Originally Posted by vargas
It's bad enough that many female opera singers have been bullied into losing weight to coincide with the thin supremacists (which can have a detrimental effect on the singer's voice quality), and now this? I'm a lover of opera and when I go to see a performance I go to see the performance! I'm not interested in seeing a modernist fashion show!
It is indeed a tragedy, and yet another example of the modern world undermining the beauty of the art of a nobler time. Like politically based "introductions" to works of great literature, by which modern critics seek to undermine the subversive values of a literary classic before readers get the opportunity to experience it for themselves, the physical diminishment of opera performers sabotages the effect of the art.
Opera has been plagued by modernist tampering for decades. The same types of individuals who run the fashion world today have become the "creative directors" of the majority of modern opera productions, and they bring with them their familiar, degenerate tastes. Their productions no longer have any relation to the composers' own intentions. Rather, they are meant to "scandalize" the public (which is no longer scandalized at all, because the outrages have become so predictable) with crassness, vulgarity, and hard-left political messages; with minimalist or grotesquely ugly sets, costumes, and actions.
The guiding principle of the moderns seems to be that if the mainstream public loves it, it must be bad; but if most audience members hate it, and only a small coterie of left-wing critics and members of fringe communities like it, then it is "art."
On this forum, we have discussed the plight of opera on numerous occasions. In 2004, we praised
a rare example of a faithful opera production with an even rarer distinction, a traditionally full-figured lead singer. More recently, we posted a video
from a documentary about the struggle between modernity and traditionalism at the Royal Opera House, where weird, offensive opera productions continue to be staged, even though they are commercial and critical failures, while faithful productions continue to be marginalized, even though they are both popular and profitable.
In that Royal Opera House thread, we drew an oblique parallel between the plight of opera and the world of modern fashion. But this Prada travesty makes such a connection explicit and overt.
How appalling that Prada had the arrogance to tamper with the casting of an opera production. The performers were chosen for their ability to enact their roles, not to be emaciated mannequins for a display of Prada's designs. (Once again, modern opera seems to be gearing itself to the tastes of a particular fringe community, the members of which may indeed attend opera for the same reason that they might watch a fashion show, or read Details
magazine; but to tailor it to such a marginal audience is to render opera truly irrelevant.)
The tragedy is that Prada's move is just the latest outrage in an overall diminishment of the stature of opera performers, which, as Vargas mentions, has had a debilitating effect on the art form.
Traditionally, the full figure of a great soprano was a part of her stage presence. Opera halls are not tiny closets; they are vast spaces filled with colossal sets, all of which can dwarf singers who lack a palpable physicality. To play an opera vixen like Venus from Tannhäuser,
or Carmen, or Musetta, a singer must be generously buxom, thus underscoring the character's nature as a carnal seductress, and her womanly proportions must be substantial enough so that even the audience members in the uppermost balconies can still be excited by her sensuality. Likewise, to play a Wagnerian heroine like Elsa von Brabant from Lohengrin,
or Brünnhilde from the Ring
cycle, a soprano needs to have a certain stateliness, a sensual heaviness about her, to match the majesty of the characters' movements and actions.
And, yes, physical fullness in a considerable aid in vocal delivery as well. Little wonder that Chloë Agnew's soprano voice is far, far more beautiful than that of any of the other members of Celtic Woman, as she is by far the curviest (and most beautiful) member of the group.
An opera performer's robust figure was also historically considered the essence of her beauty. Consider the case of the great soprano Cheryl Studer, one of the most beautiful singers of all time, with her round facial features, and a decadent fullness in her face coupled with high cheekbones (a gorgeous mix). During the heyday of her career, her beauty was so extraordinary that her album covers became the stuff of legend, and she likely sold as many CDs on the basis of her gorgeous looks as she did on her lovely voice. This famous Lucia di Lammermoor
cover reflects the singer's darkly passionate, appetitive nature.
Deutsche Grammophon loved photographing her in exotic roles that suited her look, such as for this cover for her recording of Richard Strauss's Salome.
But what is especially significant about Cheryl is that she was robustly full-figured, like a dark-haired Lillian Russell or Hilda Clark (two other legendary full-figured sopranos). Yet the record labels always knew that this she was seductive because because of her weight, not despite it. You can see this in her most famous publicity still, below. She wears a gown with a wide-open neckline, her hair styled in an elaborate updo to showcase her plump neck and the embonpoint of her shoulder area, with the clavicle submerged in soft flesh.
Even in an elaborate stage costume, as for the title role of Rossini's Semiramide, her well-fed sumptuousness is evident.
Like many supremely gorgeous women, Studer had a lavish appetite, and gained weight rapidly as her career flourished. The Viennese gave her the affectionate nickname "Cherry Strudel," given her well-known craving for the rich dessert. But the blossoming of her figure only made her more beautiful.
In any other time, she would have remained a leading star for decades. But by the 1990s, the opera world was being corrupted by the same anorexia-worship that dominated the fashion industry, and Studer began losing parts to singers simply because of their narrower figures--this despite the fact that for roles such as that of Elsa von Brabant, from Lohengrin, her fleshier appearance was perfect for the character, and her beauty was astounding.
Here she is as Elsa from a stage production:
And here is a video of Studer performing the role in concert. Cheryl is the singer in blue. The other performer, fittingly emaciated, plays Ortrud, the opera's evil mezzo-soprano. Visually and vocally, the two are perfectly cast, with Cheryl, plump and round and very well-fed, as the soft, vulnerable, good-hearted heroine Elsa, and her malnourished rival as the wicked, embittered antagonist, undermining Elsa's faith in her beloved, like a female Iago.
The forces of opposition were ultimately too great, and Studer left the performance world, and opera was deprived of a great talent.* * *
Opera is a genre of opulence and sumptuousness. To try to turn it into minimalist, modern exercise is to betray its very principles, and to negate its effect.
When an opera is performed in all of its traditional glory, with magnificent sets and beautiful costumes that the composer himself would have recognized as being true to his vision, featuring sopranos with gorgeous voices who don't spend their time trying to control their weight but indulge themselves freely and focus on their vocal techniques, it becomes a showpiece of timeless beauty, and a window into a nobler age than our own--one that we all hope will be restored in our lifetimes.