[NOTE: This entry has been updated (2) as of 3:29 PM Eastern on 23 May. See below.]
Although there was relatively little comment on the matter to be found in the now largely moribund classical music blogosphere, the classical music niche of social media was afire with comment on the brutally frank criticism by five eminent Brit opera critics — the Financial Times's Andrew Clark ("a chubby bundle of puppy-fat"), the Independent's Michael Church ("a dumpy girl"), the Guardian's Andrew Clements ("stocky Octavian"), The Times's Richard Morrison ("unbelievable, unsightly and unappealing"), and The Telegraph's Rupert Christiansen ("dumpy") — of a badly physically miscast young singer (Tara Erraught) who plays the role of Octavian in the current Glyndebourne production of Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier which young singer according to these same five opera critics both sang and acted the role admirably, even superlatively, well. And so what was the social media firestorm all about? Believe it or not, the impropriety and bad taste of these opera critics' daring to comment on the opera singer's physical appearance(!), if one can believe such imbecile complaint coming from an otherwise presumably intelligent and informed opera-going public as well as from a few opera professionals. In an open letter for publication on Norman Lebrecht's website Slipped Disc, mezzo-soprano Alice Coote wrote a scathing condemnation of the comments of these eminent opera critics from which open letter we quote the following extract:
We ALL need to talk. Arts administrators, Directors and Conductors, Audience members, Conservatoires, teachers, Families, Friends, Singers and Press and Critics and Opera Companies… EVERYONE. All of you who have known and love Opera...and still do. All of you who know it to be the Art form that is about celebrating the human voice, the human voice at its most Olympian heights of expression. [...] [Opera] is not about lights, it is not about costumes, it’s not about sets, it’s not even about sex or stature… It is ALL about the human voice. [...] All the visual messages that a production and costume brings to an opera does not alter ( even though they can try very hard) the fact that it’s true success in moving and making an audience love the Art form lies in the voice that sails across the pit to the audience and into their ears. ... [Opera] is about and really ONLY about communication through great singing. [...] OPERA is ALL about the voice. Many of those who think they know me and may be surprised by this. But it’s not an opinion, it’s a FACT [all caps for emphasis Ms. Coote's].This sounds like a rant coming from a TOF (TOF: True Opera Fan — like a teenage movie fan only worse; much worse), not an opera professional. So, opera is all about the voice, is it? Well, in certain limited cases we suppose that's true, and most particularly true of those operas belonging to the so-called bel canto opera era. They are indeed "all about the voice" by design as, after all, there's precious little else there all the rest being nothing more than platform and pretext for the showcasing of voices and singing. But Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier is no such opera. It's a genuine dramma per musica — a genuine music-drama — as are all Wagner's mature works and even several of his earlier operas (Der fliegende Holländer, Tannhäuser, and Lohengrin) as well as all Mozart's mature works (the so-called Da Ponte operas and even his Singspiel, Die Zauberflöte). None of these stageworks are "all about the voice". They're all about the (music-)drama the singers and singing being just one part of the performance apparatus which exist solely to serve the central (music-)drama. And since when has it been improper and in bad taste to comment on the physical appropriateness of the (singer-)actors in a fully staged presentation of a (music-)drama? Answer: never. It's all fair game for, and in fact a professional obligation of, the professional opera critic to make such comment and has been since Day One. The problem in this particular case was not a fault of the critics but of the inexperience of Ms. Erraught and the advice of her advisors (not to even speak of the production's director) who should have known better than to allow her to accept the role of Octavian in a fully staged version of this opera even though she is more than up to the role vocally and acting-wise.
Update (4:35 PM Eastern on 22 May): It's astonishing how thoroughly legitimate and appropriate if brutally frank criticism by five Brit (male) opera critics of a simple but egregious bit of physical miscasting has morphed into being considered by some as a "sexist" crime against women (a crime perpetrated by "The Old Guard – those white European males we love to hate...." as one (female) American opera critic characterized these five Brit opera critics). Incredible PC/feminist gibberish.
Update 2 (3:29 PM Eastern on 23 May): Another opera-is-all-about-singing rant from opera singer Alice Coote.