Back

Singers in uproar over critical body insults at Glyndebourne

May 19, 2014 by norman lebrecht

77 comments.


Andrew Clark in the FT refers to a singer as ‘a chubby bundle of puppy-fat.’

Michael Church in the Independent sniffs at ‘a dumpy girl’. Andrew Clements in the Guardian calls her ‘stocky’.

‘Unbelievable, unsightly and unappealing, writes Richard Morrison in the Times.

Rupert Christiansen in the Telegraph calls one singer ‘dumpy’ and another ‘stressed by motherhood’ (how would he know?).

The boys – late-middleaged men, actually – were having fun at the expense of a beautiful young singer (pictured), an artist whose self-image could be seriously damaged by such mindless assaults. This was a slurry of sexist attitudes masquerading as music criticism, and the singing community are not taking it lying down.

tara erraught2

 

Social media have gone white-hot with their fury.

Here are some anonymous samples:

- Just been reading the reviews of rosenkavalier at glyndebourne. Shame on every critic who wrote such cutting remarks about x’s physique. Shame on you. Congratulations on crushing yet another young woman’s self esteem.

- There’s a real anger from musicians towards the Glyndebourne Rosenkav reviews and their hideous, overly personal comments.

- Open mouthed shock reading the Glyndebourne Rosenkav reviews. Such personal hateful comments on a singer’s body. Totally deplorable.

- Tired of reading schlock headlines & casual, outrageous sexism from critics.

- “Chubby bundle of puppy fat”- who the xxx do you think you are? Could she sing it is that not relevant?

-  I am sick of reading this kind of nonsense from critics who have experienced nothing and know even less. I currently teach many young singers who are increasingly suffering body dysmorphia anxiety because of exactly this kind of thing.

-  I think it’s amazingly irresponsible of someone like Christiansen, who ought to know more about the bigger picture of being a singer. It does seem that he has free rein these days to say whatever he wants. His blinkered and sustained attack on ENO over the last few years has been pretty astonishing.

… and more, much more.

Slippedisc has just published an open letter on voice and image by one of Britain’s foremost opera singers, the mezzo-soprano Alice Coote. Click here to read Alice.

 

tara erraught3

UPDATE: What the newspapers should do now. Click here.

 

 

 


Comments (77)

  1. Jane Stevenson says:

    So glad you have picked up this story. The comments on body shape are totally unacceptable. This poor young singer must be deeply hurt, and she’s not even fat- just short and curvy, which isn’t the usual shape for a teenage boy. Describing Kate Royal as “unusually thin” makes her sound unhealthy too.
    I was absolutely disgusted by the language in these reviews. As they admit she sings gloriously why do they then have to insult her?

    1. Emma Kronberg says:

      I don’t know what the critic is talking about, on the pic we see a young beautiful woman, are they out of their mind?

    2. alix@juno.com says:

      And if they say this about someone as pretty as she is…. what would they say about Beverly Sills?

  2. Hasbeen says:

    Seems to me the physical requirements of the role are dictated by the libretto and Glyndebourne/Richard Jones should have taken this into account when casting. As there seems to be some consistency in the comments I think they should be taken seriously. If you believe the good ones, you should also believe the bad ones>

    1. Ama says:

      I’m sorry but do you actually know anything at all about Opera. This isn’t some Broadway play they were casting for where the actor needs to look the part. Opera is about the voice and the goal is to cast the person who can sing the role best. How they look is completely irrelevant.

      1. Halldor says:

        AMA, not to agree with or endorse in any way what these critics have said or the terms they’ve used, but opera emphatically IS about more than just the voice. It’s a combination of numerous arts (music merely first amongst equals) to create drama. Set design, direction, costumes and acting are all intensely relevant. Otherwise it’s just a concert with nice costumes.

        What’s objectionable here is the implication by these writers that the singers’ physical appearance has any bearing on their ability to inhabit these roles and convey the drama – which, of course, it hasn’t; any more than it has any bearing on the (important, but emphatically not the whole story) quality of their singing.

      2. anonymus says:

        That’s taking it too far. It’s not completely irrelevant how an opera singer on stage looks like. If the role is too far apart from the physical appearance, it can be a distraction to the drama. But it is not as relevant as the Zeitgeist seems to dictate, I agree.

        1. Sirpa says:

          If absolutely necessary, it may be pointed out in general if the singer’s appearance is not the most believable one for the role. That includes the essential message already. But detailed description of someone’s curves or guessing about motherhood is getting personal and out of line. It’s all about discretion which these male critics in question don’t seem to have.

  3. This is the result of decades of pop stars’ shows and musical theatre spectacles wherein the females (excepting perhaps the older character actresses) are required to look like Las Vegas showgirls. Critics, and maybe the public too, are now brainwashed about how a singer should look, regardless of how they sing. (I personally know a tale of woe from a fine young American soprano who auditioned at a London school for a voice degree program. She was told outright that she was too fat.) Did this kind of thing happen to Kirsten Flagstad, Birgit Nilsson, Dame Joan Sutherland, Montserrat Caballé, Renata Tebaldi, and other zaftig divas? I think not.

    1. David Boxwell says:

      Of course, these women didn’t have to be subjected to the depraved demands of contemporary Regietheater, which insists that punters be given the right to ogle undraped singing bodies.

      1. Minjas Zugik says:

        It has nothing to do with regietheater! That is bullshit you just said!

    2. John Yohalem says:

      This sort of thing (“too fat”) was certainly said, and often, about Joan Sutherland, Montserrat Caballe (nicknamed Monster-fat Cowbelly, I well recall), Jessye Norman (Jess Enormous), Rita Hunter and, by the way, Maria Callas, whose tremendous weight loss may or may not have contributed to the early decline in her vocal estate.

      Yes, they were often outsized in those days, but we were still focused on their voices. I didn’t care. Nilsson was no beauty but she wasn’t the least bit fat and she could act and my god could she ever sing. Tebaldi was never fat.

      There is perhaps more emphasis on looks now because we see more of it on the screen, up close, and have forgotten that the point of opera was to be IN THE PRESENCE of a great voice, with all the acting (often superb in those bad old days) and meaning they could muster.

      1. Yes, in my conservatory days we did say “Monster-Fat” and “Jess Enormous” but those were appellations strictly used in musicians’ inner circles. We would have never read such joking insults in global newspapers.

  4. Hasbeen says:

    Sorry, I was wrong. It is not in the libretto. It is just the tradition of the role in question.

    1. Heather says:

      Even if it had been in the libretto, there is no excuse for the horrible, body shaming and utter disrespect shown to this and other singers. Nothing justifies it! They admit she sang gloriously and then completely denigrate her body. HORRIBLE.

    2. Max says:

      You do know what Mary Garden looks like don’t you?

    3. Gary Ludwig says:

      It would be perfectly reasonable to make note of what might seem like unconventional and/or non-traditional casting, but the language in which it was done is absolutely inexcusable.

    4. Generalboy30 says:

      Kay, I highly doubt the critics were referring to this letter when they made these comments. Their comments are exactly what is killing this art form! We are being told that physical appearance is more important than vocal abilities! They say her singing and acting were amazing, but since she is not of a certain physique it was a failure. Complete bull.

    5. AnneLark says:

      Graceful now means anorexic? A healthy figure is now incapable of grace? He did not require lithe, willowy, or anorexic, but graceful. Does the singers walk look like a tank headed for battle? If so, she would be unacceptable for the role. But if she is able to look like a young woman, possibly with curves, why not? I agree that the body slurs are totally inappropriate, these critics may be stuck in the 60′s with Twiggy, but the singing profession has historically made room for the normal to plus size bodies that often do accompany plus sized voices.

    6. Sara says:

      Yes… what would a graceful girl have looked like in Strauss’ day? Ever seen a Renoir painting?! This girl would have been considered well above average in both physique and looks, if we are judging from an historical perspective. You will never win the argument that thinner is more attractive / desirable than fleshier – from a pre-1930s historical perspective at least.

      1. Sandy says:

        Mary Garden would probably be considered roly-poly by this blinkered batch of critics.

  5. Derek Warby says:

    I have been aware of this for a few hours, but resisted ‘naming and shaming’ the ‘journalists’ concerned (as they should be) as it would also have drawn further (presumably unwelcome) attention to the singer involved (in whose appearance I can find nothing to warrant such wantonly hurtful comments).
    We really need to resist such cheap ‘image over substance’ attitudes. While one MIGHT (I say ‘might’) have issues over the casting of roles occasionally, there is a right (constructive, professional) and a wrong and shoddy (hurtful, negative, unprofessional) way to raise such questions.
    I suggest we put these journalists on a platform so we can judge what physical imperfections we might judge them to have.
    I take it she sang OK?

    1. Max Grimm says:

      Andrew Clark of the FT said: “X’s Octavian is a chubby bundle of puppy-fat, better suited to playing Mariandel in Acts 1 and 3 than the romantic rose-cavalier of Act 2 – albeit gloriously sung.”

      I think this statement alone shows to what degree he was interested in the artistry and musical aspect of things. Utterly shameful!

    2. Bríd Ní Ghruagáin (@bridnig) says:

      Rupert Christiansen’s review in the Telegraph said “There is no doubt of the talent of this young Irish mezzo, based in Germany, who sings with vibrant assurance and proves herself a spirited comedian. But she is dumpy of stature…”

      Great singer, great actor… but none of that counts, right?

  6. Anna says:

    Not fitting into a role stereotype is one thing but these comments are ridiculous and nothing more than malicious bullying. These men should be ashamed of themselves. Opera is story telling through the arts, not Britain’s next top model. Go to fashion week if you want to see exceptionally skinny women!!!

  7. anonymus says:

    The little Siegmund Freud in me wonders if there is a correlation between male homosexuality and fear of anything looking like a true female body with strong maternal attributes…
    We know that is the case for fashion designers.
    That’s just in case the critiques are gay…

    1. Hugh Canning says:

      So making homophobic insinuations about critics you don’t know is ok in your book? In fact three of the critics quoted above are either happily married or widowed. Misogynist or sexist remarks are not the sole preserve of gay men.

      1. anonymus says:

        There is nothing homophobic in my comments, since phobia concerns fear. But we know that many homosexual men have a phobia of the real world female body with maternal attributes, as we can witness in the fashion industry, where mostly gay fashion designers have created the stereotype of the catwalk woman model that has to look like a starving bony boy…

        1. Rebecca Brite says:

          I have to agree with Hugh. You’re simply buying into another stereotype, and surely this whole incident amply demonstrates the inadvisability of that.

          1. anonymus says:

            This incident might be unrelated to my observations, nevertheless that other stereotype you accuse me of falling for is real and damages women’s and everybody’s psyche every day. Our current intersubjective ideal of the female body is out of order with what nature has given us. Who is afraid of real women? Many it seems…

          2. Brad Clark says:

            All of which is a distraction from the main point which is- those who point out the physique of the person singing as a factor in anything at all about opera is completely misguided and seem to not really care about whether this is a voice that moves us or not. The only real criteria that was in place for most of the history of opera is: does this voice move me to tears or rapture? Every thing else is secondary. Until our current age comes to this realization we will continue to have a drought of great big beautiful voices.

  8. Ileana Rinaldi says:

    A great director once told me that if a critic’s choice of critical focus is the aesthetics of the singer, they are in fact exposing their own lack of knowledge, preparation, calibre of education, moral and ethical standings and instead they stoop to pop-culture mentality that is derived of a lazy mind and lack of imagination. I personally believe critics should try their hand at opening books with historic photographs of buxom and hugely (pardon the pun) talented nymphs portraying men. They could instead mention the sets, imagery, lighting, costume design, history of the venues, orchestral arrangements, stage management of that particular piece… the list really does do go on.

    Anyone can write a review. To me, a good reviewer should capture the spirit of the piece. Writing is about captivating the audience, not tearing artists to pieces. Words are like arrows: once loosed, they cannot be retrieved so easily. Thousands of quotes about treading on dreams, not saying anything if unable to think of anything nice to say and just being decent if not kind to another fellow human being flood my mind.

    My heart goes out to that beautiful singer and to the thousands of artists who spend thousands of hours preparing the delivery of sublime music and sweating, bleeding and breaking their bodies on sometimes perilous sets and working so terribly hard at pleasing a whole theatre, for the privilege of being shredded to pieces by literary hacks to then graciously accept the pittance they receive (usually AFTER their last performance – yes let’s think on that for a second) and try to lock in another opportunity with that company to do it all over again at some stage.

    The world is harsh enough without critics. To those critics who are so devoid of basic decency filters: If you happen to be blessed with children, think about what you are about to write and ask yourself if this is something you would say to your child; Is this going to help them be a better person and enrich the world for having said these things? I can guarantee your tune will change. Again, pardon the pun.

    1. Anna says:

      Ileana, I absolutely agree with everything you have said. People who write in high profile journalism should not be exempt from treating people who are doing a highly skilled job with integrity and commitment (and one that those critics themselves are not able to do) with respect and decency. There is a startling lack of this in the media and it needs to stop now. We are all vulnerable and deserve to be treated as such.

    2. macpark says:

      Hear, hear. Well said!

      1. AK says:

        I heartily agree with you. It seems like the only ones with the body-image problem in the art form of opera are the critics. I will refrain from calling them ‘stupid’, ‘unimaginative’, ‘unprepared’, ‘arrogant’, ‘moronic’ etc.…..because it seems everyone has an opinion with adjectives to describe everything and the more negative, the better. What is wrong in conveying an Octavian who is overweight? I tell my daughter everyday that people, (that includes men) come in different sizes and shapes and we should not allow ourselves to criticize and judge. Overweight people fall in love and get married everyday in real life. Here we have a person who easily criticizes in the negative because it seems to me that they themselves feel uncomfortable in their own skin, whatever their size.

  9. Stephen Llewellyn says:

    I want to walk around with a placard asking “Just who the **** do you you think you are? HOW DARE YOU?” Outrage should not be confined to singers. We are all hurt by this. It is inexcusable.

  10. Heather says:

    Glyndebourne needs to put out a statement in support of their singer(s). The Critics need to be chastised for their lack of professionalism and outright cruelty.

  11. Peter says:

    Do Glyndebourne have a view? Will they be rescinding seats presumably offered to these critics or their publications for further operas this season?

  12. Mark Mortimer says:

    I wouldn’t be too worried about what Rupert Christiansen says or doesn’t. He’s an intelligent guy who knows quite a lot about Opera. But I once saw him at the reforming of Kent Opera at Margate several years ago. He sad at the back, with his pen ready, looking like a very unattractive little weasel, the very image of a malicious critic. So he has no right to be commenting on the physical attributes, or lack of them, of any singer.

    1. Rebecca Brite says:

      Looks like the lessons of this incident have been lost on you. Christiansen’s personal appearance is no more related to the issue than the singer’s is. Or was that an attempt at humour?

      1. Anne says:

        Pointing out hypocrisy seems reasonable to me.

    2. AK says:

      Critics are to artists what pigeons are to statues. Most critics are frustrated musicians who love to degrade those that can sing well.

  13. Jamie says:

    These critics’ comments are awful, but I think much of the outrage here is due to the fact that the critics were discussing a woman. Look up reviews concerning Johan Botha, the tenor from South Africa. A masterful singer, he can’t sing a production without a critic speaking negatively of his weight.

    1. Gerald Hildreth says:

      Actually, Jamie, Andrew Clements, for one, seems perfectly capable of reviewing the great Botha without mentioning the tenor’s weight.
      Read it:
      http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2010/dec/12/tannhauser-review-royal-opera-house

      Then look at the last few months of reviews from the specific critics who are being critiqued in this case — they do indeed give most male performers a pass on their failure to measure up to contemporary standards of heroic, athletic masculinity.

  14. Charlotte Woodhouse says:

    Tara Erraught is establishing a formidable career in the music world outside the UK.
    She regularly sings at the Munich Opera to great acclaim. The reviews by self important critics such as Rupert Christensen just show the British island mentality at its worst.
    I could quite understand it if such a fine singer as Tara were to refuse ever to perform in the UK again.

  15. Michael Volpe says:

    I don’t think we should resort to abusing the critics to make the point that they shouldn’t be making such remarks; which I belive they shouldn’t be. But I do think we have to take some responsibility in the business. And this sort of thing is not new either.

    We have claimed for years that opera is about theatre as well as music, we have tried to “sex” up the industry, singers do provocative photo shoots, we have brought “realism” into productions and in this production, Kate Royal is in the buff..the first thing that is seen on curtain up I believe. Keenlyside has been taking his kit off for years, barihunks websites etc. The genie is somewhat out of the bottle and whilst I think all of these critical remarks are unecessary, I cannot help think that we are crying wolf a little bit because the industry, in its search for new audiences has I think, at times, behaved deplorably and with some disingenuity.

    Opera IS actually about more than just the voice of course; otherwise we would do concert performances and nothing else. We want theatre, we even want, I suppose, “believability”. But I agree with Alice Coote that none of this should be at the expense of the vocal performance. If we choose singers on looks then Heaven help us. I once barred a patron for loudly proclaiming during a performance of Boheme that it was ridiculous to have a black Rodolfo, so prejudice is not reserved to looks.

    Rupert et al have transgressed by mentioning the physical attributes of the singer, especially since she appears to have given a lovely vocal and theatrical performance. I agree entirely with the criticism of them (NOBODY should read this post and in anyway deduce that I think such remarks are necessary, they aren’t!) and a few critics will attest that I have pulled them up on such things in the past. But we all, in some way, share the blame as a collective industry.

  16. CDH says:

    Are these critics essentially saying to young singers, if you are not built like a model (either sex) you need not consider a career in opera?

    How quickly standards have shifted from gold to gilt. Not only in music, but I would have thought the requirement for the singing to be the thing judged would have survived the reality-show mentality that has made so much all about appearances.

    1. Guy says:

      No, they are not saying that. They are questioning a casting decision and the manner in which a stage character has been presented.

      1. norman lebrecht says:

        In a manner highly offensive to the singer.

        1. Guy says:

          That’s a different point, and one you are right to highlight. But lumping all the issues together in way that advances the nonsensical and clearly mistaken view that opera critics have somehow unanimously decided they only want waif-like sopranos on the stage helps no-one except the people selling advertising on twitter.

          1. AK says:

            I tell everyday that people come in different shapes and sizes and that if we criticize them, it means we ourselves have a problem of poor image. I understand that in our world of illusion, it might sell tickets but it will discourage the great singers and we may never again experience the golden age of opera. You know, overweight people fall in love and get married as well. This is the fact of life. It seems that these critics are the ones that have a poor sense of self-image, not to mention poor sense of judgement. I refrain from judging them as ‘morons’, ‘stupid’, ‘unimaginative’, ‘mediocre’, ‘frustrated artists’….Could they perhaps have the decency to do the same.

  17. Tristan says:

    Hallo guys, pl don’t take the critics too seriously, they should amuse you and be happy if they sometimes agree with your personal impression. Most of them wanted to become artists but failed, hardly any of them has taste and just look at them how they are dressed….they lack style like most of the producers and directors. This is daly the truth nowadays and trust me it’s even worse in Germany and Austria. They report ravishing about a ghastly production of Norma from Salzburg no one in Italy would have a ever accepted. Pereira is clever not to take it on to la Scala including Signora Bartoli. There are only a few real connoisseurs among directors and critics, that is the sad truth. In the UK you had great ones like Rosenthal or Steane and among directors be lucky if you see any of magic Robert Carsen’s direction and be happy if he might be asked to do next Covent Garden’s Rosenkavalier. Opera is about singing first but one also needs to convince and this has nothing to do with weight! Think of Caballe singing Norma at Orange, Nilsson being maybe the greatest Isolde ever, Pavarotti incomparable as Rodolfo or Nemorino. No one cares about their figures. Only one singer surpassed them all but she is a class of her own: La divina Maria Callas but her career was over after ten years as she gave us maybe too much?

  18. Theodore McGuiver says:

    Michael Church appears to have amended his text in the Indie but the rest of the article was also well up to his usual standard. Nice, too, to see a pseudo-lefty paper out itself as being no better than those they love to criticise.

  19. I did not see the production and I don’t know if I agree with him, but Rupert Christiansen’s review sounds perfectly reasonable. The reviewer expressed his opinion very clearly and reasonably: he spoke quite well of the voice and acting talent of this Tara Erraught in the role of Octavian (which is having a lot of free exposure, by the way). He just said that he found her to be “dumpy of stature” and that the costume did not help her and made her resemble not a sexy young man but a child (Heidi, Just William), thus implying that the fault is not the singer’s but the director’s and the costume designer’s. Today, since the production will be sung by several different casts, they don’t think of the singers: they just design something that should fit everybody. But human bodies are different. If it’s a reprise the director isn’t even there. There’s a new soprano who has to wear the same costume designed last year for a lady half her size. I have a soprano friend who refused to do a production for this precise reason. She is a famous singer. She can choose. Others have simply to do as they’re told. Many times I wished there could still be agents, husbands, mothers who can say to the director: “My artist/wife/daughter will never go on stage like that. Find something else.” Trouser roles are especially tricky. If Radames is fat, it’s not a big deal: the audience can just assume that Aida and Amneris have their tastes. But it really makes a difference for the audience if the Marschallin is having a sexual affair with a teenager or with a 8 years old child! I hope everybody agrees on this. A singer’s self-esteem get destroyed by comments on their voices as well. In fact, they are far worse, because everybody can decide whether a woman can look plausibly as a sexy teenager boy, but most of the opera-goers just have no clues about how the voice works and they are prone to believe or agree with anything they read. As Quantz said, singers, musicians and artists in general just should abandon the narcissism of reading reviews (which seldom have something interesting to teach, even the ones that I write) and rely instead on intelligent friends which they know they can trust.

  20. Many great singers don’t have a career because they are fat and they have light voices, which – artistic directors think – are easier to find. How often have I heard agents say to fat singers: “If you sang Verdi, that would be different but you’re too fat to sing Mozart”. There are some not-so-good sopranos who sing Salome everywhere just because they look good when they have no clothes on. I’ve seen top-model-looking sopranos with pretty but not audible (unless you’re a dog) voices who sing Mozart and Handel everywhere just because of their looks. And what about countertenors, who are often hired just because the director can’t figure out a plausible costume for a woman mezzo or contralto in a trouser role and wants to see some nice bare-chested muscular man as Orfeo? That’s a fact. And it would be important to complain with theatre directors who cast singers just because of their looks. But if a reviewer writes that a singer didn’t look the role because he/she has a body-type which is not immediately suited to it and he/she was not helped by the director and costume designer, he is not a “bully” and he’s not offensive. He is making a perfectly reasonable and relevant remark. It’s the same as when one writes: “Mrs *** had a fine but not especially strong voice and she was not helped by the careless conductor who let the orchestra regularly submerge her voice.” The reader who attended the show have the possibility to agree or disagree.

  21. B.G. Wheeler says:

    This debate has been going on in the States for some time. Some blame the current general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, who clearly favors glamorous singers like Netrebko. Some singers, especially sopranos, have said they felt pressure to lose weight if they wanted good roles (Deborah Voight was one–she has since had vocal problems). Here there is a lot more leeway for mezzos (Stephanie Blythe, before her Marilyn Horne) and for men. Others point to HD broadcasts and their many close-ups as the reason for the emphasis on looks. In the US there has been quite a lot of reaction to the trend to emphasize appearance. In this country, critics have generally been on the side of the angels. Several major critics recently wrote summary articles pointing out that the opera news this last season has been voices, including the three amazing bel canto tenors who were featured at the Met in the last weeks of the season (one African-American, two very much shorter than the women with whom they were paired–none, it’s safe to say, exactly what the composer and librettist probably pictured). But the prejudice is there. In the documentary “The Audition,” one of the judges questions giving a Metropolitan Opera Auditions award to Angela Meade, because she is so heavy that she may not, the judge says, have much of a career. She is the second cast Norma referenced in Alice Coote’s excellent letter, the one who electrified audiences (along with another non-svelte wondrous singer, mezzo Jamie Barton) and will be back next year in Ernani.

  22. Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

    Thank you, Norman, for posting. I also read Alice Coote’s open letter. Alas, we do live in a time in which outside appearance matters, and not what makes opera opera: the human voice ( – witness, for example, http://barihunks.blogspot.com/). We certainly are being deprived from hearing great voices, simply because they happen not to be in perfect female or male bodies (remember the infamous Covent Garden “Ariadne auf Naxos” director-imposed cocktail dress?). Alice Coote’s open letter is spot on. Hopefully, this time everyone takes note: opera is about singing, it is not a beauty contest. The reality is all too often that opera productions are entrusted to directors with huge egos or massive psychological “interests” – or, worse, both – without the basic knowledge about reading a score, and demanding perfect bodies with limited vocal resources and heft for the leading roles. One might as well record an opera with great singers who SING, and then film the work using lip synching actors. Not the ideal, of course, but that’s what one would need if one wants to enjoy both beautiful singing and beautiful people. Another sad reality is that many critics are wannabe’s who never were able to create a performing career themselves, or botched their musicological dissertation, or simply want the world to know they, and only they, are the ones with true knowledge. Then, of course, there is the pervasive body-cult which is impossible to escape. As audience members who love opera, we might also do well by reflecting whether we, too, have fallen prey to its effects. That said, any form of offensive language toward anyone involved in an opera production must not be tolerated. Sadly, this affair reflects on how standards of decency have slipped toward the vulgar, not only in the world of opera, but in society at large. In this sense, the offensive criticisms say as much about the critics themselves and about today’s society and culture (or lack thereof) than about the opera production under review. Today we witness what it means when people take seriously the image of reality rather than reality itself. With desastrous consequences.

  23. Guus Mostart says:

    Richard Jones is very meticulous in his casting. I am convinced he got exactly what he asked for.

  24. Mark Frazier says:

    Just wonderful. In a world where it seems most people can’t hear their way out of a paper bag, we have these critics who are making mean, and non-musical remarks about musicians. It doesn’t even matter that opera combines music and the visual arts. The number of people who can’t hear or even make sensible remarks about the aural part of the art of music today is only going to be increased when critics make personal, offensive, immature remarks such as these. The truly important parts – the sound, the tone, the technique, the intonation, the rhythmic vitality – are being discounted in a world that becomes more visually oriented by the day. It is no wonder that musicians are so often undervalued.

  25. Bob Thomas says:

    I have never seen the young singer in question but I offer two thoughts:

    First, I find it very unusual that a multiplicity of critics would all zero in on the same issue; thus, I conclude that there may well be an issue here. And if a singer’s self-esteem is damaged by negative reviews, then she has more significant problems with which to deal than what a critic writes.

    Second: the idea that how singers look is not important is so outdated as to be laughable. Sorry to disappoint all of you but live opera is both a visual and an aural experience. We don’t close our eyes when we enter the opera house and we care about more than just the singing. Otherwise, why are so many people outraged at new productions? In fact, why do new productions at all? If a singer’s looks detract from how their portrayal comes across, then it’s a problem and it’s worth a critical comment. BTW: Andrew Clark, in the FT (the one online entry I could find) balanced his view of her looks by saying the role was “gloriously sung.”

    1. Violachick says:

      “I find it very unusual that a multiplicity of critics would all zero in on the same issue; thus, I conclude that there may well be an issue here”

      Really? Or perhaps you should conclude that these deplorable, pathetic men have all known each other for years, and have actually had a good session bitching about this issue in a bar after the show before writing up their reviews.

  26. Forsitia says:

    This is so infuriating. Can we please have a circuit where we aficionados can listen to people like Ms X and other luminaries mentioned here – and the idiots who get their beauty standards from an extremely narrow, myopic, pornified slice of unreality go get their pleasures elsewhere?

    I got to hear Caballé when I was a very young child. I can’t overstate the impact that concert had on me, seeing that authoritative musician on stage showing the results of so much hard work, dedication and culture. (By the way, it was a very long recital, and she didn’t go offstage for a moment, not even to change into another dress, another bit of contemporary idiocy I’ll never understand.)

    It’s a somewhat delicate matter to explain to non-music lovers that musicians who communicate well are indeed sexy, and many of us appreciate erotic tension as much as anybody else when it appears onstage, but that that sort of attractiveness is much more subtly arranged and convoluted than just showing abs or tits. That’s why I don’t like the defense, so very easy in this case, that Ms X is actually beautiful already in photographs. Were she or any other singer really ugly to almost every taste, that wouldn’t matter – please open your mouth, and we’ll see (stupid pun intended).

    Please, singers who might be reading, believe us: many of us want to let ourselves be convinced through voice (and some effort at acting) that you’re Cleopatra or Butterfly, and are ready to save money for the privilege. And you critics, rethink it if you’re behaving like Karl Lagerfeld, or go review his fashion shows. Gah.

  27. Jan says:

    Don’t suppose any of these male ‘experts’ ever mentioned that they thought Pavarotti was too fat, ugly or sweaty to play many of his lead roles? No because he had a great voice. – so why should it be different for woman?

    For what it is worth I just googled the lady in question and she is a gorgeous looking girl – but that should totally irrelevant!

    1. Halldor says:

      Here’s one of the same critics on Pavarotti. I wouldn’t have said calling him “bloated” and referring to him as “big Lucy” was particularly kinder than the comments in his “Rosenkavalier” review.

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/opera/3647164/Big-Lucys-long-goodbye.html

      And here he is more recently on the “massive bulk” of Johan Botha.

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/opera/8198525/Tannhauser-Royal-Opera-Covent-Garden-review.html

      This critic is evidently something of a body-fascist, and he has a singularly ungracious way of putting things – but clearly, this is not a gender issue.

  28. Robert W Crowe says:

    I would like to express my concern at this wanker even being allowed back into any theatre after these remarks. After these sort of remarks he should be sent to cover Garden Shows.

  29. Ray Rowden says:

    I did see the production, it was flawless. The lead artists sung and acted beautifully and the balance and chemistry between them amazing. The best Rosenkavalier I have ever seen. It is totally crazy to refer to body type in opera. What matters is the voice quality and the skill of the interpretation. This production succeeded in capturing the period Strauss was dealing with in a very clever way. Sod the critics. If you can get a ticket for this then kill for it, joyous on every level.

  30. Nick says:

    I will no doubt be criticised by most of the earlier commentators. But I cannot understand why some are in such uproar over a few, brief comments contained in much longer reviews. No, I have not seen the production. I saw the first review and commented in another thread that I would certainly not go and see this Rosenkavalier. I have no desire to see an Octavian or Marschallin in the buff – or in a body suit pretending to be in the buff. I say that only because I cannot see that the drama or the libretto justifies it. Richard Jones disagrees. But it is indisputable fact that the drama on-stage is an absolutely vital part of opera. Thus if a singer also agrees to his concept and freely elects to disrobe, she (or he) cannot thereafter argue that this fact is beyond comment.

  31. David Basskin says:

    This story has just come to my attention. I wish I’d seen this production for myself so I could come to my own conclusion, although my bias is usually in favour of the quality of the singing and playing over the visual, if a choice must be made.

    What puzzles me is the absence of Tara Erraught’s name from this story or the comments. Since she is the subject, why has her name been ignored or – worse – suppressed? Is there an explanation?

  32. Jay Norman-Hedges says:

    As I have always suspected, Show me a critic and I’ll show you a good reason for abortion.

  33. JJC says:

    The director is smiling all the way to the bank because he has generated the buzz that he dreamed of. No, this nonsense must stop. When Rosencavalier is reduced to this, people are not thinking and are acting like morons. The director clearly means to offend and insult the audience. Don’t take the bait. Look how low the discourse is over an exalted masterpiece! These culturewreckers need to be stood up to and made to feel our contempt. This site often chronicles the sorry state of opera today throughout the world. Well, productions like this one are a large part of the problem. Passionately as I love this opera, I wouldn’t cross the street to watch a production like this but I would traverse the Sahara on hands and knees for the opportunity to insult and berate this cynical, philistine elitist who seeks to raise himself up by smearing graffiti on art.

    1. Operalover says:

      What?

  34. Dave K says:

    I trust that all of these offended critics will be getting their money back, as with every opera or concert that has ever failed to totally delight them. Oh, did I miss something?

  35. Luis says:

    I am posting this publicly for the very first time. I think body image in opera destroyed my relationship of 20 years. My ex has a phenomenal voice and personality to match. He has won major competitions including the Met and I can’t help but think that his short and stocky appearance has kept him from acquiring the success he dreamed of and deserves. It led to a frantic weight loss, personality change, mid life crisis and eventually the need for him to travel away from the U.S. and away from me. I guess I could truly never convey how beautiful of voice and figure he was to me and that led to my part in the demise of our relationship. As a voice teacher myself I support all singers big and small and pray that this trend of picture perfect weight and attractiveness ends soon. Everyone who works hard should have their chance at success and I hope wherever my ex is he is having the successful career he sacrificed so much for.

  36. John Jackson says:

    Since when did body size become an issue for sopranos. Think Montserrat Cabale, Jesse Norman, Victoria de los Angeles and countless others.

    Its the VOICE!!

    JJ

  37. Sis says:

    How about this? Let’s level the playing field. How about some pictures of the bodies of the critics, so we can see their middle-aged spread, receding hairline, double chin, pocked face, pop-bottle glasses. BRING IT!

  38. Rezio Haverizonie says:

    Exactly why I threw out my TV. Media will no longer truffel me with lies and bias.
    May the offenders be strickened with a disease of the brain.

  39. Gerald Hildreth says:

    Johan Botha….can’t sing a production without a critic speaking negatively of his weight. – See more at: http://slippedisc.com/2014/05/singers-in-uproar-at-critical-body-insults-at-glyndebourne/#sthash.T7pNZxWk.dpuf

    Actually, Jamie, he can, as you can read in a review by one of the specific critics being taken to task here.
    Read the last few months of reviews from these men — they do, often as not, give a pass to overweight men.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>