Monday, October 3, 2016

On Singers and Size

I recently had a conversation with a friend on the appearance of opera singers, a conversation prompted by the idiotic remark of a currently popular singer who stated today's singers must be "beautiful and thin, and very fit . . ." Sorry, but I’m calling “bullshit."

Opera is art . . . storytelling on the grandest of scales and has precious little to do with reality. Weight has nothing to do with artistry nor one's ability to relate a story. Regardless of race, weight, body size, a good storyteller must do one thing: conjure a world of intrigue and fantasy that can draw an audience into believing his or her story. Most of us (I hope) have experienced one-man-shows where, with neither set nor costume, someone has pulled us in, and engaged us in a way where what surrounds us is altered completely until the lights come back up and we realize we've been on a remarkable journey. Those uncomfortable with body size that isn't (in their estimation) perfect simply lack imagination or any ability to accept the fact that people come in all sizes, shapes and colors. Over the years I've found it interesting that it isn’t necessarily younger audiences who have a difficult accepting opera-sized opera singers. If one has a problem with fat singers, don't go. It's really that simple. Conversely, I've seen far too many "sexy" singers who are lousy storytellers and who couldn't act their way out of the proverbial paper bag.

In 2010 attending the first Met HD “Aida” our local cineplex sold out several theatres. The one I watched in was filled mostly with Bowdoin college students fulfilling a class requirement, including a large segment of the football team. Violetta Urmana, Johan Botha, Dolora Zajick, and and Jennifer Check were among the plus-sized principals that day. None of the kids, most seeing their first opera, seemed to have any problem getting right into the story and cheering and responding to the goings-on of Verdi's tale taking place near and on the Nile. I was seated next to a couple of the football players and, as the intensity of Amneris’ Judgment Scene began, the one next to me leaned into his buddy and whispered, "Ah, this is my favorite part . . . where the Pharaoh chick loses her shit!” My heart exploded.

Yes, it’s nice to have beautiful gifted singers who can also act, but what’s most important to this opera lover are smart singers, a director both aware and sympathetic to his singers' needs and abilities, and a damned good conductor; the music and my imagination do all the rest of the work. I know, Weird, huh?

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