I have spoken before about just how fat opera singers should be, but it seems that my advice did not take hold across America and the world, because we’re at it again. It’s time for another cultural argument about the weight of various opera singers, and pretty much only the female ones (though not entirely only the female ones…).
For weeks (Weeks!) I have seen a constant flow of articles, rants, opinions, and furious laments come through my feeds, all concerning the ridiculous reviews of Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught in the Glyndebourne Festival’s production of Der Rosenkavalier. Basically, instead of discussing her singing, they all said she was fat. And while my initial reaction was to dismiss this as a higher level of internet trolling (really? that’s what you’re talking about? you’re doing this to piss us off on purpose, aren’t you?), it turns out that it wasn’t just one guy saying this. It was all the guys.
Dumpy. Stocky. Unsightly. A chubby bundle of puppy fat. Those are all actual quotes from the reviews. And of course this is horrible. That isn’t even a question. Is there anyone out there reading this who thinks that your weight should be the primary focus of an opera review? Or even mentioned at all? Certainly not the people who are paying to hear the performance. Nobody bought a ticket to the opera for the purpose of watching young, hot people strut around in skimpy outfits. Except for our non-opera-going friends, and that was only because we tricked them. Ha ha, dudes!
No, the power of live performance is the power of energy. It does not matter at all what you look like. Plenty of people walked out of a performance by Pavarotti in some sort of state of wanting to sleep with him. And it was not because of his slim physique. When you walk into a room with a truly great performer, you fall in love with them, if only for a short while. That magnetic, transformative energy is why we go to live productions to begin with. It’s why we go to hear bands live, even though we could just sit at home with our iPods. It’s why the soundtrack can never quite match the real thing, as perfect and edited as that soundtrack may be. And if you happen to be overweight, underweight, too old, too young, or too anything, then sing to me and convince me that it doesn’t matter.
And it doesn’t matter. Does it? Have you ever seen a real live couple together, and wondered why the skinny one would stay with the fat one? If so, then perhaps you ought to move to London and write opera reviews. But you probably know that looks, while important, can be superseded by so many other things. It is not unbelievable that a skinny woman would fall for a fat man. Or vice versa, In fact, it happens every day.
And let’s be honest, isn’t it a little bit nice that these reviews have come out? Yes, yes, I know they’re terrible, but they gave us something to talk about! They put opera on the same level as the rest of our horrible, misogynistic culture! We are in the conversation! Opera isn’t dead! Sure, it used to be about fat, boring people standing around being dull, but now it is about the same things as Hollywood, US politics, the NFL, and all of television: making women feel bad about their bodies! Hooray! We made it! Opera! Opera! Opera!
Look, I’m not going to say that these reviews were, in and of themselves, a good thing. But they can lead to good things. Because they are so absurd. Even some of the publications themselves have run counterpoints to their own reviews. You can tell how one-sided this is, from the lack of supporting posts and articles for the reviewers. Nobody is sticking up for them. We all know that this is silliness that needs to go away, so it’s a good chance for us to flex our righteous indignation and to trumpet about opera to anyone who will listen. We feel better, and the world becomes a .003% better place, because a few people start to think a little differently about a few things. A net positive. But now that we’re all thinking about things, is it time to focus on deeper, harder issues that we don’t all agree on? What would that look like? What do you think are the biggest problems facing opera today? And how are we going to solve them? And, just to know if I should take you seriously or not, how much do you weigh?