Letters to the Editor: Martin Bernheimer criticized my opera performance. It was an honor

Martin Bernheimer celebrates his 1982 Pulitzer Prize at the Los Angeles Times.
(Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: As a native Southern Californian, I grew up reading the music reviews of Martin Bernheimer, who died Sunday, in the Los Angeles Times.

When I studied opera at UCLA, his brilliant, incisive critiques were considered foundational music education, and we students frequently greeted each other with, “Did you read Bernheimer this morning?”

Learning of his recent passing, I ruefully recall being at the end of his pointed pen. In those days, The Times covered selected student performances, so we were thrilled to learn that Bernheimer had reviewed UCLA Opera Workshop’s ambitious production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Falstaff.”


With his trademark integrity, he offered an honest and constructive critique, saving his sharpest barb for the last act, referring to the “clumpety fairies” of the chorus. After our initial disappointment, we took that phrase as a badge of honor — at least Bernheimer had noticed us.

Thank you, Mr. Bernheimer, for your high standards and your good taste. Both may be currently out of fashion, but as you often said, “Onward and upward!”

Diane K. Mitchell, Hemet


To the editor: In the early days of the Internet, nearly 25 years ago, I wrote a Usenet commentary about Bernheimer. Although I mostly praised his excellent reporting, I also commented, “Sure, he’s jaded (we call him Martin Heartburn because he complains so much), but when you’ve spent a lifetime listening to the best performances in the world, you’re going to start to be bored by stuff that is merely first-rate.”

Long after I’d forgotten about it, I received an e-mail from Bernheimer himself: “I’m not sure who wrote this, six long years ago, or where it came from. Someone just sent it 7th hand to my basket. But if you’re the author, many thanks.”

It was signed, “Martin Heartburnheimer”.

Pure class. He’ll be sorely missed.

Geoff Kuenning, Claremont