Since last Sunday when the reviews for the production of Der Rosenkavalier at Glyndebourne came out a worrying pattern emerged, the major opera critics (FT, Guardian, The Times, Independent, Telegraph) chose to focus on the appearance of Tara Erraught, the bubbly fast rising Irish Mezzo who is cast as Octavian. Instead of getting into a critique of the production the critics felt that their own jaded pre-conceptions of what Octavian ought to look like cloud their judgement to such a degree that they didn’t see any further than the surface.
Their direct insults not aimed at the costume designer or the director (who, may actually required a less manly looking Octavian, after all) but a wonderful young singer who had just made her debut at one of the world’s most celebrated operatic stages. In the coming days all and sundry had an opinion about the attack but somehow had very little to say about the production. Richard Jones gets a wink and a carte blanche while Erraught gets thrown to the dogs.
Some tried to read feminist theories and male conspiracies in the story and wrote about grumpy old men berating a defenceless young female. It all got to an idiotic conclusion with a puff piece blog piece on the NPR website.
What we should be talking about is about the quality of coverage of opera in the mainstream media, the capability of the reviewers to see beneath the superficiality of appearances and manage to convey the overall picture of the production and the achievements within. Only Michael Volpe, the manager of Opera Holland Park was willing to look into the broader ecosystem of how opera houses attract audiences and what expectations they cultivate. It has been for a very long while less about the music and more about selling an entertainment package. The houses are complicit in this drop in standards of reviewing by encouraging superficial gut reactions on social media and by advertising productions with glossy advertorials, frequently featuring models (Raymond Gubbay and the Royal Opera House have done that so many times). When I worked at the Royal Albert Hall I remember an audience member being sorely disappointed that the model in the posters of Carmen had no resemblance to the singer singing the part.
It may seem silly but raising expectations beyond the reality of the artform is a sure way to create despondence and mis-selling the show concerned. The houses by not focusing on the productions and the artists are as disrespectful as those reviewing Neanderthals that have no connection with the world outside their own little clique.
Everyone has been far too eager to have a piece of the action over the last few days, including a rather flatulent piece by a fellow member of the cast that made its way to a rather boring corporate site. I am looking forward to seeing the production live on June 8th and you can all join me in cinemas around the world and online. Strauss gives so much to talk about in a rich work like Rosenkavalier. Not just Tara Erraught lost out on having a triumphant first appearance at Glyndebourne she deserved, Strauss also was let down by the short-sightedness of those present that should have known better and did not rise to the occasion.
The abhorrent reviews by
Rupert Christiansen: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/classicalconcertreviews/10839018/Glyndebourne-2014-Der-Rosenkavalier-review.html
Michael Church: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/classical/reviews/der-rosenkavalier-glyndebourne-opera-review-perversely-cast-9395750.html
The searching and even-handed piece by Michael Volpe can be read here: http://slippedisc.com/2014/05/opera-festival-director-it-is-inappropriate-to-mention-body-shape/
The thoughtful and personal response by Elisabeth Meister can be read here: http://elisabethmeister.wordpress.com/2014/05/19/big-boned-and-thick-skinned/
The non apology by Christiansen has amassed over 120 comments…that must hopefully be a good time for him to pause and think.
The review by Fiona Maddocks in today’s Observer (25 May) can be seen as the coda to this overdramatised saga that lasted too long and it was fuelled by self interest and loathing.
This post was first published in my weekly newsletter, you can read and subscribe to it here: http://operacreepnewsletter.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/operacreeps-week-no4/