It's evident in some cases that the performers who contact me found the blog postings via a web search, very likely by searching on their own names. Thinking about this, and about the relationship between performers, critics, and reviews, the question arises, why would performers bother reading reviews?
I can think of a reason or two, but just as many reasons not to read reviews. It's wonderful to read a positive or glowing review, of course. But in most cases...I'm not sure what's to be gained.
What if you get a bad or equivocal review? I'm convinced that performers don't benefit from reading these. I've been on stage enough times myself, as a chorister or flutist, to know perfectly well that most performers have a very good idea of how well they did on a given night. I am always more aware than anyone in the audience of the errors I've made or that the chorus or orchestra has made or where somebody really missed a cue badly (including conductors who forget to throw a cue the chorus is expecting). Is a performer going to learn much from reading a critic who says the tenor blew the high note or the bass has a wobble or something else like that? I think not.
A couple of people have said things to me along the lines of, well, a performer might learn something and change from reading reviews. I don't buy that.
Reviews are not pedagogical. A review is one person's perception of what happened in a particular theater or concert hall at one performance. It's a snapshot, and that's it. It has real value as a bit of history. It doesn't show what happens in the course of a run. For example, several people have told me that post-primo performances of Die Walkuere here in SF have been very good, but apparently not as great as what we saw on June 10.
The blogosphere is good for making up this particular lack in reviews; most reviewers don't have time to get to two performances in an operatic run, let alone take in a whole Ring cycle more than once.
And reviewers know these things. We know that we're hearing one or one hundred and fifty humans doing their best for anything from an hour to six hours. We're aware that there's variation and inconsistency. We know what we don't know: whether there's a crisis in a violinist's family and the whole section is sad, or whether the mezzo has a cold or the tenor has allergies. Yes, sometimes there are announcements. Sometimes there aren't.
So do reviews have any value at all for performers? Maybe. I think it's a good idea for performers to have trusted people - partners/spouses, coaches, teachers, a publicist - read and screen reviews, passing along some to the performer according to agreed-upon criteria. If ten reviews by different people over the course of a year make similar points about some perceived lack in the performer, well....maybe that's something to consider.
But a performer shouldn't be learning those things from reviews. The trusted people, especially teachers and coaches, are the right people to say "you've started scooping" or "what about this habit you are developing" or "you look consistently uncomfortable on stage." It's their job, not a reviewer's.