Just give me the fats
It goes without saying that any derogatory personal comment about a singer in a review is unacceptable. So I heartily endorse Norman Lebrecht's outspoken Slipped Disc editorial declaring: 'Fat should not be an issue in opera', and all praise to BBC Radio 4's flagship World at One programme for trying to engineer a confrontation between Norman and the 'chubby critics' on air today. However, we should also remember that the Glyndebourne Der Rosenkavalier is not the first time that journalists have made fat an issue in opera. Preceding it by several years was the description of Maria Callas as a 'fat Greek soprano' seen above. It appeared in the high profile book Maestros, Masterpieces and Madness by a certain Norman Lebrecht.
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For example I saw a Trovatore where the tenor was near to retirement. His voice was still in good form but he looked and moved like an old man. His attempts at swordfighting added a certain unintended humour to the piece but the whole experience was deeply unsatisfactory.
In a concert performance or recording the physical characteristics of the singers don't matter at all but on stage they can be distracting or worse.
Imagine for example a staging of Porgy and Bess with white European singers in the leading roles. Would it be acceptable even if they had great voices for the parts? Or is it any longer possible for a seriously overweight soprano to make a convincing performance as the frail Mimi, dying of consumption?
After all if opera cannot be a convincing dramatic experience what is the point?