A Tale of Two Mezzos
There was a time when a New York debut could be the most important moment in a musician’s life. Leonard Bernstein, Jascha Heifetz, Kirsten Flagstad, Yehudi Menuhin, and any number of other artists whose names are now bywords became famous overnight thanks to this one event. Today, however, many careers are shaped less by noteworthy public appearances, in New York or elsewhere, than by the marketing strategies of record companies, working in tandem with public-relations firms.
To be sure, no record company has yet succeeded in using promotional techniques to turn a nonentity into a star, and even an up-and-coming musician can definitely be hurt by a bad public performance. The reputation of Roberto Alagna, aggressively touted by EMI as “the tenor of our generation,” will not soon recover from his disastrous Metropolitan Opera debut this past season. Moreover, even if there are far fewer bona-fide stars today than in the 1960′s, there is still no shortage of classical artists whom music-lovers will pay to hear. But there is also no getting around the fact that the culture of classical music has been altered by postmodern methods of marketing, and that some of the changes are clearly for the worse.
About the Author
Terry Teachout is COMMENTARY’s critic-at-large and the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal. Satchmo at the Waldorf, his first play, runs through November 4 at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.