The Canadian Opera Company has responded to accusations that they sought to silence longtime classical music critic Arthur Kaptainis from the National Post, by releasing email correspondence between COC Media Relations Manager Jennifer Pugsley, and National Post’s new arts editor, Dustin Parkes.
The emails show a friendly relationship between Parkes and the COC, with Pugsly offering him free tickets to shows, and requests for meetings to discuss story opportunities.
“We make it a point to have meetings with editors to talk about what’s happening at the company, The COC’s Jennifer Pugsley stated. “Dustin Parkes is new and we haven’t met him before. Part of that conversation is to talk about our relationship with the various journalists involved. And that conversation is between us and the editor.”
What Pugsley doesn’t mention is that she also expressed the COC’s ongoing dismay over reviews by Kaptainis, and requests a meeting with the editor to discuss it, as well as other things, in early June.
“I have to confess that Arthur’s reviews continue to baffle many of us at the COC. 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. This is a sentiment that we’ve pointed out to your predecessors. While we are coming to the end of the COC’s 15/16 season, the way opinions are expressed in this latest review make me want to flag the matter with you sooner rather than later.”
“If there’s an opportunity to discuss the matter more thoroughly with you, we would welcome it.”
The email correspondence also includes Pugsley pointing out two minor inaccuracies in Arthur’s review of Maometto II, which closed this past weekend.
She stated the first was a “misrepresentation of a scene” in the opera involving Anna in Act II. Arthur’s review describes the moment as ‘When she removes this encumbrance she is treated to a striptease by a nearby ballerina. I wish I could tell you why.’
“There is no way that the dancer could be considered a ballerina. She’s clearly a belly dancer. As to Arthur’s point of not understanding the moment, that’s his opinion. The music at that point of the opera is clearly meant to invite dancing and reference materials, specifically the notable Kobbé’s Complete Opera Book (best encyclopedic account of operas), describe this scene as “In Maometto’s tent, Muslim girls try to get Anna to enjoy her youth.”
The second error has to do with a photo attributed to the wrong photographer (which is not the responsibility of the critic, but the editor.)
“I hope these mistakes can be corrected as soon as possible,” Pugsley says.
Parkes responds by email stating, “Oh, wow. I will take it down immediately, and wait until we have the time to adjust it to put it back up again.”
Parkes then goes on to say “I really hate running reviews for performing arts. They simply get no attention online, and almost always end up as our poorest performing pieces of digital content.”
“The National Post has never been much interested in classical copy and now runs my reviews online only,” Kaptainis explained. “My review of Rossini’s Maometto II as presented by the Canadian Opera Company (in the Santa Fe production) took several days to appear. I believe it materialised on May 4. Then it suddenly became a ‘404’ dead link.”
Kaptainis said he first thought the unpublished review was an internal “National Post screw up”, but spoke with Parkes, who told him the paper pulled down the review (which was positive about the cast, but somewhat skeptical about the direction) at the request of the COC.
He also said the review would be “edited” in response to the COC complaints.
“I slept on it and told the editor yesterday to spike the review. He did not respond but presumably, will comply,” Kaptainis said.
Kaptainis contacted Ludwig Van (then Musical Toronto) as an alternative source to publish the original uncensored review, which was published on Monday morning with an editor’s note: “This review of Maometto II appeared in the National Post but was removed after complaints by the Canadian Opera Company. While we are sensitive to concerns over unwarranted prejudice, we feel this review is balanced and have published it the spirit of open and fair criticism.”
In response to the story becoming public, The National Post has since posted the review back online, mid-afternoon.
The COC have declined comment further, other than to post on Twitter, ” COC emailed Post to correct 2 errors in review & ask for future meeting. Received apology & accepted meet idea. Sum total of interaction”.
This statement fails to make mention of the two paragraphs in the email showing COC’s request for a meeting to discuss their concerns over Kaptainis’ suitability as a critic.
Kaptainis has now left his potion at the National Post.
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