The opera world has leapt to the defence of Irish mezzo soprano Tara Erraught after she received criticism in the British press, not for her singing but for her looks.
While the critics agreed that Erraught had performed well as the principal soloist in the Bavarian State opera ensemble, they dedicated more column inches to her appearance.
The Financial Times’ Andrew Clark said: “Tara Erraught’s Octavian is a chubby bundle of puppy-fat.” She was also described as ‘dumpy’ by the Independent, ‘stocky’ by the Guardian, ‘unbelievable, unsightly and unappealing’ by the Times, and having an ‘intractable physique’ by the Daily Telegraph.
The world’s top opera stars have had their say and believe that the insults are not only cruel and hurtful to Erraught but also dangerous to the future of opera.
American star Jennifer Rivera said: “The thing that really gets to me about the reviews is that all of them, almost grudgingly, admit that she sang the extraordinarily difficult role beautifully. And yet the bulk of their criticism is reserved for her body type.
“The physical force needed to produce unamplified singing to large numbers of people is unique and has a very different physical requirement than any other performing art form. It also requires a certain natural talent that cannot be trained into a person who isn’t born with it. Therefore, expecting every single person to look like the character they are portraying will leave out certain, very special voices that in other eras, when weight and appearance were less of an issue, were considered some of the greatest voices of their generations.”
Mezzo soprano Jennifer Johnstone added: “How 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?”
British singers Alice Coote and Elizabeth Meister also hit out at the critics.
In an open letter Coote wrote: “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. We are robbing ourselves of the singers that will hit our solar plexus. And we are robbing our entire human culture of the human voice. The Olympic Great Human Voice. And you may as well hammer that nail into the coffin of opera right now. And not carry on with the sham of loving it.”
Meister said: “Don’t make sexist and puerile remarks about our figures; at best, it’s childish, and at worst, it dilutes the currency of everything else you have to say.”
Erraught, who joined the Bavarian State Opera six years ago and has performed all over the world has vowed to focus on what is important – the music.