The opera world now has its own version of the Melissa McCarthy-Rex Reed brouhaha.
Much like the film critic who took heat for calling the actress "tractor-sized," opera critics in England are under fire for singling out mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught for her looks in their reviews of a production of Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier" at the Glyndebourne Festival in Britain. The media spat has evolved within a few short days into a gender debate, with some arguing that the male critics have outmoded views of women.
Erraught, who hails from Ireland, sings the role of Octavian in the new production of the opera directed by Richard Jones. The production opened Saturday and is scheduled to run through July 3 as part of the annual festival. (Erraught gave a recital at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica in March.)
Critics for British newspapers, including the Guardian, the Times of London and the Independent, chimed in with reviews of the Strauss production. Their remarks about Erraught's appearance have stolen the spotlight from the opera itself.
The Telegraph's Rupert Christiansen described Erraught as "dumpy of stature ... her costuming makes her resemble something between Heidi and Just William."
Andrew Clark of the Financial Times wrote that "Erraught's Octavian is a chubby bundle of puppy-fat," while the Guardian's Andrew Clements called her "stocky."
Critics from the Times of London and the Independent described Erraught as "unsightly" and possessing the "demeanor of a scullery-maid," respectively.
The reviews have prompted swift reaction from female journalists. Anne Midgette of the Washington Post wrote that "mentioning a singer's looks may be relevant in some cases, but dismissing a strong vocal performance as a 'problem' because of those looks seems to me singularly clueless."
She added: "If Erraught had been really fat, rather than simply curvy, the press would have held its collective tongue. We've learned enough not to call the fat lady 'fat,' in her own hearing, but when she's merely zaftig, it seems, she's fair game."
NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas wrote that "I find it astounding that across five widely read publications, not a single editor saw fit to go back to the writer and challenge what he had written. Yes, visuals matter — even more now, in the age of live broadcasts — but these critics have seized this as license to forget why anybody shows up at an opera house to begin with."