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Write a site like MNB long enough – and we’ve been doing it for more than two-and-a-half years, five days a week, generating more than a million words a year – and eventually you’re going to make a mistake for which some demographic is going to want to hang you in effigy.

Little did we know or expect that the demographic we would offend so greatly would be opera fans.

In Friday’s “OffBeat” section, we were offering what we thought was a lighthearted report on the closing gala at the CIES World Food Business Summit, commenting on the palatial surroundings, the fabulous wines, the wonderful foods.

And then we wrote the following:

The only thing we weren’t nuts about was the entertainment – some opera singer named Andrea Bocelli.

Okay, we actually know that he’s like the most famous and accomplished Italian opera singer of his generation, and that there are people who would donate kidneys to hear him sing in person. We just don’t get it. We kept thinking that he had a nice enough voice, but no stage presence. (Couldn’t they have gotten Nathan Lane? Now that’s a performer!)

But admittedly, we’re a heathen.

According to MNB users, we may be a lot worse than that. Like a moron.

What we honestly didn’t know until the deluge of email showed up was that Bocelli is blind, and that his inability to relate to the audience visually contributed to what we thought was a lack of presence. We weren’t poking fun at Bocelli.


We had no idea.

We’ll give you a sampling of just some of the email we received.

MNB user Denis Knoops wrote:

It was nice meeting you in Rome last week...I enjoyed all your comments and I trust you as far as food retailing is concerned... I am still with you concerning the champagne but... I don't share at all your negative comment about Bocelli. I am not at all an opera fanatic but I was completely under the charm...

Maybe I had more champagne than you ???

MNB user Carolyn Hughes wrote:

As I am one of those you reference that would gladly give up a kidney to see Bocelli sing (actually, I didn't have to...I had the life-changing pleasure of seeing him in my own little town last fall...), I have to respond to your comment on his lack of stage presence: you do realize that the man is blind, do you not? I would think this is the reason he is not more animated on stage. Anyway, his music is to hear with eyes closed...not for the stage production.

I much enjoy your newsletter...keep up the good work.

Another MNB user wrote:

Andrea Bocelli and his fabulous voice unfortunately have no stage presence, it's true. The show-biz people I know attribute it to the fact that because he is blind, he cannot really project to the audience, nor actively engage the audience with movements, etc. -- one guy said that he just sort of stands there and floats this magnificent sound into the ether. Yes, I'm one of the ones who would give a kidney to listen to him, whether it be the lighter songs from Cieli di Toscana or a Verdi aria -- I dream of having a lovely terrace in the south of France, a bottle of something very red and very local, and Bocelli soaring from the speakers. Bliss.

MNB user John Lampanaro wrote:

I really enjoyed reading your description of the L’Oreal sponsored reception at the CIES Food Summit until your comments about Andrea Bocelli. “Some opera singer”, “no stage presence” ?? It makes me question about your ability to accurately critique’ the food and wine based upon your comments regarding the entertainment. Count me for a kidney and then some. (Perhaps there was too much “critiquing of the bubbly” to adequately enjoy or appreciate the entertainment.) No matter … perhaps they can get you’re Nathan “whoever” to do “100 bottles of beer on the wall” next time your in attendance. Maybe it’s a good thing Andrea’s blind, that way he didn’t see your dissatisfaction.

As we used to say back in our altar boy days…

We would like to end with another email we got:

I read your site everyday, and enjoy it immensely. On several occasions, you've been able to make me laugh out loud in my cubical. However, your comment, "But admittedly, we're a heathen." caught me as the funniest yet.

This is probably because I am not a wine person (can't spell connoisseur without spell check), and my stereotype of a wine person is the exact opposite of heathen. Anyone that can spell, pronounce and know the meanings of: Bordeaux/Cabernet Sauvignon, Burgundy/Pinot Noir, Saint Emilion/Merlot, Chablis/Chardonnay, Pouilly Fume/Sauvignon Blanc, is anti- heathen (although you make up for it by enjoying movies like "The Producers", "The Twelve Chairs", and "Blazing Saddles"). I guess your movie preference is why I can relate to you and your opinions/observations -- sure as hell isn't the wine.

Well, thanks.

Actually, this seems like a good place to make a serious point.

We’ve never felt that being able to appreciate both a Viognier and a Mel Brooks movie are mutually exclusive. We read both The New Yorker and Entertainment Weekly. We can enjoy plays by Samuel Beckett, Tom Stoppard and Neil Simon. The reason? We’ve been lucky enough to be exposed to enough of these things to be just a little bit educated…which means that we’re willing to become a consumer of all these things. (Though clearly our education is a little lacking when it comes to opera…but we do appreciate musicians ranging from Jimmy Buffett to Frank Sinatra, George Cables to Robert Johnson.)

We have always believed that retailers can sell more different stuff to more people if they simply take seriously the notion that innovative retailing can broaden people’s horizons. That’s no small challenge, nor is it a small opportunity.

And if it takes us offering a moronic comment or being castigated by opera fans to make it…well, that’s okay. We’re willing to fall on our sword for a higher purpose.
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