Saturday, May 24, 2014

Further to the question of opera singers and weight

This is a reply I made to a Facebook commenter on my link to the previous post.  (Why people choose to comment on Facebook rather than here--and not even to the Taminophile page, but rather to my personal page--is beyond me.)
...the real emphasis I meant to convey, is that Hollywood unibody standards are bad for Hollywood, let alone for an art form where one needs a strong and robust body to perform well and survive. It's true that healthy, active, beautiful people come in many shapes and sizes. Hollywood standards of beauty--which don't seem to recognize body diversity--can't be the primary decision point when casting opera singers. I did not mean to suggest, as you seem to have interpreted, that morbid obesity--or obesity of any sort--should be disregarded in all cases when casting. 

There is a completely valid argument that in today's increasingly competitive world, one should seek to eliminate any possible reason for being excluded or disqualified. I know that abs and bulges sell tickets. I just think it's ridiculous to expect opera singers to look like underwear models when their bodies are not what they are selling. Let's not forget how often pundits publicly query whether male singers with great bodies were cast for their bodies or their operatic talents. 

You repeat ad nauseam that opera is theater. But that does not mean opera is a Hollywood movie or a Victoria's Secret print ad.


Rupert of Hentzau said...

I don't think anyone suggested she should look like an underwear model. What they suggested is that, in the atrocious costumes of this absurdly updated production, she did not look like a sexy teenage boy. Rosenkavalier is not an opera seria, where the singers are archetypes of whom no one need expect naturalistic acting (except in the case, and this is on purpose, a contrast, of the "opera singer" who performs an Italian aria). This is modern "conversational" opera, and we have to believe in the characters to accept it on stage. They have Octavian performed by a mezzo because that titillated audiences in Mozart's day and in Strauss's, when ladies did not usually reveal their legs. He is supposed to be wildly attractive to three very different people of two genders. He has a lot of "male" affect to get across. Few women achieve that, but they can often be boyish. In costumes of the proper period, broad hips and full chests can be disguised. But the costumer in this case couldn't think of a 20th-century equivalent. If five different critics say the lady looked dumpy, then she probably looked dumpy. No one is expecting Leonardo di Caprio here, but it is unfriendly to the theatrical whole to put an unattractively costumed woman who doesn't play "male" very well into the role. Glyndebourne is a small house and they fell down on the job. One or two of them went overboard, but an overnight deadline can trick us all.

I wasn't there. But I'd bet she looked dumpy -- too dumpy to be convincing. Why not say so?

Taminophile said...

I haven't said a single word in defense of dear Ms. Erraaught's costume, or the staging or even casting. My point, again, was broader. You say five critics called her dumpy, but reports I read state that most of those critics focused more on her appearance than her talent. That is where I take issue. Again, I'm not arguing for total disregard of visual versimilitude, but had this lovely girl been outfitted and directed better, maybe there wouldn't have been such a stir. Had those critics bothred (or known) to distinguish between choices she makes and those others involved in the production make, this point would be moot.

As it is, she can only benefit from the publicity, for she is indeed beautiful and a good singer. If she didn't have the goods, that would be a different question.

I have always said, and will always say, that singing and stage presence are much more important than fashion-model looks in opera. But this is not a Boolean question. Every case is individual. And I stated in my original post my agreement with the viewpoint that singers should seek to remove anything that would stand in the way of getting hired in such an extremely competitive market. But the apparent current trend of holding them to Hollywood or Madison Avenue air-brushed standards is ridiculous.

Taminophile said...

Oh, and thanks for commenting here instead of FB.

Dr.B said...

Hi. I completely agree. How they look isn't irrelevant but that's not really why they're here.