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Singers’ private lives

We live in a culture that ruthlessly devours news from celebrities’ private lives. We want to know what famous people are eating and wearing and buying, how their relationships are going, how they’re raising their children. Some of this curiosity stems from a desire to imitate them, and some of it is mere escapist voyeurism, a chance to look at lifestyles we will never have.

Opera singers are not quite celebrities, though. After her recent Superbowl performance and several high-profile television appearances, most Americans have probably heard of Renée Fleming. But other huge names in the opera world–Jonas Kaufmann, Anna Netrebko, Bryn Terfel, Joyce DiDidonato, etc.–will likely elicit only blank looks if pronounced in front of a typical (i.e., not opera-crazy) crowd.

This puts opera fans in a unique position. Whether you, as an individual, share gossip or news about mainstream celebrities makes little difference to whether it spreads or to tabloid culture in general. But because there are relatively few opera fans interacting online, we have a lot of control over how we treat information about singers’ private lives. What should we do with that? Should singers’ personal lives be kept entirely separate from their careers and remain undiscussed? Should we report personal news, but not comment on it? Are singers public figures whose lives are inevitably open to public scrutiny? Does it matter whether the information being discussed is a rumor or an official announcement?

A bit of an argument arose on Twitter over the reporting of Jonas Kaufmann’s recent separation from his partner. Michael Cooper, a writer for the New York Times, posted the following tweet, echoing an official announcement:JKTweetAfter I retweeted it, my friends started to raise questions: Was it gauche to tag Kaufmann in a tweet about his divorce, or is it polite to tag the person being discussed? Was it inappropriate to tweet about a singer’s personal life at all? Was retweeting (and thereby spreading both the news and possible faux pas) inconsiderate?

I don’t have any answers. These are questions that increasing media penetration and the emergence of new media raise faster than we can resolve them.

What do you think?

  1. Ivis BohlenIvis Bohlen04-20-2014

    What was probably unknown to the English-speaking folks commenting on this on Twitter is that Jonas Kaufmann’s wider career & signing to Decca records were launched in German-speaking countries with a published biography and a TV-documentary, in which his happy family life was one of the main focuses. Subsequent interviews have almost always included a mention of his family life and its importance to him (as recently as this January). Thus the need for an announcement (initially only in German) on his official website. Unfortunately if one chooses to make one’s private life a part of one’s public persona then gossip about it is only to be expected. I do think tagging his official twitter account (run by a publicist) is in poor taste. And the decision to gossip about it is left to the individual.

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