I’ve been paying closer attention lately to how the social media are being used by the mezzos and altos, and some other musicians and opera professionals.
Many singers stay away. American singers, the younger generation Canadian, American and UK singers, and singers who often work in North America and the UK and have vast NA audiences join sooner than others. There are exceptions to the rule (see below who gets the award).
Much worse than staying away is the following: creating an account (the idea was probably the agency’s or the publicist’s), getting thousands of followers, then either never showing up (the lovely Sarah Connolly tweeted the whole of three times since joining; see also, Cecilia Bartoli) or tweeting one sentence every two months (Susan Graham, I’m looking at you).
Equally bad is opening an account, then having a publicist run it for you. Even worse if he runs it for you by posting links to the official press releases. (Elīna Garanča, a case in point. The young conductor Pablo Heras-Casado had such a start, but after a few months started tweeting himself in his own name. Excellent correction.)
Then there are the Twitter Divas: they tweet a little more frequently than the above categories but still very infrequently, never interact with followers, and often couch announcements in emo, diva-is-personally-moved language. Renée Fleming is a good example. “It is with great emotion that I [ fill in the blanks]” is the usual structure of the tweet. Could be anything, from “I say good-bye to bel canto”, “I sing my final night at La Scala” or “…I saw this film”.
Then there are artists who use Twitter a lot, but do nothing but systematic and pretty shameless self-promotion. I’ve noticed a number of men in this category (a certain bass singing currently at the COC doesn’t shy away from sending links of his other media coverage to CBC personalities on Twitter begging for Ceeb coverage, for example). If you asked me months ago, I would have put Joyce DiDonato in this category. She developed a consolidated, multi-pronged social media publicity approach which has no peer among her peers. But I can’t object too much to how she uses Twitter these days. Yes, I am annoyed by the endless exclamation points and the saccharine cheerfulness. Yes, she loves being complimented by men (don’t know whether she’d say this to a woman follower telling her “you’re hawt in drag”:
and around the time of Wimbledon earlier this year we were told in many many different ways that she really likes Rafael Nadal). But crass, obvious, open-this-link-now promotion is a low percentage point of JDD tweets. She often interacts with followers (OperaCreep regularly has little chats, but then again, he’s a mad fan, so he doesn’t count; he gets in via flattery road). She is also unique in using Flickr and YouTube very aptly – former for the photographs she takes, which sometimes include exclusive behind-the-scene images with a unique vintage point that no reporter could even try to provide (“Looking at Diana Demrau from the wings while she’s singing”, eg.), and latter her own video reportage and the footage of her answers to the questions from the audience (not live, but recorded, edited, packaged — but still). I’ve never seen another singer use Flickr or YouTube this way — though Elizabeth DeShong does something similar with her photoblog, but her tack is different: she records everything but her professional life, which also works well.
JDD sometimes, not frequently but it happens, expresses a political opinion or gives her support to a cause. She expressed support for the withdrawal of DADT in the US military, and have written an open letter for her native State of Kansas which recently overnight cancelled all arts funding on state level.
But there is one tweeter who still manages to oneupman her (one-up-mezzo her?) and that is Malena Ernman. She does the healthy amount of direct promotion, yes. But she also interacts. Just before she released Opera di fiori, she asked on Twitter what people would like to see in pre-listening on YT, and followed the received preferences. For the most part Ernman tweets as people who joined twitter not for self-promotion do. And this means expressing opinions about issues of the day (political included), not hiding a grumpy mood or sadness, whingeing about the stodginess of Vienna or a video segment lost on the cutting room floor, tweeting about the weather, European soccer championship, live-tweeting her expulsion from the visa lineup at the Russian embassy, and occasionally clearly not taking herself too seriously (a rarity among opera singers; hell, people in any profession). She also facilitates tweetups for her fans:
For all this, Malena Ernman gets the first prize in the category Twitter Usage By a Diva.
She is also very good on Facebook, although probably due to the amount of people (10,000 plus readers, with average posts by her getting something like 40 comments) she doesn’t interact there. She posts a lot of photos taken from an exclusive vintage point. She also doesn’t mind posting photos of herself unkempt and wearing raggedy old around-the-house things.
That’s something you won’t see in another good Facebook commando profile, Joyce DiDonato’s (though apparently she was game for a few impromptu photos after all for these boys). Joyce posts a lot and interacts occasionally, and I think that she indeed runs her own Facebook page, probably with some consultation with her Web 2.0 person.
Another mezzo with a solid Facebook page who runs it herself and interacts on it is Ann Hallenberg. Lots of timely announcements there, and media coverage links. Some photos, not too many and no private or family photos at all. And that is just ducky.
But the Facebook user I’d actually single out for the award in this category is an alto. Sonia Prina has the official Sonia Prina page (which 391 followers “Like”), where news, clips and announcements get posted, and that is decent enough in itself. But the main thing is SP’s personal account, which is run by SP herself and set to Public.
Since there are 2000-plus FB friends there, she probably friends strangers/audience members (I don’t know – I didn’t dare send a request, and besides can read the updates from the outside anyway). And this is a FB profile with a real voice (as much as such a thing is possible on Facebook). SP really sounds like an artist human being, and not a brand. There’s all of that that I described in Ernman’s twitter usage, and much more along those lines, and even more idiosyncratic and human.
Openness to the alternative and smaller traditional media
Eh heh, this is a big one for me. How much are the divas willing to be interviewed by people other than the 72-year-old permanent dude music critic of a major national daily with a penchant for soft-ball – and here I mean anything from individual-run blogs / vlogs / podcasts, the freelancers who have yet to sell the story somewhere, the so-called ethnic media in large North American cities, large web portals for music and musical criticism (such as MusicalCriticism.com, Quobuz, OperaBritannia.com and Forumopera.com) and also, very importantly, the queer press.
I will have to rely on other writers to share their experiences, and go by my own. I am assuming that a lot depends on the publicist advice; that if somebody’s publicity consultant or agency is open to these types of media that the artist will be open to the idea. I am speculating, of course; no idea if most artists follow their instinct, or seek advice.
But let me highlight some good examples. Vesselina Kasarova recently allowed an independent videographer (on other words, a filmmaker who did not have a backing of a large media house, nor air time secured for the segment to be broadcast anywhere) to film her stay in Moscow. The access given was very generous. I don’t have the full story here and all the background information – how well they knew each other before etc. — but this one thing is undeniable: an alt-media maker shooting a YouTube documentary was welcomed to record (and debate) her around Moscow, including the rehearsals. I choose to see this as a precedent-setting case which will invite other publicists to relax a little. (The responses to the doc were pretty positive.)
Sonia Prina interviewed (via Skype, it seems) by this geezer who likes talking about himself, for a university online network. She is excellent in a situation where not very much is under her control; not stiff, not patronizing, not afraid, just being fine with whatever question may be thrown her way and making the best of the situation.
The COC organized the online chat with some of the cast of Aida last year. Sondra Radvanovsky was a primer in how a diva should interact in a live online chat with her audience and gave well thought-out and frank and not at all short answers.
…and I have to say, that is about it. Any other examples I’ll welcome with a happy dance.
If you look at the film industry, pop music and politics: all have a huge alternative media population that has become fundamental (and probably the largest) part of their respective mediascapes. But I don’t see changes of this kind in the opera world, though the opera blogosphere is growing like fire.
Updated this morning:
La Ernman just tweeted a production photo of her as Serse, at a follower’s request. Johnny Who isn’t even in the same category. Behold.
Countless thanks to the total doll Eyes for her help with media capturing for this post.