Once again, shushing meanies

Once again, shushing meanies

Jenna Simeonov

We’ve written before about opera critics, and how they can be mean folks sometimes. Two summers ago, critics who saw Der Rosenkavalier at Glyndebourne were griping about mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught’s body, calling her “dumpy” and “stocky”.

At last year’s BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, the commentators (and fellow singers!) used phrases such as “like a bulldozer” and “she may well have been singing the phone directory,” to appear witty in their unhelpful, à-la-Joan-Rivers-on-the-red-carpet feedback.

Star mezzo Alice Coote even took the time to write an open letter to mean critics, reminding them that “OPERA is ALL about the voice.”

Yesterday, tenor Allan Clayton, currently singing Tamino in English National Opera’s The Magic Flute, found perhaps a better way of dealing with jerks, in this case Barry Millington of Evening Standard. It’s a response that takes about as much time as quips like this deserve:

It’s that thing about not being able to let a compliment just sit there; mean critics have to add a “but” or “yet”, just to make sure they’ve fully expounded on their point.

I’m trying to imagine what the review would look like if Millington had witnessed the opposite at The Magic Flute; if he’d seen a ripped-Spartan-style tenor who sang flat and pinched all night, I anticipate that he would use the show as a platform to talk about the demise of opera singers, and the prioritization of body-type over voice. English National Opera would be under fire for its “poor casting”, I imagine.

It’s almost a good thing that we now have this example of critics body-shaming a male singer, since we can put to rest some of the sexism claims that accompany criticism of women onstage. It seems that the problem is just with “unattractive” people being a protagonist in live theatre. I’ve often thought that when you boil down an objection about a fat person falling in love, or some dumb variation on this “problem”, you really just peel back the truth about the objector, who’s letting the world know that they actually feel this way. If it’s hard for someone to imagine a prince with a spare tire, or a size-12 lady experiencing love at first sight, one has to ask why.

Basically, if you don’t believe a love story between two imperfect people, there’s a good chance you’ve never fallen in love. If you think the problem is because she’s too tall or he’s too fat, there’s a good chance that you value physical appearance (of oneself and one’s partner) over a lot of other things. And if the opera isn’t a love story, is the objection really about non-model people telling stories?

Maybe these critics are watching…wait for it…to much TV?

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