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Director 'Refreshed' by Bad Review

June 28, 1993

On June 1, Times music critic Martin Bernheimer reviewed the Music Center Opera's presentation of "Lucia di Lammermoor," calling it "a regular laff riot" and setting off a Counterpunch debate. The opera's director, Andrei Serban, adds his unexpected thoughts in an open letter to Bernheimer from Bucharest.


Dear Mr. Bernheimer,

Knowing from past experiences that answering back to a critic is as useless as pouring water from the empty into the void, after your "coup fatal" I thought you might be pleasantly, if not strangely, surprised to receive from me a fan letter.

And hoping that you will not, honestly, find any hidden irony in this, here is what I wish to say: CONGRATULATIONS. I think you wrote a great piece.

I loved it, and although I wished my name would not be the target, I rose to the occasion of not taking it that personally--although it's not an easy thing to swallow when you are substantially ridiculed in public--for the following reason: Usually criticism is nasty in a way that destroys without creating anything. But your piece is witty, intelligent, highly imaginative and strongly compassionate--for the idiots that some of us become when we let out of control our temperaments without reason, to destroy the pearls of opera. Sometimes we are like naughty children playing with trifles, and you made that clear in a very refreshing way.

The Music Center's great hope to win your favor was crushed again. They thought you might "like" me since you had praised "Turandot" and "Fiery Angel." They didn't expect you to be unexpected. But--how bizarre--I didn't feel blown over by the attack, although I might never be called to work in L.A. again.

Why? Since 1) I thought, alas, that you were right, and 2) because you did it in a creative way. And I believe a critic should also be creative.

To be refreshed by a negative review is not a cheap thing. Unusual thanks.

Sincerely yours,


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