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Criticising the critic: where Corriere got it wrong

There were two reviews in Corriere della Sera of one of Daniel Harding’s performances at La Scala, suggesting that the paper did not trust its famously grouchy Paolo Isotta to provide an objective account. They were, it turns out, right to distrust him.

When La Scala took the extraordinary measure of withdrawing Isotta’s free tickets, it left the paper no alternative but to stand  by its contentious critic. That said, the newspaper was as much at fault as Isotta. His review should not have been allowed to appear unedited in the paper.

Most media accept that discrimination on grounds of race, sex, sexuality and disability should never appear in print.

Isotta’s slur that Harding presented a ‘homosexualised Wagner’ was an expression of ill-defined prejudice. It was no different from writing that he conducted a Jewified Mahler, or a crippled Milhaud.

‘Homosexualised Wagner’ is an unacceptable expression of class abuse as well as an imprecise and misleading use of language. The term is meaningless and, therefore, a complete failure of criticism. In most civilised media, a critic would be called in for disciplinary action after writing such offensive nonsense.

Corriere, once it has finished standing by its man, needs to review its editorial options.

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Comments

  1. Well, Isotta [redacted] likes to play Alberto Arbasino to other elderly Italian writers (a review of an opera in Naples featured half the piece about the urinals in the new toilets of the theatre). Unfortunately the Corriere paper is printed in Italy, and Italian Prime Ministers (contrary to what happens in UK or US) are proudly anti-gay in their election bid declarations, so a music critic lack of PC would hardly be noticed.
    BUT, there is a reason why the Corriere case is worrying: Mr Lissner is trying to eliminate any kind of criticism from the theatre, helped in this almost totalitarian approach by Mr Barenboim. This is why he has eliminated single curtain calls just for young conductor (especially protegees of the Maestro) who cannot bring an opera performance together but are too sensitive to stand and take well-deserved boos. He is just very happy that the average public of the Scala today is almost entirely made by Russian Noueau riches who have no idea of what opera is, but for whom buying expensive tickets to the opera just ticks the boxes of the ‘to do list’ in Milan.
    Inspiring to be a tourist showcase, and eliminating critics and public opinion is not the way to run a theatre.
    Triste, triste, triste!

  2. Maria Sanchez says:

    Well, if I’ve read correctly the critic in the original Italian – I always avoid translations if it’s possible for me to read in the original language – Isotta didn’t write exactly that Harding’s Wagner “sounded homosexual”. The reference is gratuite and extremely vulgar anyway. Apparently Lissner’s – see his reply to the editorial on yesterday’s edition of Il Corriere – decission has been taken “after a series of articles” not only the one about Harding which he doesn’t mention. Lissner also wrote that Isotta’s articles seemed to be used “as a weapon against someone or something”. According to DeBorsi, Lissner asked “arrogantly” for Isotta to be fired long time before – more than two years ago – that infamous review was written. And it seem had asked for Isotta’s head again after it. DeBorsi seems clearly offended by this pretension.

    I myself stopped reading Isotta long time ago, even before the distateful article he wrote about Pavarotti the day just after the tenor’s death. However I do believe a GM of an opera house should never ask for a critic to be fired. It should be exclusively a matter between the newspaper and the critic. La Scala gains nothing with all this.

  3. As one who struggles in his own line of work with what constitutes unacceptable abuse, I’m interested to hear how a “meaningless term” can be so classified

  4. I think there are four very different issues here :

    1° Has Mr Lissner a right (legal or moral) to demand that Mr Isotta be fired from Il Corriere. The answer is (obviously) no;

    2° Has Mr Lissner a right (legal or moral) to stop giving free tickets to a critic : the answer is yes. It is by no means an infringement to the freedom of the press that a critic has to pay for his tickets.

    3° Would Mr Lissner (or his carbinieri, as Norman would say) have a right to expell Mr Isotta from La Scala though he may have valid tickets ? Of course not, unless he has a good reason (like Mr Isotta’s disrupting a performance, or standing naked in the middle of the lobby with a sign “Lissner è cattivo”).

    4° Is Mr Isotta a good critic? Well, maybe yes, maybe no. But his being a bad critic (assuming he is one) could not be a proper reason to fire him, unless on wants almost every newspaper in Europe to get rid of ther music critics.

  5. itrinkkeinwein says:

    Isotta equated “gay” with “soft (morbido),” and his editor, Ferruccio de Borsoli, backed him up.

    This is homophobia. Apparently it’s OK in Italy, even at a newspaper.

    • If Isotta thinks that “gay” = “soft”, there are a few gyms in Manhattan I could take him to.

      Or nightclubs. You should see the pecs and biceps on display when a dance floor full of New York or L.A. gay men take their shirts off.

  6. itrinkkeinwein says:

    … it’s de Bortoli.

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