Opera critics under fire over ‘sexist attitudes’

- 20 May 2014

Opera critics have come under fire following reviews of Glyndebourne’s season opener of Der Rosenkavalier on 17 May. On his Slipped Disc blog, commentator Norman Lebrecht said social media had gone ‘white-hot with their fury’ following comments about Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught, who played Octavian.

Kate Royal as The Marschallin, left, with Tara Erraught, right, as Octavian Photo: © Bill Cooper

Kate Royal as The Marschallin, left, with Tara Erraught, right, as Octavian
Photo: © Bill Cooper

‘Tara Erraught’s Octavian is a chubby bundle of puppy-fat’ wrote the Financial Times’ Andrew Clark; ‘dumpy of stature’ wrote the Telegraph’s Rupert Christiansen; ‘stocky’, said the Guardian’s Andrew Clements; ‘unbelievable, unsightly and unappealing both as boy and girl’ wrote Richard Morrison in the Times.

If the comments were largely aimed at the portrayal of the character rather than the singer, they nonetheless provoked a heated reaction from those who saw what Lebrecht called ‘a slurry of sexist attitudes masquerading as music criticism’.

‘Shame on every critic who wrote such cutting remarks about x’s physique,’ was one comment. ‘Shame on you. Congratulations on crushing yet another young woman’s self esteem.’ Another said: ‘Open mouthed shock reading the Glyndebourne Rosenkav reviews. Such personal hateful comments on a singer’s body. Totally deplorable.’

The Guardian published two hand-wringing assessments of the criticism and mezzo-soprano Alice Coote wrote a lengthy open letter on Lebrecht’s blog, saying: ‘If young singers are pressurised 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.’

Holland Park Opera chief Michael Volpe gave a measured view in a comment on the blog, writing: ‘We have claimed for years that opera is about theatre as well as music, we have tried to “sex” up the industry … The genie is somewhat out of the bottle and whilst I think all of these critical remarks are unnecessary, I cannot help think that we are crying wolf a little bit because the industry, in its search for new audiences has I think, at times, behaved deplorably and with some disingenuity.’ He concluded: ‘we all, in some way, share the blame as a collective industry’.

Update 23/05

Rupert Christiansen: ‘I stand by every word’

Richard Morrison: How my Rosenkavalier review triggered a social media storm of abuse (£)

Guy Dammann: ‘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’

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