Ugly, old singers need not apply

Ugly, old singers need not apply


norman lebrecht

December 02, 2015

Knoxville Opera has put out a notice for auditions on social media.

Under the cautionary heading ‘Restrictions’, it announces: ‘Knoxville Opera will cast age appropriate, attractive artists in these roles’.

Oh, really?

knoxville opera auditions


Here’s another howler from Knoxville Opera’s Fb page: ‘Just wanted to make something clear. Our annual gala event this Saturday is “The Prima Donna Ball” not “The Pre-Madonna Ball”. This is important.’

Gets better and better.


  • Alvaro says:

    Innovation at its best. The classical music industry will be taking silicon Valley in no time…..

  • Denise says:

    Maybe those attending this auspicious gala event are actually being asked to wear nothing but items from a well known brand of luxury lingerie called PrimaDonna. But then, this brand specialises in large cup sizes, so go figure Knoxville Opera – a triple howler I’d say…

  • T. Manor says:

    Why would’nt they cast age appropriate, attractive artists? It’s just good marketing.

    • V.Lind says:

      That’s not all it is: this is a response from their FB page:

      “They have discriminatory employment practices based on age, weight which are illegal under the US Federal Law Code of EEO (at least they publicly announced them in their audition requirements for singers).”

      So, no-one over 7 or 8 (let alone ugly) need apply for Hansel and Gretel leads?

      How old IS Tosca?

      Just a thought — do the voices matter?

      • Max Grimm says:

        V.Lind, do you know what the referred to auditions are for? The original post is rather vague.
        While I admittedly do not know virtually anything about the Knoxville Opera, the pictures of previous performances I was able to find, mostly show exceptionally ordinary looking performers (the majority of them also not what one would call Hollywood-slim resp. -buff).

    • christy says:

      Unless this is being recorded in HD, a basic, good costume and make-up department can achieve whatever “attractive” level is required from the stage. They don’t even have to be expert.

      Since “attractive” is listed under “restrictions” it could be seen as a vague way to exclude anyone based on the subjective interpretation of their looks.

      But it also smacks of a casting department unable to see past looks, which bodes extremely badly for that company.

      And on top of that, it suggests a lack of understanding of many operas, since it is unlikely there are many teens able to play these roles.

  • Joel Cohen says:

    “Here’s another howler from Knoxville Opera’s Fb page: ‘Just wanted to make something clear. Our annual gala event this Saturday is “The Prima Donna Ball” not “The Pre-Madonna Ball”. This is important.”

    Once, as I recall, a well-meaning office assistant advertised our holiday concert as “A Mid-Evil Christmas.”

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Blissful, Joel! We should collect these.

      • Dominic Stafford Uglow says:

        Years ago, a purported English translation synopsis of Carmen, distributed to tourists at the Paris Opera, did the rounds.

        I especially liked the part where Don Jose, of the ‘Mounting Guard’ sang his aria ‘Toreador! Toreador! All hail the balls of a Toreador!’

  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    Our annual gala event this Saturday is “The Prima Donna Ball” not “The Pre-Madonna Ball”. This is important.’

    I love it. You couldn’t make it up.

    • Jevgeniy says:

      Amateur hour, no? Did they let a local high school choir run their offices for a week?

    • CDH says:

      Whaddya expect? It’s Tennessee. 🙂

      • Melissa says:

        Fortunately, Tennessee has more opera companies with more enlightened views on casting… Marble City Opera in Knoxville is doing chamber opera and isn’t shying away from diversity. Nashville Opera has done some interesting shows in recent years as well. Not just trotting out the same old, same old and throwing in a shirtless tenor.

    • Halldor says:

      Restaurant near us used to offer a “Prefix Menu”

  • Elaine Mack says:

    Has the Knoxville Opera ever heard of costumes and makeup? They need to rid themselves of Hollywood inspired “standards” of attractiveness and concern themselves with voices.

  • John says:

    Years ago I worked in a music store where someone typed up a special order for “How lovely are they swellings” from Brahms’ German Requiem.

    • Ppellay says:

      In a programme note for a performance of Mendelssohn’s Scotch Symphony in Memphis a few years back, I came across the assertion that the last movement began with “a marital outburst”. I can’t be positive, but I suspect that the correct adjective should have been “martial”………..

      • Richard G says:

        Years ago I patronized a sheet music store in New York where the proprietor showed me an order he had just received for Deflator Mouse.

  • Courtney says:

    Surely this is a publicity stunt, right?

  • laura says:

    So perhaps only singers over 30 should be considered, seeing that they will most likely have the most appropriate age to have garnered the preparation necessary to perform most operatic roles at the height of their artistic powers. Sorry, but a 22-year-old with a couple of good high notes won’t have the wherewithal, technique and most of all, EXPERIENCE to do justice to a huge swathe of operatic literature. In an art that requires layers and layers of study and years of experience to get past the “how am I going to sing that note?” to “What do I want to say with this character?,” it is ridiculous to be writing off experience, credible performers because they are over a certain age. Suspension of disbelief, people… Good luck to Knoxville to try to find a Turandot, is all I have to say…

  • Jeremy says:

    Out with the old, in with the new .. hmm

    “It ain’t over ’til the skinny waif shrieks”?

  • Martin says:

    I have been a chorister with this company for the past 10 years and I can tell you we cast all ages, sizes and types in our productions. The audition notice is for “La Boheme,” and the idea is to do a production in the style of Baz Lurhmann’s from a few years back. Now I agree the way it’s worded is tacky, BUT, we have a commitment to diversity and also to bringing opera to new audiences, and our track record shows that.

    Just recently we had an African-American Mefistofele (Donovan Singletary) and Romeo (Noah Stewart) who was paired with a Latina Juliet (Zulimar López-Hernández). ALL FOUR divas in “Les contes d’Hoffmann” were portrayed by the African-American (and yes, very beautiful) Talise Trevigne. Korean diva Jin-Won Park was our most recent Cio-Cio San, and we’ve had the pleasure of working with Tongan tenor Ta’u Pupu’a on three different occasions. I could also mention multiple engagements for Dinyar Vania and Nelson Martinez.

    Meanwhile, lest you think we only cast the young and the hot, we recently performed “La Fanciulla del West” with Carter Scott and Manrico Tedeschi – seasoned performers who were no fashion plates but were totally appropriate in their roles (especially Scott who was amazing), as well as the ravishingly mature Rochelle Bard as our “Norma” who gave one of the most powerful performances Knoxville has ever seen. And I won’t be catty but we definitely cast our latest “Cenorentola” for voice, not type (hey, I am an opera queen after all).

    I could go on but you get the point. Please don’t make assumptions about our company based on no knowledge other than “They are in East Tennessee.” Also, the Madonna thing is a joke. I am sure some of you have heard of such things.

    • Alan says:

      Knoxville Opera has had a solid reputation and a wonderful history of good work. Apparently, the current Artistic Director is just an idiot. I hope their Board of Directors has seen and heard enough. Their reputation as a regional company is now at stake.

    • RLT says:

      This commitment to diversity you mention is fleeting at best and that’s not the issue at hand here. Yes you’ve had Donovan Singletary- model good looks and he was half naked most times. The point is the best singing actors don’t always come in pretty little packages. I won’t comment on the other singers you’ve mentioned.

      The audition announcement is troubling for many reasons. Least of all he’s completely uninformed and a mediocre musician. The artistic director also sends artists ‘you’re too fat to audition for us… Lose weight then try again’ notices. The Board of Directors needs to make a serious change as its clear he lacks vision. He also makes upwards of $160k a year at an institution that has an overal budget of 1.3 mil. He’s too expensive for what the people of Knoxville are getting. Companies with larger budgets pay their administrators less. In any event it’s a tacky notice and it sends young singers the wrong message. Looking good is not more important than great singing. And we wonder why the decline of the classical arts in this country, it’s because of this way of thinking.

      • Martin says:

        You make sure to mention that Singletary has “model good looks and he was half naked most times.” Yes, he was. But I notice you have no words about his singing or acting in the role, both of which were quite good. Double standards much?

    • Manrico Tedeschi says:

      I take offence to your saying that Carter Scott and I are not fashion plates! I won’t talk for my own looks but I found her very attractive. I have never been attractive to opera queens!

  • Bruys says:

    No-one seems to have mentioned the juxtaposition of “age appropriate attractive artists” and “Age Limit: No Limit”. Surely, another example of weasel words for Don Watson, not that he needs more: