taking opera critics on for size

I’m hoppin’ mad, my friends, and not just because it’s Easter week. What’s got me riled up this time?

Opera critics who are sizeists and use their pulpits–online and otherwise–to bash performers.

I happen to be an opera critic myself, reviewing for Bachtrack.com and sometimes on this blog. In something as complex and multi-faceted as an opera, there are myriad elements to critique  that are within bounds of a decent and competent opera review:

  • directorial vision
  • individual performances and interpretations
  • acting
  • singing
  • chemistry between performers
  • conducting and orchestral performance
  • composition
  • libretto
  • sets, lights, costumes
  • the marriage of all these elements
  • the theater
  • the seats
  • the intermission
  • the choice of opera
  • the supertitles

However, the mention of a performer’s size in a review because he or she is  perceived to be too big or too plump or too fat, criticizing a performer because of their shape and size is not within bounds of any reviewer’s purview and shouldn’t even be considered let alone mentioned.

Yet, here is one critic bringing size into his review of The Vancouver Opera’s recent production of The Barber of Seville. It is the most egregious example of  a review being completely out of bounds that I have ever seen since I began reviewing opera in 2010:

The chorus members are so fat and flabby that nobody in their right mind should put on public display so ugly a sight.  As my opera companion remarked: “That’s the best ad for an anti-fat farm I have ever seen.  Do you have to be fat to sing in opera?”

Are you as offended as I am? What right does this person have to comment on such things within the context of a review of a classical performance? Absolutely no right whatsoever. If I could nominate someone to be tarred and feathered and run out of Vancouver, this reviewer would top the list.

No one goes to opera to see supermodels. One goes to hear voices. If a performer has a physical attribute such as chubby legs or thin legs or buck teeth or a bald head or three heads, if the quality related to their appearance has nothing to do with their ability to sing the role and doesn’t interfere in the slightest with their ability to do so, than their physical appearance is not within bounds of a review.

I’m sure there are other examples of classless critics who abuse their privilege and station. I’m hard-pressed to think of one more offensive than the example I’ve given you above. But I’m certain there have been others.

In this age, when anyone who can start a blog has his or her own bully pulpit to espouse their “pink slime,” I’m sure there will be more offensive reviews and irresponsible and boorish reviewers because it’s just too tempting for people of poor character to show restraint and decency when they have cyberspace and the temptation to bash right at their fingertips.

And now you know what’s got me hoppin’ mad. Because there’s little that can be done to spare performers and opera companies from out-of-bounds reviews like that one.


Filed under Rant, Reviews

3 Responses to taking opera critics on for size

  1. Could you link to the full review? (Not sure if this is morbid curiosity or wishing to give the devil his due.) The comment does seem bizarre, especially as a jab against the chorus. I’m not sure the “opera companion” would be thrilled about having their ignorance called out in print. I’d be interested, Gale, to hear your thoughts about a reviewer’s role as mediator of opera (as it were) to a potential audience which may have a media-molded standard of physical beauty. And what about the role of directors in working to accommodate (or not) the size/capabilities of their singers? I regret to say I once saw a Tristan where the Liebesnacht was staged with the lovers standing in an “embrace” which their respective sizes prevented from being complete. I’m perfectly willing to take blame for being distracted, but I still wonder what the person in charge of Personenregie was thinking.

    Also, I’d like to defend the collective of Those Who Write About Opera On The Internet. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but I certainly haven’t noticed the widespread use of blogs as “bully pulpits.”

  2. Ginger Marcinkowski

    I so agree with you! In today’s society where appearance seems to be more important than talent, it shows the reviewers bias to believe that way! The reviewers prejudice takes away from his/ her credibility as a critic. No true professional would write such rude remarks. Enough said!

  3. No one goes to opera to see supermodels. One goes to hear voices.

    Yes and no. One doesn’t go to see supermodels but I , at least, go to see and hear music theatre. If I just wanted to hear voices I’d go to a concert performance. Now I’d agree that for practical reasons we cut more slack on the performer visuals than in straight theatre and vastly more than in film but I don’t think it’s carte blanche. I do have a problem with a performer/character combination that is massively jarring, for example a Romeo or Juliet who is obviously 60 and extremely large to boot. I don’t think anyone would find that acceptable in straight theatre, however well the person spoke their lines, so why is it OK in opera? There’s also the issue of whether the performer can physically act the role as directed. Thankfully we’ve got away from the days when they would cut holes in the scenery so that Pavarotti didn’t have to go up two steps and I don’t want to go back there. That said, the Vancouver comment is out of order as there is no suggestion that the chorus members couldn’t do their jobs and who’s to say that the population of Seville have to be thin.