Sunday, 19 February 2012

Newspapers Inciting Performance Disruptions

The Death of Klinghoffer is a controversial opera. Protests of one sort or another accompany every production. But just to make sure that any potential protesters are aware of the upcoming staging at English National Opera, the Telegraph's Roya Nikkhah has contacted a range of interested parties to let them know.
The resulting article opens with the line 'the English National Opera (ENO) is to risk public protests with a new production of The Death of Klinghoffer.' Such protests are all the more likely as a result of the article that follows. It's not inflammatory as such, but it does detail all the reasons why anybody who did want to protest at the Coliseum might do so.
The Telegraph clearly isn't going to be too distressed if, or rather when, such protests do happen. However, if the protests go as far as disrupting the performances, then audience members, whatever their personal politics, are unlikely to be so impressed. The classical music community tends towards the view that protests outside or inside a venue are acceptable, so long as the performance itself is not disrupted. And while this could be read as a narrow-minded defence of their cherished medium, a more important issue is the fact that if audiences are denied the chance of hearing the music in question, the debate surrounding it becomes limited to the competing ideologies, and the music itself is denied its voice in the debate.
None of which is apparently of any concern to the Telegraph, for whom protests and disruptions will always make for news stories (at least while they are still rare enough to be news). But it's not just the Telegraph, the Guardian attempted a similar stunt, on behalf of the other side of the Israel/Palestine debate, last September. Charlotte Higgins wrote a piece about the suspension of four players by the LPO over their signing a letter opposing the invitation of the Israel Philharmonic to the Proms. The timing for the LPO was dreadful, as the furore erupted in the week leading up to the opening concert of their winter season. Higgins was clearly expecting disruption at the event, and, like Nikkhah, went some way towards fomenting it with the line 'The LPO plays its season opener at London's Southbank Centre tonight: if it is disrupted by protests, the orchestra will have only itself to blame.' Notice how clearly the venue for the event is stated, presumably for the benefit of any potential protesters who don't usually go to LPO concerts.
I was at the concert myself, and was surprised to see Charlotte Higgins there. It was the first (and so far last) time I'd ever seen her at a concert, and I could only deduce she was there to see what sort of disruption her article had caused.
Fortunately the event went without a hitch. But had there been disruption, the Guardian would have been at least partly to blame. Given that protests are almost inevitable at the ENO Klinghoffer, questions should be raised about the Telegraph's role in any performance disruptions that do occur. Perhaps Lord Leveson would favour us with his views on the subject?

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