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Our Handicapped Critics

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To the editors:

Why did you send Dennis Polkow to review Carousel at Chicago Opera Theater [June 15]? You have several good theater critics, and he knows even less about theater and musical comedy than he does about singing and opera. Why do you send someone who is legally blind to review any staged production? Why do you send someone who doesn't know anything about singing to review opera? Example: he evidently read something about Joan Sutherland's singing technique, and decided to apply it to the soprano in Lakme at Chicago Opera Theater. He said she does something funny to produce tone that makes her words unintelligible. I didn't see or hear any evidence that COT's Lakme was doing the things he said she was. I understood virtually every word she sang, which is unusual for a coloratura soprano because it's really very difficult to enunciate when you're singing above the staff. (But your reviewer knew that, of course. He knows everything, or pretends to.) I was sitting in the worst seat in the house, but I found her diction exceptionally clear. Is he as deaf as he is blind?

Doug Kennelly

S. Dearborn

Dennis Polkow replies.

Perhaps Mr. Kennelly is confused because he thought that the "soprano" in COT's Lakme production was singing in the original French. The "something funny" that she was doing was extending vowels and swallowing consonants, something Sutherland has done since the beginning of her career and which many coloraturas have imitated ever since. It makes for a more uniform, beautiful timbre because vowels sustain sound while consonants cut it off, but it sacrifices intelligibility and word meaning. Mr. Kennelly also appears confused as to the genre of Carousel, a tragic and dark tale that may have some lighter moments but that hardly qualifies as a "musical comedy." Perhaps he is confusing it with a more lighthearted musical with a carnival-like title, such as State Fair.

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