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Wed May 21, 2014, 10:01 PM

An opera singer’s backlash wasn’t just sexism

Thought this was an interesting take; I've never been to the opera and was planning on going, I heard "Carmen" was headed our way. This is just beyond sad.


It’s not just about the sexism – but don’t worry, I’ll give you a little angry feminist ranting about that too. And this is more than about body shaming, though there’s plenty of that in the tale as well. But mostly, this is about arrogance and snark, and what that does to artists — and the aspiring artists watching them.

Tara Erraught is a young Irish mezzo-soprano. Over the weekend, she made her debut as Octavian in the Glyndebourne production of Strauss’ gender-bending comic opera “Der Rosenkavalier.” This was viewed immediately by a bunch of male British critics as an occasion to comment on Erraught’s appearance. Writing in the Guardian, Andrew Clements marveled that “It’s hard to imagine this stocky Octavian as this willowy women’s plausible lover.” Sure, because who ever heard of a willowy woman going for a man with a different body type in popular culture? In the Independent, Michael Church said she had “the demeanor of a scullery maid,” while in the Telegraph, Rupert Christiansen not only called Erraught “dumpy of stature” but added that her costar Kate Royal has “recently sounded short of her best and stressed by motherhood.” Well, who knew the scientific link between motherhood and singing ability? And in the Financial Times, Andrew Clark casually mentioned that her part was “gloriously sung” but focused more on what a “chubby bundle of puppy-fat” the singer appears to him.


Fortunately, this across the board display of dismissive and point-missing criticism did not go unnoticed. Anastasia Tsioulcas a former editor for Gramophone Magazine, quickly acknowledged for NPR that “Yes, visuals matter — even more now, in the age of live broadcasts,” but added that “these critics have seized this as license to forget why anybody shows up at an opera house to begin with.” Activist Katie Lowe noted in the Guardian that “The supposedly authoritative, mostly male reviewers chose to make a female body a problem – a female body, one might note, that is not non-normative, but simply not thin and statuesque, propagating the old-fashioned, narrow-minded ideal of the room women should inhabit.” Mezzo-soprano Alice Coote, who recently played Octavian at the Metropolitan Opera, meanwhile wrote a blistering open letter in response, stating, “It is ALL about the human voice. This is the Olympics of the human larynx attached to a heart and mind that wants to communicate to other hearts and minds. It is something that is done without amplification and without barriers … It is one human singing to another … If young singers are pressurized into accepting a bigger emphasis on physical shape over sound and this becomes any more pressured onto them than it already is today … then we are robbing ourselves of the great singers of the future. We are robbing ourselves of the singers that will hit our solar plexus. And we are robbing our entire human culture of the HUMAN VOICE.”

But lest you think only women have a problem with the “She’s too dumpy” criticism, tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones posted a message on Facebook Tuesday that “It is not a gender issue. No one, male or female, should have to experience such blatant disrespect. That such a situation exists at all is utterly unacceptable. The peddling of the ‘Ken & Barbie agenda’ to the profession and to the public has done an unbelievable amount of damage to the art form, to the importance and relevance of genuinely outstanding singing in the business and to the vocal tradition as a whole. Important artists have been and are being marginalized because they do not conform to the aesthetic agenda the industry would have championed.”


http://www.salon.com/2014/05/21/an_opera_singers_backlash_wasnt_just_sexism/

18 replies, 3305 views

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Response to ismnotwasm (Original post)

Wed May 21, 2014, 10:29 PM

1. sadly, we are not in the least surprised.

for those unfamiliar with this young woman:

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Response to niyad (Reply #1)

Wed May 21, 2014, 10:42 PM

2. Seriously?

She's beautiful. And Octavian is a man. There were no 20 year old men that size? Ever? And, you know, in other parts of the opera, she does play a maid (a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman). The critics are nuts, and the singers are right: We do not need body shaming in the opera.

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Response to catrose (Reply #2)

Wed May 21, 2014, 10:47 PM

3. We don't need it anywhere, and yet it's everywhere

Men don't face quite as much of it as women do, but it's still there if they don't conform to their own impossible to attain image.

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Response to Warpy (Reply #3)

Sat May 24, 2014, 09:51 PM

14. +1

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Response to ismnotwasm (Original post)

Wed May 21, 2014, 11:09 PM

4. Wow. How utterly disgusting

My wife is quite the opera fan (when living in NYC, she had season tickets to the MET). The only chance I have to really listen to much music is in the car and my radio is permanently tuned to the station that plays classical & opera. And you know what? I've never seen a professional opera in person. My only experience is with the VOICES of opera. I don't give a crap about appearances.

And BTW, Ms Erraught is absolutely lovely. What the hell is wrong with some people. Sexist pigs.

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Response to ismnotwasm (Original post)

Wed May 21, 2014, 11:15 PM

5. Good grief! She is a beautiful young woman. You're right,

it is sad and speaks of a shallowness of heart. I hope she has a great career in opera. It's about the singing, the music, it is theater. I hope to hear her sing and will look on Youtube for any performances.
I really do hope you get to go see Carmen. I always liked opera until I saw it in person and then I absolutely loved it. I hope it has the same effect on you. My taste runs toward the real grandiose, Tosca being my all time favorite. Would love to see some Wagner but not sure the St. Louis area has a stage big enough.
I was also fortunate enough to hear Pavarotti sing in person many years ago at his prime. That was beyond cool. He just completely mesmerized the entire audience.
Again, good luck with Carmen.

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Response to ismnotwasm (Original post)

Wed May 21, 2014, 11:45 PM

6. Gees! Apparently nobody in opera has ever seen or heard any of the following women sing...

Kirsten Flagstad:


Jessie Norman:


Birgit Nilsson:


Joan Sutherland:


Marilyn Horne:


All rather large women. And beautiful, too.

It seems that nobody asked them about their figures. It was all about their voices.

Given that both Flagstad and Nilsson sung Bruunhilde in Götterdämmerung, Wagner's final opera in his epic tetralogy, where Bruunhilde is required to be on stage for hours, and her last scene is the most strenuous of all, leaping onto a fiery pier on a horse as she sings plein jeu, I would say that it very well might take some significant vigor to accomplish that role. Indeed it does.

Yes, we love the petite mezzo roles. But give me a full soprano any day. And I do not care about their waist lines. The art is the music.

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Response to ismnotwasm (Original post)

Thu May 22, 2014, 03:37 AM

7. What do these critics know of opera, really? Some of the greatest opera singer of both genders have

been rotund, often quite larger than average.

I've been to live opera performances and their figures were never an issue then. These guys are light weights in the business of judging art.

They have about as much business criticizing this woman as Rush has going after Michelle Obama for her figure. Yes, he and other conservatives really have done that since 2009.

I call this another example of the Simon Cowell genre of judging performance. It's very popular online, too. The more snark or the more insulting a person is, the more clever, witty and intelligent they think they are when they are just shallow, self-absorbed twits.

Such people are the role models now and have more effect on the lives of others and it's sickening. I'm glad so many people are standing up to this puerile bullying.



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Response to freshwest (Reply #7)

Sat May 24, 2014, 09:59 PM

15. None of the Three Tenors were exactly svelte, were they?

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Response to nomorenomore08 (Reply #15)

Sun May 25, 2014, 01:39 AM

18. Nope, not really. Pavarotti was a favorite of mine for years:



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luciano_Pavarotti

The Three Tenors:



Andrea Bocelli is now my favorite:



He was blinded in an accident at twelve years old.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrea_Bocelli

His performance at the Statue of Liberty concert still makes me cry:



I was fortunate to have seen this on PBS and record it. Then I converted it to see on my computer. Even without the words to the song, I felt I knew what he was saying.

The English lyrics to the song:

Andrea Bocelli — Sogno

Go, I will wait for you
The flowers in the garden mark the time
Here I will draw the day of your return
You are so sure of my love
You take it away with you
Cupped in your hands
When you touch your face
As you still think of me
And if you need to, you can show the world
The world that doesn't know what life there is
In an uncaring absent heart
Doesn't know what life there is
In that only the heart can feel
Doesn't know.

Here I will wait for you
And steal kisses from time
Time is not enough to erase
The memories and the desire that
Remains closed in your hands
That you bring to your face.
You still think of me
It will follow you and passing me in the city
I'll still be here
Dreaming of things that I don't know about you.
Where is the road that You will take on your return
I dream

Here I will wait for you
And steal kisses from time
I dream
A noise, the wind awakens me
And you're already here.


In Italian:

Va ti aspettero
Il fiore nel giardino segna il tempo
Qui disegnero il giorno poi del tuo ritorno
Sei cosi sicura del mio amore
Da portarlo via con te
Chiuso nelle mani
Che ti porti al viso
Ripensando ancora a me
E se ti servira lo mostri al mondo
Che non sa che vita c'e
Nel cuore che distratto sembra assente
Non sa che vita c'e
In quello che soltanto il cuore sente
Non sa.

Qui ti aspettero
E rubero i baci al tempo
Tempo che non basta a cancellare
Coi ricordi il desiderio che
Resta chiuso nelle mani
Che ti porti al viso
Ripensando a me
E ti accompagnera passando le citta da me
Da me che sono ancora qui
E sogno cose che non so di te
Dove sara che strada fara il tuo ritorno
Sogno

Qui ti aspettero
E rubero i baci al tempo
Sogno
Un rumore il vento che mi sveglia
E sei gia qua.



Hope you enjoy that.

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Response to ismnotwasm (Original post)

Thu May 22, 2014, 03:56 AM

8. And operagoers don't give a flying fuck. Really.

One reason I like opera
by Marge Piercy

http://margepiercy.com/
(She writes great fiction also)

In movies, you can tell the heroine
because she is blonder and thinner
than her sidekick. The villainess
is darkest. If a woman is fat,
she is a joke and will probably die.

In movies, the blondest are the best
and in bleaching lies not only purity
but victory. If two people are both
extra pretty, they will end up
in the final clinch.

Only the flawless in face and body
win. That is why I treat
movies as less interesting
than comic books. The camera
is stupid. It sucks surfaces.

Let's go to the opera instead.
The heroine is fifty and weighs
as much as a '65 Chevy with fins.
She could crack your jaw in her fist.
She can hit high C lying down.

The tenor the women scream for
wolfs down an eight course meal daily.
He resembles a bull on hind legs.
His thighs are the size of beer kegs.
His chest is a redwood with hair.

Their voices twine, golden serpents.
Their voices rise like the best
fireworks and hang and hang
then drift slowly down descending
in brilliant and still fiery sparks.

The hippopotamus baritone (the villain)
has a voice that could give you
an orgasm right in your seat.
His voice smokes with passion.
He is hot as lava. He erupts nightly.

The contralto is, however, svelte.
She is supposed to be the soprano's
mother, but is ten years younger,
beautiful and Black. Nobody cares.
She sings you into her womb where you rock.

What you see is work like digging a ditch,
hard physical labor. What you hear
is magic as tricky as knife throwing.
What you see is strength like any
great athlete's. What you hear

is still rendered precisely as the best
Swiss watchmaker. The body is
resonance. The body is the cello case.
The body just is. The voice loud
as hunger remagnetizes your bones.

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Response to eridani (Reply #8)

Thu May 22, 2014, 08:59 AM

11. Nice!

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Response to eridani (Reply #8)

Thu May 22, 2014, 10:19 AM

12. That is fantastic!

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Response to eridani (Reply #8)

Sat May 24, 2014, 10:23 PM

16. +3

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Response to ismnotwasm (Original post)

Thu May 22, 2014, 07:07 AM

9. Pregnancy and childbirth do affect vocal production

 

When carrying around a large fetus, there's much less space for air. After delivery, there are flaccid muscles that have to recover their springiness and shape to sustain air volume and pitch. But that's about 6 months' worth of diversion from singing full voice....

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Response to ismnotwasm (Original post)

Thu May 22, 2014, 08:58 AM

10. Thank you all for your replies

I was under the impression that many opera singers were larger people, and this took me aback. I'm quite excited to see my first opera, but admit to being saddened this ridiculousness has invaded the art. I know very little about opera, other than to be fully appreciated by a complete newbie, live is the best experience.

This paragraph caught my eye:

It’s her query that really gets me about all of this. You bet that this is about a bunch of men deciding that a female performer did not meet their aesthetic expectations, and yeah, that’s what sexism and sizeism look like, all over. But it’s also about the absurd laziness on rampant display at the top newspapers in a major world city for the arts. It’s about the fact that these critics barely could bother themselves to construct any substantial ideas about Erraught’s performance because they were too busy amusing themselves with references to puppy fat. This is what an artist gets for putting herself out there, for being, as my friend says, open and exposed and vulnerable. And that’s at the professional critic level – let’s not even bother addressing what happens when a person treads into the peanut gallery of social media. You pour your soul into your work and you get back a chorus of negative comments about the easiest to observe, most superficial aspects of yourself – from people who were paid to write them. Why are we doing this, again? And what’s the difference between a London opera critic and a random YouTube troll anymore?


I hope there is a backlash over this so young singers can evolve with the confidence they need. I think these shallow critics may have messed with the wrong art form.

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Response to ismnotwasm (Original post)

Thu May 22, 2014, 02:30 PM

13. Body shaming aside, how embarassing for those reviewers that they have absolutely no understanding

of the art they are reviewing.

What a bunch of screeching incompetents.

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Response to ismnotwasm (Original post)

Sat May 24, 2014, 10:23 PM

17. What idiocy. This bullshit is (or should be) beneath any halfway intelligent adult. n/t

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