May 13, 2011

Bret Harte: I am not an opera critic

Bret Harte became the editor of the San Francisco-based Californian shortly after its inception. For the weekly newspaper, he also contributed various sketches and reviews, including his essay "A Few Operatic Criticisms," published in the May 13, 1865 issue. In the humorous piece, Harte makes clear his background as an amateur:

I would state at the beginning of this article that I am not an opera critic, and do not wish to be confounded with any of those amiable gentlemen who write the regular notices, whose facile handling of musical terms always impresses me, and who, with their other varied talents seem to be gifted with a prescience with not unfrequently enables them to pen a fair description of a performance before it has taken place.

As an admitted non-expert, Harte observes while he criticizes. For instance, it seems to him that all baritones are always "unsuccessful at love," usually "jilted lovers, cruel parents or hated elder brothers."

Whatever his complaints, Harte later had some of his own writings adapted into opera forms. The Sicily-born Pietro Floridia, for example, produced La Colonia Libera in 1899 based on Harte's "M'Liss." The University of North Texas later premiered an opera version of "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" by Judah Stampfer with music by Samuel Adler.


  1. Love this piece. I have a favorite Dorothy Parker story this reminds me of too. DP was a theater critic for a while; one of her reviews was brief and to the point: "bring knitting."

  2. That sounds like one of the greatest reviews ever written! I may have seen that show...


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