Alexandra

body size in opera

78 posts in this topic

Among White's statements I found this one particularly extraordinary.

And when it comes to men, tenors (with the notable exceptions of Pavarotti and Ben Heppner) tend to be rather slightly built. Consider Jose Carreras: 5ft 6in and trim to scale.

Hasn't White at least seen photographs of Caruso, Gigli, Björling, Tucker or Bergonzi? I wouldn't describe Vickers or Domingo as "trim to scale" either. Ramón Vargas, Marcelo Álvarez and Salvatore Licitra certainly aren't skinny. And pardon me if it seems unkind to say this, but even in his prime Carreras didn't sing as well as any of them. Perhaps Juan Diego Flórez doesn't need to be fat to sing Rossini's Almaviva. Radamès is another matter.

I prefer my opera singers on the fat side. I like a well-upholstered voice. Personally I am mystified by the attraction of the skinny opera singer, and the state of operatic singing today depresses me more than I can say. I find myself retreating further and further into past audio and video recordings. Not too long ago record companies didn't hesitate to put a Sutherland, Price or Caballé on an album cover in all their bulk. What on earth happened? If, as that recent NEA arts participation survey suggests, opera audiences are continuing to shrink, the pursuit of the young and cute may not have fixed anything. I'd rather have the fat ladies again.

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GWTW--There are some fine slender, if not exactly 'skinny' singers. Renee Fleming is wonderful, and Kiri Te Kanawa was voluptuous, never fat. These are 'well-upholstered voices' if I ever heard any (like that term, by the way.) Agree that Domingo is not 'trim to scale', but was perhaps more fleshy than fat; I always have thought he looked good. The 'rage' for skinny opera singers is just because, when it's possible, it may be more visually pleasning than obesity (I'm afraid I find it to be by a long shot, since I'm not going to fantastize about Voigt or Caballe no matter how well they sing). Anna Moffo was another fine singer who had a lovely figure, although she may have been mentioned earlier. There are some big women like Leontyne Price, though, that I never think of as being fat, because of the way they carry their bodies so majestically. I guess Nilsson did too, but I am not much of a Nilsson fan--big voice, but some ugly sounds. I would even suggest that, in this category, there are some who are heavy, some who are fat, and some who are obese. I don't object to any of these if they've got the vocal equipment, but Kiri TeKanawa is the only one I ever thought was close to perfect in all ways--the most beautiful and sexy (even though she only did Carmen briefly and felt more comfortable as Micaela), the richest voice, charming personality; although if I had to pick a single singer just for the voice it would be Flagstad and Callas (pardon the Gertrude Stein-ism.)

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Dear volcano..........When I first him at the Met (1976) in "Adriana Locuvier" (sp.?), Jose had about the most beautiful and purest sounding voice, I have ever heard in person.

Of course going to sing with the German conductor Herbert Von Karajan, singing roles that a young tenor should not be singing, helped to ruin that sound. I heard him 3 years later in a concert with Caballe, at the Met. I was shocked that he had none of that pure sound left! His vioce was ragged, especially next to Caballe who sang with Jose 3 years earlier in "Adriana" and sounded pretty darn good for a heavy and middle-aged lady.

Jose was a passionate singer, and a descent actor who got better as time went on. But that early sound was lost forever in a really short time. What a shame.

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And pardon me if it seems unkind to say this, but even in his prime Carreras didn't sing as well as any of them.

I think it was Karajan, as fandeballet said, who pushed him into taking roles too big for his voice. Radamès, forsooth! I agree, though, Carreras was never quite in that league, although I thought he had a lovely tone.

Personally I am mystified by the attraction of the skinny opera singer, and the state of operatic singing today depresses me more than I can say.

There's some wonderful singing today, but I, too, think the rage for skinny is an unhappy trend.

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Here we go again.......

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/may/20/opera-figures-angry-at-description-of-soprano-stars-weight

Although I made my views clear in earlier posts that a singers weight doesn't bother me (though of course I'm aware there are health issues) perhaps the role of Octavian does require a certain body type. The picture doesn't really give an idea of this singer's figure in actual costume, in other pictures she does appear on the chubby side, and, more concerning in a 'trouser role' rather short. Tara Erraught is not in the Jane Eaglen/Jesse Norman mould and is in my view a highly attractive young woman http://www.taraerraught.com/index.php her curves in an evening dress are pretty good I would say.

The press is making a lot of the story, but could it be just a case of mis-casting? I haven't heard her sing although I have a ticket for 3rd July but I imagine a storm of controversy at the outset of her career could actually be good publicity.

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Well, they say there's no such thing as bad press.

There's some thoughtful discussion of this here as well, and a small compare/contrast in relation to discussion of larger men in the field.

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... in other pictures she does appear on the chubby side, and, more concerning in a 'trouser role' rather short. Tara Erraught is not in the Jane Eaglen/Jesse Norman mould and is in my view a highly attractive young woman http://www.taraerraught.com/index.php her curves in an evening dress are pretty good I would say.

Go here for a picture of Tara Erraught (Octavian) and Teodora Gheorghiu (Sophie) in their Rosenkavalier costumes.

There's nothing wrong with Erraught en travesti that a kinder costume and a better hairstyle couldn't fix. One of the adults in charge needed to get the production designer behind closed doors and tactfully suggest that maybe, just maybe, this particular shiny white suit wasn't really the way to go. And not just with Erraught. I'm guessing that the population of women who might actually look good in that outfit -- much less convincingly male -- is pretty small. OK -- maybe Sophie Koch or Elina Garanča could pull it off ... but really, these folks are allegedly professionals and should know how to cut a suit to flatter the singer they're working with.

PS -- here's a whole Tumblr (with GIFs and all) devoted to mezzos en travesti: http://whowearsthetrousers.tumblr.com/

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I agree with Kathleen that the costume could have been more flattering, but otherwise I'm rather dumbfounded by this. Astonishingly harsh. The modern taste is for (relatively) skinny singers, skinny female ones at any rate, and it seems to me these reviews are just more evidence on the pile. God knows how some of these writers would react to Marilyn Horne in a suit of armor vowing eteral love to Joan Sutherland.

Thank you, Mashinka, for pulling up this old thread.

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The opera world has gone to pot. I left it possibly for good. I just hear mediocre to horrendous voices on stage. Rarely outstanding. There are some great singers like Kaufmann, but for the most part I wouldn't cross the street for a free ticket to most current singers. And I think the major problem is that they are hiring for looks now and not voice.

But what I find ridiculous is that they are hiring the singers for their looks yet they are coming up with the ugliest and most ridiculous sets imaginable. Why do they want Hollywood star types (who usually can't sing) and then put ridiculous sets up there with them? They want beauty in the people but surround them with ugliness! To me that makes no sense.

Things are really, really, REALLY bad when I am longing for the days of Cheryl Studer, June Anderson, and Carol Vaness (all decent singers but in their heyday they did not hold a candle to Caballe, Joan Sutherland, etc). So back when I first started listening the new singers were decent but not great, but compared to most of today's singers they are goddesses.

My ears were bleeding when I heard the Met's recent first cast Norma, yet I read rave reviews all over the internet. I was in shock that was what is considered good singing today. Angela Meade was much, much, much better but only got two performances and was second cast.

Vincenzo Bellini was rolling in his grave! Bel canto is gone!

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One of the critics defends his stance:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/22/not-sexist-opera-critics-glyndebourne-fat-ladies

He does not exaggerate the response to the reviews; as I was going out the door the other morning I heard the announcer say they were about to open the phone lines on the subject - unheard of on the philistine LBC radio station. Opera has managed to become a hot news story even in a week when the news is dominated by the local and EU elections.

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God knows how some of these writers would react to Marilyn Horne in a suit of armor vowing eternal love to Joan Sutherland.

Well, here's one way to deal with the "more curves than height" issue:

mariln10.jpg

That's Marilyn Horne as Handel's Rinaldo, ready to vanquish the sorceress Armida and save lovely Almirena.

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Today Rinaldo is a counter tenor of course. With regard to the comment about current productions, perhaps you might like to look at what lovely Almirena looks like in this year's Glyndebourne production. http://glyndebourne.com/production/rinaldo-2014?gclid=CjkKEQjw4_ubBRCArMWr6avk_J8BEiQAIj43tbjXX2dAEQ5bOG3fSH6rKnJmWhhepvHRUM7BaPXUAl3w_wcB

Not always!

Here's Sonia Prina as Rinaldo from that same Glyndebourne production:

rinaldo_1937085c.jpg

Rinaldo apparently gets tied up a lot in this production:

rinaldo01.jpg

Here's Vivica Genaux

fists.jpg

And Caitlin Mathes (perhaps all the countertenors auditioning for the role took one look at the costume and bailed, despite that fact that a gig is a gig ...)

rinaldo_2170.jpg?1363376224

And Phyllis Pancella

20090703_111855_ae05rinaldo_200.jpg

I've seen both David Daniels and Sarah Connolly in Handel's heroic opera seria roles, and I can tell you that Daniels was not the most convincingly heroic of the two, but that's a topic for a different thread.

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Which production is the photo of Caitlin Mathes from? That is a seriously over-the-top mustache -- do the rest of the characters match the flamboyance?

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Which production is the photo of Caitlin Mathes from? That is a seriously over-the-top mustache -- do the rest of the characters match the flamboyance?

Portland Opera. Yes. Over-the-top. And then over then next top. I have no idea what's up with the sink.

00003481194959.jpg

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Portland -- that's just down the road from me. How did I miss this?!

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One of the critics defends his stance:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/22/not-sexist-opera-critics-glyndebourne-fat-ladies

He does not exaggerate the response to the reviews; as I was going out the door the other morning I heard the announcer say they were about to open the phone lines on the subject - unheard of on the philistine LBC radio station. Opera has managed to become a hot news story even in a week when the news is dominated by the local and EU elections.

Thank you for providing this link. Let's look at the defense:

I

In the case of Glyndebourne's new staging, the director Richard Jones sought to make Octavian look more a gauche teenager than a self-assured aristocrat. Tara Erraught, the mezzo-soprano cast in the role, was given a Little Lord Fauntleroy-style, curly wig, a suit too tight in several places, and "bum-fluff" stubble on her chin. Her Octavian runs against what we assume to be true about the character, and in so doing disrupts our understanding of why, in each case, the three other characters want so desperately to get into her, sorry I mean his, trousers.

I'm not here to defend the choice of words some of my colleagues used, but no one seeing the performance could reasonably fail to comment on Octavian's appearance. Indeed, any reviewer not asking questions about this precise point would be failing in their duty to hold the production and its performance to account. None of the reviewers involved dispensed gratuitous misogyny. But this is what, in numerous newspaper articles and columns, radio programmes, and in thousands of tweets and Facebook posts, they stand accused of. Which is ridiculous.

Well, Guy, or guys, let's try this for starters:

"Tara Erraught, the fine singer cast as Octavian, was gravely hampered not only by a misguided re-conception of Octavian as a gauche teenager, but equally misguided and unflattering costume choices, which made Octavian's alleged irresistibility very much a matter of willing suspension of disbelief."

And that's just off the top of my head. I'm sure actual professional critics could come up with better. Or maybe not.

I guess it's also a good thing these writers weren't let loose on Melchior and Flagstad in "Tristan und Isolde." ("The sight of these elephantine singers lumbering about the stage made it quite impossible to accept them as Wagner's great lovers. Who could be attracted to this fat cow? A wasted evening for this critic.")

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Well, Guy, or guys, let's try this for starters:

"Tara Erraught, the fine singer cast as Octavian, was gravely hampered not only by a misguided re-conception of Octavian as a gauche teenager, but equally misguided and unflattering costume choices, which made Octavian's alleged irresistibility very much a matter of willing suspension of disbelief."

This.

Too many things to choose for quotes from this piece by Deborah Orr, but this is mine (as is the emphasis):

Octavian is a male character written for a mezzo soprano voice. So he is always played by a woman. Narratively, this makes sense as an indication that the women love Octavian because he speaks their language, because they are kindred spirits. The whole point, surely, is that he's an unusual man, not a typical one. It's amazing, really. These chaps aren't only experts on the kind of women that all men should consider attractive, they're experts on the kind of men all women should find attractive, too. What's more, this imagined expertise seems to have damaged their real expertise, which is, of course, in opera.

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Which production is the photo of Caitlin Mathes from? That is a seriously over-the-top mustache -- do the rest of the characters match the flamboyance?

Portland Opera. Yes. Over-the-top. And then over then next top. I have no idea what's up with the sink.

This is so common concerning the sink. Half the time in opera you have no clue what anything means even if you know the libretto and have seen the opera many times. Directors are apparently in competition with each other on who can be more outrageous. And these pics actually look more conservative than some productions.

With that said I have seen some postmodern productions that worked for me. I am not totally against craziness IF it opens up more meaning for me that I didn't see before (like how a feminist perspective can make you realize that Brunnhilde is the hero Wotan has been looking for but he was so focused on a male son that he could not see her as the hero who will save mankind), but most of the time it feels like a director is just making fun of the opera and trying to make a name for himself/herself.

And when you look at old videos or listen to old recordings of people like Joan Sutherland, not only was there no strain in the voice (the tone is completely rounded at all times and no "screaming") but there were also no funny faces and strain in the faces. They were trained to make opera sound and look like the easiest thing in the world. In my opinion, if you are watching a singer on stage and it looks difficult and sounds difficult, it is wrong. It should look easy as pie! An audience member should not be impressed how hard that was what she just sang. He or she should say, "Wow! That sounds easy! Maybe I'll try it at home in the shower!" and then you try it in the shower and fail miserably and say, "Wow! She was great!"

But I find most singers sound like they are "getting through it" and the crazy productions, crazy costumes, and singers doing cartwheels or other physical nonsense attempts to hide the vocal deficiencies on today's stages. I truly believe opera is doomed. Most of the singers today are not going to anyone into the opera fold.

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If my point was lost (and probably not), my main message was: down with Hollywood type singers. Let's bring any shape and size that can actually sing back on stage!!!

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Although I just listened to a little bit I think the critic should be more alarmed by the voice than the body size. I didn't hear any singers as I was skipping around and stopping to listen to a few minutes here and there that made me want to stop and watch the whole thing. I have no problem with someone as big as Montserrat Caballe as long as they sound great! From the snippets I watched this looks like a very mediocre evening at the opera.

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I haven't watched the "Rosenkavalier," but I disagree that modern productions are obscuring voices and that there is no one worth hearing. Balanchine famously said, if you don't like the dance, shut you eyes and listen to a concert. I heard the generation now looked at as golden, but dismissed by people who had heard the generation or two before them, and I'd rather hear Michael Fabiano live than Franco Corelli on a recording. (I heard Corelli live on a bad night.)

I'm not a big fan of lists restricted lists -- I think lists should expand as new artists emerge -- although I was happy to see Fred Plotkin break his own rule and add John Osborn (age 41) to part 1 of his "40 Under 40" list:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/40-under-40-next-generation-great-opera-singers/

Aside from the bigger names like Pisaroni, Costello, Camarena, and probably by now Fabiano (who has established quite a career in Europe), I was thrilled to see Andrew Garland -- he sang Schaunard to Fabiano's Rodolfo in Seattle last season, and his recital tracks are superb (plus I swoon for redheads) -- Quinn Kelsey -- to die for in San Francisco Opera's "Atilla," also with Furlanetto -- and Bryan Hymel -- a great save for the Met in a beautifully sung "Les Troyens" (and a reputed sweet guy) -- among the first 13 Plotkin lists.

I'm looking forward to reading about the other 27 in part 2.

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