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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Do We Really Deserve a Netrebko Effect? A Rollins Effect?

Anna Netrebko
In 2007, the outstanding American tenor Brandon Jovanovich won the annual Richard Tucker Award, reserved for “an American singer poised on the edge of a major national and international career.” Past Tucker honorees include Renee Fleming, Jennifer Larmore, and Stephanie Blythe; so Mr. Jovanovich’s accomplishment was no small beer.

Yet, on November 15, in an article by Associated Press veteran reporter Mike Silverman, we learned that “Brandon Jovanovich, a young American tenor” fell victim to what Silverman described as The Netrebko Effect. The bottom line: In a variety show opera gala on behalf of the Richard Tucker Foundation, Brandon had the misfortune of following performances by the charismatic, supremely gifted soprano Anna Netrebko not once but twice. You can read the performance details here. The review offered advice as well as faint praise:
“. . . try to make sure you don’t go on right after Anna Netrebko,” cautioned Mr. Silverman. . . “Jovanovich followed, singing an aria from Lehar’s last operetta, Gluditta, with ardor and impressive volume. But it inevitably seemed a bit anti-climactic.”

A Rollins Effect? It also sparked my recollection of a 1989 Times review when the saxophonist Branford Marsalis sat in at Carnegie Hall with Sonny Rollins and his quartet. Marsalis, an accomplished reed man,  proved no match for the Saxophone Colossus. Times reviewer Jon Pareles was there:

The Rollins Effect? Poor Mr. Marsalis. When he joined the [Rollins] group, offering solos that would sound thoughtful and shapely elsewhere, Mr. Rollins outgunned him with a mixture of raw vitality and a higher calculus of harmony. . . It was no shame for Mr. Marsalis to be outplayed; when Mr. Rollins is in such remarkable form, hardly any musician alive could keep up with him.”

A Psychological Basis for the Effect. Brandon and Branford tasted collateral damage via two related biases that cognitive psychologists insist alter judgment: anchoring and the contrast effect. Experience exceptional quality, and it will become your perceptual and judgmental reference point (i.e., anchor), casting a halo that accentuates the contrast with whatever immediately follows. Pour me a glass of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 1945 and the magic of a subsequent quaff of Ripple will be agonizingly diminished. (apologies to Fred Sanford)

Be Careful What You Wish for. Please tell us, Mr. Silverman, that in coining the Netrebko Effect you did not aspire to invest it with generic status. It doesn't work in the business world. Companies dread of having products so dominant that their brand names become generic. That can vitiate the uniqueness of those brands and ultimately threaten the sanctity of their copyrights. (A sure sign of the affliction is when a product name morphs into a verb—I xerox pages, You spackle walls, Ex-wife spams Wig & Pen.)

Although The Netrebko Effect does evoke the nomenclatural mystique of a Cold War chess ploy, it, like Googling between the sheets, might unlock a bees’ nest of bad vibes. Imagine Angela Gheorghiu discovering in the morning papers that her Netrebko-quality performance as Mimi the previous night had eclipsed her estimable costar, Ramon Vargas.

Would tangled up in Netrebko prove a back-handed compliment?--a distinction that might provoke her to trill:

Ramon was good, I was great .   .   . Netrebko is better still!

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A Reader said...

"...Ex-wife spams Wig & Pen."

Does this mean you're getting too many comments?

Wig & Pen said...

As you can see, you were and remain Special!


CruzSF said...

Hilarious and thought-provoking post. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

You forget to include this gem of line from Silverman's review:

"Netrebko was in prime form, sashaying out in a blue dress that emphasized her many curves and launching into a hip-swaying rendition of an aria from Kalman's "The Gypsy Princess" ... Jovanovich followed, singing an aria from Lehar's last operetta, "Giuditta," with ardor and impressive volume. But it inevitably seemed a bit anticlimactic."

So it was the many curves that made her Gypsy Princess cataclysmic? Silverman should be seeking his jollies elsewhere.