Entertainment & Arts

Glyndebourne opera critics spark 'sexism' row

Tara Erraught and Kate Royal in Der Rosenkavalier Image copyright Glyndebourne / Bill Cooper
Image caption Tara Erraught (right) stars alongside Kate Royal in the production

Stars of the opera world have reacted angrily to a series of reviews criticising the appearance of Glyndebourne singer Tara Erraught.

The Irish-born mezzo soprano was called "stocky" and "dumpy" by critics, all of them male, after her debut as Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier this weekend.

Writing in the Financial Times, Andrew Clark referred to the singer as "a chubby bundle of puppy-fat".

"Clearly overt sexism is still rife," said opera singer Jennifer Johnston.

"Have we arrived at a point where opera is no longer about singing but about the physiques and looks of the singers, specifically the female singers?" she wrote in an opinion column for the Guardian.

Image copyright Glyndebourne / Bill Cooper
Image caption Aside from the comments about the cast's physical appearance, the production won four-star reviews

Another soprano, Elisabeth Meister, asked: "What on earth does your body size have to do with how well you can sing?

"There are more than enough industries set up around the world to make women feel bad about themselves," she wrote on her blog. "We don't need it in the classical world, too."

She later told BBC Radio 5 live that she felt "very let down by the standard of the reviews".

She said: "I think it's lazy journalism at its worst, and actually it's rather sexist and rather insulting."

Glyndebourne said Erraught was an "outstandingly talented young artist" whom they were "thrilled" to be working with.

The singer plays Count Octavian Rofrano - a male role traditionally played by a female performer - who is the illicit lover of Princess Marie Therese von Werdenberg.

The 27-year-old has, so far, declined to comment on the disparaging reviews, which appeared on Sunday.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Erraught, pictured here at the State Opera in Vienna last year, will sing at the BBC Proms this summer

Michael Church of the Independent called her "a dumpy girl", while the Guardian's Andrew Clements said it was "hard to imagine this stocky Octavian" as a "plausible lover".

Richard Morrison in the Times called her "unbelievable, unsightly and unappealing".

"There is no doubt of the talent of this young Irish mezzo," wrote Rupert Christiansen in the Telegraph.

"But she is dumpy of stature and... her costuming makes her resemble something between Heidi and Just William."


Condemnation of their comments came swiftly.

"These Der Rosenkavalier reviews really are unacceptable," tweeted Thomas Kohut, a singer with the London Symphony Chorus.

Music journalist Elizabeth Davies added: "Some pretty shocking casual sexism in the opera world this morning".

"The classical world can't stop fat-shaming women," wrote Anastasia Tsioulcas, a former editor of Gramophone Magazine on the NPR website.

"What is stunningly apparent is just how much a woman's body matters onstage - way more, if these five critics are to be believed, than her voice, her technique, her musicality or any other quality.

"I find it astounding that across five widely-read publications, not a single editor saw fit to go back to the writer and challenge what he had written."

Her comments were echoed by mezzo soprano Alice Coote, who said: "We cannot people our operatic stages with singers that above all are believable visually or sexually attractive to our critics. That way lies the death of opera.

"It is not about lights, it is not about costumes, it's not about sets, it's not even about sex or stature. It is ALL about the human voice," she wrote on the Slipped Disc site.

"Critics, I beg you: Be kind to young singers - you may change the trajectory of their lives and career if you wound them with your words."

The Telegraph's critic has defended his review, saying: "Fat and thin can be equally beautiful but one has to make an audience believe".

He said the role of Octavian called for a "taller" singer who could carry off the "principal-boy type".

However, he added: "I am distressed to learn that Miss Erraught has been upset by the hoo-ha around the reception of her performance."

In response to the furore, Glyndebourne issued the following statement to the BBC: "Tara Erraught is an outstandingly talented young artist whom we are thrilled to have as part of the cast of Der Rosenkavalier.

"We wish her and the rest of the company great success for the remainder of the run at Glyndebourne and for the 2014 Prom."

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