by John Stoehr
Criticism has value in the marketplace of ideas, but the whole enterprise is undermined a little bit more each time a review gets into print like this morning's P&C review on Amistad. The reviewer, Jeff Johnson, evidently felt uninspired by Spoleto's restaging of Anthony Davis 1997 opera about the legal battle facing illegally imported Africans who staged a mutiny aboard the slave schooner.
In spite of praise for the renovated Memminger in which the "audience encircled the main performers, and thus were emotionally drawn into the dilemma of the African prisoners," Johnson gets hung up on performers' fashion choices. Johnson notes that Michael Forest (not pictured, sorry), who plays the Trickster God (a hugely complicated character; more on him later), is wearing a "Cuban wedding shirt" while he conducts the fated action of the opera.
Our critic sums up the value of Forest's endeavors like this:
Forest manages the hectoring declamation that Anthony Davis has provided for him, but he really needs to get rid of that shirt.
Jeff, dude: There's nothing wrong with his shirt. His shirt was hardly even worth mentioning in a review, especially one that's as small as yours (and by the way I'd link to the review if I could find it on the P&C's website). And if this line was the result of bad editing, I'm sorry, Jeff. For your sake. And for the sake of criticism in general.
Critics are already getting fired left and right (for more on the recent trend of newspapers' offloading their critics, even their movie critics, click here, here, here, here, and here). There's no need to give the newspaper industry more reason to get rid of their critics. And, yes, the P&C is unique in that it's still a family newspaper. But that only means a critic has certain advantages not to be taken for granted.
There's so much to talk about in this challenging, poetic, and highly cerebral opera. So much more than the fashion choices of the guy who, by the way, is playing a Trickster God. A Trickster God can wear a tutu and combat boots. He's a Trickster God, you know? He is not what he seems to be.