Critically Thinking- Is All Publicity Good Publicity? (A Nat’l Opera Week Essay)

The world of opera (and music in general…) seems to be bizarrely polarized when it comes to certain performers and productions; on one side of the coin there are those who will swear loyalty to a fault. On the other, there are people who absolutely despise whatever’s in question and will mock you if you disagree. And somewhere in the middle are those who at least try to be objective when analyzing the performing arts discipline. Ultimately, as with any business, all three of these groups are reactors to however the art decides to present itself. Backlash will be inevitable, but can that actually help the cause of the creators?

Take, for example, a controversial star of modern opera: Anna Netrebko. As a new dabbler in the art form I heard Netrebko and was blown away by her voice and beauty. At the time, it was clear to me why this Russian soprano has enjoyed so much success. Fast forward a few years, and I’ve realized that she is far from everyone’s favorite modern diva. People with much more knowledge than I scrutinize technical aspects of her voice, particularly when she sings bel canto, and there are even some who call her personal reputation into question. I recall a particularly biting YouTube comment in which the writer implied that Netrebko essentially slept her way to the top. But ultimately, does it really matter? In fact, have the opera community’s split views actually generated more interest in Anna?

Take, for example, the infamous Metropolitan Opera minimalist production of Verdi’s La traviata in which there was no set, Violetta wore a lone red mini dress, and the rest of the company was dressed like waiters. Netrebko was one of the sopranos to fill Violetta’s shoes, and while a handful of people think positively about this production, others feel it was a colossal failure. Whether or not it did fail is immaterial. After all, are we not still talking about it years after the fact? Is it not still remembered because of the stir it caused?

Also, I believe quite a bit of it has to do with how Anna carries herself in public appearances. Just Google some pictures; she’s always beautifully dressed, her hair and makeup always done. I have yet to find one of those beloved tabloid “celebrities without makeup!!!” shots. They say beauty is only skin deep, but in a profession where your look is just as important as your talent, Netrebko markets herself very well.

That is the great mystery of public relations in the entertainment industry, I suppose. Even if you can’t walk the walk, you can find success if you make enough people think you talk the talk. Personally, despite everything I’ve read, I still enjoy Anna Netrebko’s work. I can’t speak for everybody else, but I will say this much- they can turn on you in a dime. One slip (be it artistic or political) may cause years of branding work to go down the drain. Netrebko, I believe, navigates these turbulent waters successfully enough for her to continue getting high-profile work and maintaining over 200,000 Facebook Likes. No small feat, since (as Verdi’s Duke of Mantua might say) “Le persone sono mobile.”

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