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NY Times bangs in a new critic with champagne and howlers

A new freelance critic attended last week’s staff meeting of the classical department of the New York Times. Her name is Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim and her task is to cover some of the concerts that Allan Kozinn used to review before he was hustled off to inferior tasks. Nothing extraordinary about that. Happens all the time at newspapers.

However, to welcome her, the head of the classical section, James Oestreich brought in and broke open a bottle of champagne (disclaimer: it may not have been champagne, some suspect it was cheap méthode champenoise). This went down very badly with several Times hand who are unhappy at the manner of Kozinn’s demotion and unhappier still to see it celebrated in this way. The gesture, like the bubbles, fell flat.

Others detected a whiff of sexism in the ceremony: why weren’t male critics greeted with bubbly at their first meeting?

No matter. There was another reason for red faces, and red noses, at the meeting.

A few days earlier, Oestreich reviewed Carmen at the Met. His review was later adjusted on the paper’s website with the following, embarrassing correction: A music review on Monday about “Carmen,” at the Metropolitan Opera, misidentified the song in which Anita Rachvelishvili, who performed the title role, shaded flat a couple of times. It was the Habanera — not the Flower Song, which is sung by Don José.

It appeared that the head of the classical music department at the New York Times could not tell who was meant to be singing one of the most famous moments in the opera – the mezzo-soprano or the tenor. These are sad times indeed at the New York Times.


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  1. Richard Barker says:

    Strangely enough, I don’t recall ever asking a little kid what he or she wanted to be when grown up and receiving the rely “a Critic.”

  2. With a name like that, the mindless American Europhiles will swallow any bull crap she dishes up wholesale. The NYT is just too cynical to be believed any more.

    • Doug, what about Corinna’s previous work makes you think she’ll dish up “bull crap”?

      • Have you read the NYT lately? One doesn’t read’ it anymore, unless you down it, like Kool-Aid.

        • Oh. I see.

          So you haven’t read any of her work (which didn’t appear in the NYT until yesterday – though it has appeared in The Wall Street Journal).

          “Have you read the NYT lately? One doesn’t read it anymore, unless you down it, like Kool-Aid.”

          Do I take it you’re a conservative?

  3. Maestro Flash Montoya says:

    Dear Norman,
    I certainly hope the staff didn’t bang her. Might we try to be a bit more careful with our metaphors?
    Let’s wish Ms. Fonseca-Wollheim all the best none the less.

  4. Kenneth Jones says:

    At least the New York Times publishes corrections.

    • paula brochu says:

      Sometimes, Kenneth. Plenty go away quietly. It can come down to who’s writing in and pointing it out. Sometimes the errors are too glaring to ignore and then expect to maintain any level of credibility.

      To err is human; to get away with it (without a correction), divine.

  5. We keep hearing things like this, Norman. I don’t know how Mr. Kozinn resists shouting the injustices from the mountaintops. It’s got to be killing him. But despite the rumors that he was moved in the hope that he would fail, he is putting out great pieces, even in a place he feels is not his area of expertise. Boo New York Times! Hooray Mr. Kozinn! You’re a class act!

    • Indeed, Allan had a fine piece in yesterday’s paper about a university that’s using Mamet’s play Glengarry Glen Ross as a text (including a production with several professors in the cast) in courses in business ethics, communications, political science, and philosophy.

  6. What’s “print-era?”

  7. paula brochu says:

    Nothing against the newbie, but it did add insult to injury.

    • Are we really sure that Jim Oestreich meant this as an insult or slight to Allan? I’ll grant that, in these particular circumstances, the gesture is at best a bit tone-deaf. But there could be a number of different reasons that Jim might see Corinna’s arrival as an occasion to celebrate.

      And by the way, of course Jim knows the difference between the Habañera and the Flower Song. It was a simple brain freeze, the equivalent of a slip of the tongue, and all of us have had them. (God knows I have.) What’s more worrying is that no copy editor caught it before it got into print.

  8. I wanted to be a critic from when I was about 12 or so. It wasn’t the only thing I wanted to be, but it was well above fireman or president on my list.

  9. Katharine says:

    “Boo New York Times! Hooray Mr. Kozinn! You’re a class act!”

    I have one major reservation about Kozinn — he doesn’t seem to care very much about opera.

    Opera is Zachary Woolfe’s main passion. This is what matters in my book.

  10. Francis Schwartz says:

    Good afternoon, Norman.
    In reference to the “cheap méthode champenoise” , I must defend the honor of such extraordinary Cavas from northern Spain ,e.g. Segura Viudas Heredad. and some very good California bottles, too.

    As for the curious misidentification, I suppose that in this era of gender fluidity it becomes more difficult for a Times critic to remember: who has what, where. We all wish the new critic success in her endeavor. It is unfortunate that she enters the scene after the indecorous demotion of Allan Kozinn.. Another Times blunder.

  11. Iain Scott says:

    Well it’s small beer compared to the furore raised by roving “critic” Kate Molleson who has been contributing some very nasty reviews about the RSNO and SCO for The Herald and The Guardian.
    A wave of complaints about her “poisonous” writing has ensued

  12. John Parfrey says:

    I just googled her and it looks like she’s a freelancer who writes for everything from the WSJ to The Times of Israel and some other online publications. She describes herself as a “self-employed music journalist”. Guess the NYT is going to stringers now. This bears watching.

    • The New York Times has been “going to stringers” – which really just means using freelancers – for many years, and so have many other major newspapers. Steve Smith, Zachary Woolfe, and Vivien Schweitzer are all “stringers”, as were Anne Midgette and Jeremy Eichler while they were writing for the NYT. (Tim Page, weren’t you and Alex Ross also stringers/freelancers while you were there, or were you salaried employees?)

      With Allan Kozinn having changed jobs, Tony Tommasini is the only staff classical music critic at the NYT. (Dan Wakin is a reporter and not a critic; Jim Oestreich is an editor who occasionally writes reviews.)

      The situation is the same with other disciplines in the NYT culture department: for instance, any dance review not written by Alastair Macaulay is by a “stringer”; similar situations hold for thater, film and art. Anne Midgette is the only staff classical critic at The Washington Post and all the other reviews there are by freelancers (the Post has a large roster); same with Mark Swed at the Los Angeles Times.

      So there’s no shame in “going to stringers”, especially in this economic climate for newspapers. It’s a longstanding practice.

      • John Parfrey says:

        Thanks for pointing that out, MWnyc. I kind of wondered if that wasn’t the case. So with Kozinn off the regular beat, the Times has further reduced its in-house presence. I suppose freelancers are OK if they’re good, and the NYT seems to get people who are head and shoulders over what one finds in much of the rest of the country. And it’s probably all somehow related to the evolution of newspapers into something else, not to mention the evolution of the whole arts scene.

  13. Laurence Glavin says:

    In the United States, if there’s a tragedy like a multiple-shooting in a school, very often a “grief counselor” will be drafted to help people, especially young people, to cope with it. When I first encountered this term years ago, my first thought was: who aspires to be a “grief counselor” while growing up?

  14. Yes, the howler was beyond the call of duty. I’m embarrassed just to read about it.

  15. Hey, I never got no champagne. And I was the FIRST woman to attend that meeting.
    I think Vivien Schweitzer and I should lodge a protest.

    (OK, Jeremy Eichler and Steve Smith didn’t get champagne at their first meetings either, but I’m pretending it’s a woman thing. Though perhaps the tradition came in with Zachary Woolfe?)

    In Jim Oestreich’s defense on the “Carmen” issue, I still squirm at having once typed, on deadline, “God Bless America” when I meant “America the Beautiful” — which of course people took as proof that I hadn’t actually attended the event in question. And yes, I know the difference.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      Dearest Anne, Your use of a double negative indicates that you indeed had some bubbly. May I suggest “I ain’t never got no champagne?” The triple negative indicates that you were indeed deprived. I often mistake the patriotic hymn “America” (my country tis of thee) for “God Save the Queen.” Best regards from a member of the Christoph Eschenbach fan club.

      • “I never got no champagne” is no more or less grammatically incorrect than “I ain’t never got no champagne,” and far more common in colloquial use.

        I would say that mistaking “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” for “God Save the Queen” is on a par with confusing “Danny Boy” and “My Gentle Harp,” or “Cessa di piu resistere” with “Non piu mesta” — that is to say, excusable, even permissible. Call them musical homonyms. But “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful” are pretty darn easy to tell apart, alas.

        • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

          OMG, get over it, even Kate Smith used to get mixed up. At least you didn’t confuse Semper Fidelis with the Washington Post March! Try Iron Horse sparkling wine from CA. Even Norman would forgive that because it’s served at Bernardin in NYC.

  16. It’s curious that they’re bringing in a new classical critic at a time when coverage has been declining industry-wide. It’s not as if the current 5 critics appear overstretched. (By the way, is Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim a stage name? Nothing against her or her writing but that is some byline.)

  17. Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim is not a stage name. And she won’t be writing any “bull crap.” She’s one of the loveliest, smartest, and most sophisticated people in Manhattan. She speaks at least six languages at MOTHER TONGUE level and holds a Phd from one of the world’s most prestigious schools. Yet, she’s not pretentious or elitist. We’re damn lucky to have her and just wait till you read her stuff!
    -Not her PR agent, husband, or mother. Just an old friend :)

    • Ari, is Wollheim by chance her married name? I ask because it strikes me that if her byline were Corinna da Fonseca, people would simply presume that she was of Portuguese or Brazilian origin and think no more about it.

      (Not that she shouldn’t call herself anything she wants, of course, and not that leaping to conclusions based on her name is a good idea.)

      • M. Golubinsky-Mishkov says:

        What are you insinuating by “people would simply presume that she was of Portuguese or Brazilian origin and think no more about it”? Why should they “think more about it” because of the “Wollheim”?

        First, there are Brazilians (and some Portuguese) with German last names like Wollheim. Second, who cares what her last name is? Third, who cares whether “Wollheim” is her married name or her hyphenated family name?

        Again, what are you insinuating by pressing the issue of her last name?

        • Not to worry – I’m insinuating nothing about Corinna or about the good people of Portugal and the Portuguese-speaking lands..

          I think that many Americans, when they encounter a multi-syllable hyphenated surname that combines different European nationalities, subconsciously think of pretentious European ex-aristocrats who make a point of using every noble surname they can.

          It’s a silly stereotype, but many Americans have it – and when a highfalutin’ field like classical music is involved, the stereotype will kick in all the more forcefully.

          I think that’s why, unfortunately, news of Corinna’s arrival at the Times was met in this comment thread with remarks like “With a name like that, the mindless American Europhiles will swallow any bull crap she dishes up wholesale,” and (less malevolently) “By the way, is Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim a stage name? Nothing against her or her writing but that is some byline” – and why Ari felt moved to assure us that Corinna isn’t “pretentious or elitist.”

  18. Katharine says:


    “She speaks at least six languages at MOTHER TONGUE level”

    Whether or not a classical music critic happens to be a polyglot is of zero interest to me.

    “Yet, she’s not pretentious or elitist”

    Well I prefer that an opera or classical critic be ‘pretentious or elitist’. It certainly makes for more interesting reading.

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