Culture Magazine

Taking Opera Critics on for Size

By Galegirl

taking opera critics on for sizeI’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 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.

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