Time to Play Fair With Three Tenors


Thank you for all the coverage your music critics Martin Bernheimer and Robert Hilburn have devoted to the Three Tenors since the Dodger Stadium concert last July.

Rarely have two gentlemen of such conflicting musical tastes been so mutually supportive. Recently, for example, Hilburn kindly evoked the Three Tenors in a review of Elton John and Billy Joel in concert: “Similar stadium setting, circus atmosphere and audience worship. Similar critical reservations.” (“Elton, Billy: Hours of Hits but Not a Risk,” Calendar, March 24).

Musicologists recognize this as a variation on Bernheimer’s original theme nine months earlier. Your distinguished classical critic thoughtfully announced his reaction two days before the concert. “This is a circus--three rings, Three Tenors,” he said on the CBS Network Evening News.

(It’s good that Bernheimer was able to form his opinion in advance, because his first Times review of the concert mentioned that he missed part of the first half of the performance due to freeway congestion.)


The Times ran a footnote at the end of July reporting that the heavy mail concerning the Three Tenors was running against Bernheimer 5-to-1 (Saturday Letters, Calendar, July 30). But he stuck to his principles, responding with a delightfully defensive restatement of his theme (“Monster Concert Afterthoughs,” Calendar, Aug. 7). And at year’s end, he took single-minded sardonicism to new heights by bestowing an impressive two of his coveted Beckmesser Awards on the concert.

In early 1995, Hilburn first leaped into the fray. What an ordeal it must have been for him to write about the Three Tenors! He seemed haunted by the fear that they might win the Grammy for best album. And yet, bravely facing his three personal demons, he used them as a symbolic motif to inform us (incessantly) of what has been wrong with the Grammy Awards for the past 35 years.

Hilburn’s long nightmare appeared to be over when he wrote on the day after the Grammy Awards (“Hear ‘Em and Weep,” Calendar, March 2): “The scary thing is that it could all have been worse. When it was time to announce the album of the year winner, you could almost sense the members (of the academy) cringing in fear--against the possibility of the words ‘Three Tenors’ coming through the speakers and into millions of homes.” (I felt grateful for his attention to detail; I too attended the Grammys the previous evening but regrettably missed the part when the academy members cringed in fear. I do remember that the only artist who was literally interrupted in mid-performance by the cheers of the Grammy audience was Placido Domingo.)



Still struggling to exorcise his devils, however, Hilburn closed his March 24 review on Elton and Billy by writing: “At least there are no apparent plans for a live album. So we don’t have to worry about one more link with the Tenors: a Grammy nomination.”

Personally, I’d be delighted to keep reading these insightful comments forever. But it seems unfair that the Three Tenors soak up so much space in the Calendar section, when there are so many other musicians who deserve to bask in the enlightened attention of your critics.

If you must continue to cover the Three Tenors, however, allow me to suggest some news headlines that might run in other sections of The Times:

In the TV Times: “Three Tenors Telecast Is Biggest Single Fund-Raiser in PBS History.”

In the Metro section: “Three Tenors Concert Benefits Nearly a Dozen Southland Cultural and Educational Institutions.”

In the Business section: “Three Tenors Concert Employs Nearly 1,000 Los Angeles Citizens--

Economic Impact Considerable.”

In the Travel section: “Three Tenors Display a Peaceful, Harmonious Los Angeles to


1.3 Billion Viewers Around the World. Maybe L.A. Isn’t Such a Bad Place to Visit After All. . . .”

In the Sports section: “Three Tenors at Dodger Stadium--Three Free Agents Remain Faithful to Fans.”

And if you insist on writing more about the Three Tenors in the Calendar section, how about this?:

“Three Tenors Bring Millions of New Fans to Classical Music. Sales of Classical Recordings and Videos Increase Across the Board.”


(Editor’s note: While initial mail ran 5-1 against Bernheimer’s criticism of the Three Tenors, in the long run, the majority of letter writers agreed with Bernheimer.)