin Parkes, the executive producer of arts and culture at the National Post, corresponded by email only once about the story, after Pugsley contacted him about two errors in the review.

Pugsley posted that email correspondence in the comments section of music blog Slipped Disc on May 17—J-Source confirmed that she did indeed post them. The Canadian Opera Company also sent out two tweets addressing the allegations.

 

The email from Pugsley details two errors—one in Kaptainis’s perception of one scene in the opera, where he described a belly dancer as a ballerina and a misattributed photo credit. In response, Parkes replies that he will, “take it down immediately, and wait until we have the time to adjust it to put it back up again.”

“In my judgment, it was an error that needed to be addressed,” Parkes told J-Source in an email. The review was, he said, spiked at Kaptainis’s request.

In her email Pugsley also expresses her and the COC’s concerns with Kaptainis’s reviews. Kaptainis’s has written frequently for the National Post, and prior to that was the Montreal Gazette’s music critic, according to his biography.

“His opinion is his opinion, and he’s entitled to it, all we ask for from our critics is a fair and open-minded consideration of what we present on our stage. It’s becoming more and more challenging to see that kind of thoughtfulness in his reviews,” she wrote, adding that she wanted to flag the matter with Parkes “sooner rather than later,” and that if there is an opportunity to discuss the matter, they would welcome it.

“I’m very clear that Arthur is entitled to his opinion,” Pugsley told J-Source. “If people want to read Arthur’s reviews I would encourage them to go back and read Arthur’s reviews.”

She said that aside from those emails, she had only met Parkes once before, briefly at a showing of Carmen earlier in the year. She had requested to meet later in the spring to discuss story ideas. “There’s nothing more there than the normal interaction between a publicist and the editor of a paper.”

In his follow up email to Pugsley, Parkes noted that he hates running reviews for performing arts because they don’t do well online. “On the other hand, I really want to give attention to performing arts, especially for the best stuff this country is producing. I think the way to best do this, and get eyeballs on the content as well, is to emphasize the visuals being created, either through photography or video.”

The removal and subsequent republishing of the review has drawn attention from the international classical music community. Washington Post classical music critic Anne Midgette noted in her story on Kaptainiss piece that lacking reviews, images of performing arts are just public relations. “Creating PR for arts institutions isn’t a newspaper’s, or a reviewer’s, job. Informed coverage is: which means reporting on what happened, and placing it in a larger context for readers — with the understanding that, whether you’re writing about David Alden’s “Maometto II” or Bernie Sanders, your coverage is likely to provoke a range of reactions and stimulate debate, and the person you’re writing about isn’t always going to like it,” she added in response to Parkes comments in his email to Pugsley.

The version of the review currently on the National Post website omits the line about the ballerina that Pugsley objected to in her email. It remains in full on the Musical Toronto website:

“When she removes this encumbrance she is treated to a striptease by a nearby ballerina. I wish I could tell you why. Obviously an attack by Muslims on a Christian stronghold creates an opportunity for point-making that few contemporary directors would be inclined to forgo. But those points must be coherently made,” Kaptainis wrote.

“I was not made aware of any of the “corrections” requested apart from my use of the word “striptease”—which strikes me as a perfectly suitable word to describe a provocative dance in which the dancer disrobes,” Kaptainis said. After he requested the Post spike the review, Kaptainis discussed posting it with three different outlets, eventually settling with Musical Toronto.

When J-Source asked why the revisions took two weeks to appear, Parkes wrote, “The review was pulled down in order to fix [it]. When Arthur was informed, he asked that the review be spiked.” He did not provide any further information about the two-week delay.

H.G. Watson can be reached at hgwatson@j-source.ca or on Twitter.

H.G. Watson was J-Source's managing editor from 2015 to 2018. She is a journalist based in Toronto. You can learn more about her at hgwatson.com.