Irish mezzo soprano Tara Erraught has been turning heads in the international opera scene since 2011. The Dundalk-born Erraught received her classical training from the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin, and has already established herself as one of the opera world's hottest rising stars. For many of us, Erraught's name has only come to our attention recently due to controversial reviews of her recent portrayal of Octavian in the Strauss opera Der Rosenkavalier at the Glydebourne Festival in England.
Several London critics wrote disparagingly about Erraught, but the criticism was of her body, rather than the singer's ... um ... singing:
Andrew Clark, writing for The Financial Times: "Tara Erraught's Octavian is a chubby bundle of puppy fat." He later noted that her performance was "gloriously sung."
Rupert Christiansen in The Telegraph: "Tara Erraught is dumpy of stature and whether in bedroom déshabille, disguised as Mariandel or in full aristocratic fig, her costuming makes her resemble something between Heidi and Just William. Is Jones simply trying to make the best of her intractable physique or is he trying to say something about the social-sexual dynamic?"
Richard Morrison in The Times of London: "Unbelievable, unsightly, and unappealing."
I'm not an opera buff, but isn't the opera scene supposed to be a bit more open to larger body types? The not-so-svelte Pavarotti comes to mind. Isn't there even a cliche about the fat lady? And, by the way, Tara Erraught is not nearly as heavy as one might think from reading those critic's remarks.
Fiona Maddocks of The Guardian didn't seem distracted by Erraught's figure:
To be fair to the male reviewers, they were not saying that full figured women do not belong on the stage. They just didn't find Erraught believable in this role because of her looks. In the production in question, Erraught is cast as a young man (a la Mary Martin as Peter Pan). I will say that she makes a much more attractive woman than a man, and the costume designer hasn't done her any favours. I think the critics could have stayed out of trouble by saying just that. Instead, their barbs came across as very personal and misogynistic.
What do you think, Wild Geese? Is it the case that opera is partially a visual art, and "not looking the part" is a viable criticism; or are these critics just being snooty chauvinistic air heads? In my opinion, these guys have thoroughly compromised efforts by opera enthusiasts to show people like me that the art is anything above its exclusionary, vain, and silly stereotype.