One story is dominating the Twittersphere for opera fans just now, and that is the outraged reaction by singers to critics' observations of the body shape of a cast-member of Glyndebourne's season-opening production of Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier. Several reviewers commented on said singer's shape as being inappropriate for her role. Which led mezzo Alice Coote to write to Norman Lebrecht's Slipped Disc website with an angry plea for reviewers to consider the voice first, and also to consider singers' feelings.
"Critics...I beg you," she writes, "be kind to young singers--you may change the trajectory of their lives and career if you wound them with their words. Be kind to all singers."
The row highlights a burning and troubling issue in opera today. In an age when our image conscious time and specifically cinematic broadcasts (and this Rosenkav will be in a multiplex near you shortly) are putting unprecedented pressure on singers to look as well as sound good, what is the right approach? Great singing and 'correct casting' looks don't always go together--because not everyone can sing well. Not everyone has those unusually formed vocal chords that produce such a remarkable stream of sound, and beyond that the specific type of sound that a certain repertoire will demand. Above that, we ask them to act. Above that we ask them to look right? How many people in the world can possibly fit all three criteria?