Soprano attacks The Times over body image obsession

Soprano attacks The Times over body image obsession


norman lebrecht

June 11, 2015

Last summer, the London newspaper’s music critic led a pack of baying hacks who wrote or implied that the Irish mezzo Tara Erraught was too fat to sing Octavian in Rosenkavalier at Glyndebourne.

Then the same critic went for the mezzo Alice Coote who had hit back over the weight issue.

Now the fusty newspaper has provoked the wrath of Lisa Milne, the Scottish soprano who has retired early for a number of reasons, only one of which was to do with size. The Times ignored the other issues and focussed on fat.

Its report, beneath a profoundly unflattering picture of Ms Milne, begins:

Lisa Milne has given up the opera stage after years of finding “industry image standards” so “wearying and demoralising” that she underwent a breast reduction.

The Scottish soprano, who received an MBE in 2005, is retiring to teach at her alma mater, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS), in September.

She cited a number of reasons for the move, including feeling defeated by the pressures opera put on the way she looked. Alongside surgery on her breasts, the singer said she had a gastric sleeve operation “in order to look right for the stage” and was tired of “constantly being told I wasn’t pretty enough, wasn’t slim enough, wasn’t tall enough”.

Lisa, however, is not one to take things lying down. Here’s her response:

So THE TIMES printed ‘their’ version of Kate Molleson’s story [in the Herald]. I am really upset by it. They printed a photo from The Sacrifice which was years before I had gastric surgery or breast surgery. For them to focus and headline the article as ‘Soprano quits stage ‘unable to look part’.
WRONG. I resent that implication. I quit the stage because of numerous reasons- primarily to be with my family and because I had suffered from extreme stress and anxiety due to my personal life and the pressures of being away. The issue of my ‘ looks’ was other peoples’ problem. Not mine. If companies wouldn’t employ me because of the way I looked what else could I do but try to change how I looked if I wanted to STAY in the career. I did all that but I realised after the massive losses in my personal life and the joy that was radiating from me after working with young singers that my heart and my career had changed direction.

So to The Times I say – don’t try to turn this into yet another opera singer ‘fat’ story. It isn’t my story. And Kate Molleson reflected ACCURATELY the situation. My looks and the pressure to conform were a small part of a much much bigger and more interesting story.

lisa milne



  • Una says:

    I would have thought the deciding factor is whether a singer is fit enough to leap around a stage, climb endless flights of stairs, swing from the celing and be able to do some of the gymnastic productions of today!

  • Sasha Valeri Millwood says:

    I have said this before and I will say this again: I see no good reason why concert promoters should still be expected to give free tickets (and other perks) to those parasites who call themselves ‘critics’, especially in an age where most newspapers give such scant prominence to classical-music listings and events, in any case. Those who have nothing valuable to add to the intellectual discourse on music should pay their own way to attend concerts, like the rest of us do. As I said, a blacklist of the most egregious offenders would be a good start (Morrison, with his wont for gratuitious hyperbole and irrelevant extrinsicity, can head the list — I think it a complete embarrassment that my professional association, the ISM, has failed to withdraw Morrison’s honorary membership).

    • Anon says:

      Sasha, if column inches for classical music are small, as you suggest, then surely all the more reason to make it easy to receive coverage. Withdrawing tickets is hardly going to encourage reviews on opening night which you hope to use to help sell the rest of the run.

  • Anon says:

    “Singer decides to go and teach” is not an interesting story, per se, and I doubt the Times would have run it were it not for being able to find an ‘angle’, and preferably one like this which might prompt outrage and discussion. What else would anybody expect them to print?

    • V.Lind says:

      What’s the Thunderer doing lifting a story without its own interviews and reporters on it? This sounds like a straight lift (I can’t see it because of the paper’s paywall). And clearly an inaccurate rendering of the source news. You don’t “interpret” news. You might analyse it, or choose different emphases (if you do the reporting yourself) but it is not subject to the kind of “spin” that seems to have been put on an interview Ms. Milne had with a Ms. Molleson. What happened to “the newspaper of record”? Oh, I remember…it changed hands. How the mighty have fallen.

  • Lisa Milne says:

    nothing. That would have been a better angle. Why write a story at all if the truth isn’t that interesting. ‘Angle’? There were many to choose. They just went to the dullest one.

  • La Donna del Largo says:

    The TIMES did not “ignore” the other issues. You yourself quote:

    “She cited a number of reasons for the move, including feeling defeated by the pressures opera put on the way she looked.”

    The media are not required to “angle” their stories in the precise direction the subjects of these stories might like. In fact, the whole industry of personal press representation is founded on the concept of attempting, at least, to influence media coverage in a direction that is positive to their clients.

    The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

  • Lisa Milne says:

    positive to their clients? Who are these people??
    I ain’t no lady so you can can that tired old cliche.
    I had no ISSUE with the article. I had an issue with The Times headline. I made that clear.

  • american cat says:

    Lisa Milne is gorgeous and beautiful, with an exceptional talent to perform and exceptional singing skills to match.
    That’s reality, so why don’t the critics have anything to say about
    her attributes, and rather focus on weight issues?

    I’ll tell you why.
    Critics are jealous of Lisa’s success, and they know F all
    about the true artistic goal’s a singer spends her lifetime trying to perfect. They know s..t about true art, and about the absolute perfection Lisa has achieved as a singer, so they turn to her weight as a way of demoralising her and
    alienating her from her fans.

    Lisa, teaching is a great thing, but you are young, and
    your voice is heading for something bigger like Wagner.
    You are in a transitional period, where it is your right
    to take stock and reevaluate your situation.
    There are many large singers out there, and they get great
    opportunities. Do not let a bunch of bitter charlatans
    tell you how you ought to look.
    Many singers have problems, like issues with grief. You can overcome them.

  • american cat says:

    Lisa is gorgeous and beautiful. The critics are wrong