Wednesday, May 21, 2014

In which your reporter must weigh in on the subject, so to speak

I was busy living my life and apparently completely missed all the press reports from London of a morbidly obese woman trying to portray Octavian on stage! How offensive! How disgusting! It's a scandal! It's an outrage!

This is the young woman in question:

Both photos by Kristin Speed, courtesy

Um, not sure I see the problem.

Her crime?  She didn't look like this*:

Here is Ms. Erraught in actual performance:

Non piu mesta, with Jean-Yves Thibaudet at the piano.  2010?  (Ignore everything before 2:20.)

I think that performance was better than this, from the Richard Tucker gala 2012, although she's still pretty damn good:

From Mr. Bellini's I capuleti e i montecchi, Bayerische Stadtsoper, 2012.

I won't go on at great length, because many commentators before me have written about this travesty. In reality, this young woman is beautiful to behold and a very good singer. I believe she should be one of those considered worthy to assume one day the laurels the blessed Joyce Di Donato wears. But this article ("In 2014, The Classical World Still Can't Stop Fat-Shaming Women") quotes some pretty nasty reviews that don't seem to have noticed this woman's vocal talent but focused on the fact she's not as lanky as a marathon runner. (I say that because I know at least one lyric mezzo who is a marathon runner.  And pretty damn lanky!) 

In reality, the reviewers quoted in the article I link are all said to be middle-aged (or older) white men. In reality, there are many viewpoints about female beauty, and they change over time. Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Russell would not have made it easily in today's entertainment world because they actually had curves, but I dare say there aren't many straight men of my acquaintance who would be turned off by either. But today, both would have been advised to lose weight and seek the coat hanger-like appearance of the model I feature above before even attempting a show business career. I will admit I'm particularly sensitive to this issue because I once tried to market myself as a 350‑lb. Tamino. It didn't work. (In truth, my weight was not the only reason.) But I know I'm not the only one who sees the injustice here.

Dear Ryan McKinney said it best when I interviewed him: "I think opera is particularly good at compelling people toward empathy through music, and that is something we should protect by showcasing singers of all shapes, sizes, colors." Opera is not a Hollywood movie. Opera should feature people who are more real and less plastic than those in Hollywood movies. Yes, there are very fit singers--I myself am a big fan of the web site Barihunks. But who in his right mind really believes only thin people fall in love, and that people only fall in love with people the world would say are in the same "league"? I can't claim my experience is universal, but I've been every size you can imagine, and at every stage, I've had guys in every "league" level pursuing me.

Operas are not written about functional people. What in the world would make you think they're written about Hollywood-beautiful people?

*I use that photo because, for one thing, it's a little black dress (if you still don't know that reference, rethink why you read my blog), and for another, the photo and the ad campaign caused a stir because women thought this model was too thin.

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