Monday 19 May 2014

Some people really should know better.

Earlier today I read Norman Lebrecht's "Slipped Disc" blog in which he took umbrage with various opera critics for their treatment of a young mezzo starring in a Glyndebourne production this season. Rather than critique this, quite frankly, stunningly beautiful girl's voice they attacked her physical appearance. Words such as chubby, porky, stocky, dumpy, unappealing and (the worst of all, in my opinion) unsightly have been bandied around in their reviews. Click here to read his piece.

I am not going to use her as the subject of this small rant but it was a good place to start. It reminded me of all the crap I have had to put up with in my career and could be part of the reason I am unwilling to put myself "out there" anymore unless it is to play the comedy sidekick or a character that is meant to be laughed at. I really hope this wonderful girl at Glyndebourne has a thicker skin than I had at her age and ignores the barrage of insults that have been thrown her way.

No one has ever said outright "Claire you are fat and that is why your career has not evolved in the way it might" but I have always felt this to be the case. My weight/appearance never really bothered me until I went to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama where my appearance suddenly became the most important thing about me (to some, not all). 

One teacher would constantly tell me I should lose weight and have my teeth fixed as that can be the only reason I am not more successful in auditions and competitions. Another, the day after I won the Susan Longfield Prize, came up to me, congratulated me and then told me to invest in a strong girdle as this would "help". The worst one was hearing, a month after playing Fiordiligi in "Cosi fan tutte" in my final year, that the visiting director had been so disappointed in my being cast when she first met me as I was bigger than she had been hoping for. I was a size 16 and 5"8' at college. I was not humongous!

All of these little things added up, in part, to my ever decreasing self esteem. After leaving college I only ever appeared in two more "proper operas". One was "La Traviata" playing Violetta. Weirdly, Violetta is notoriously skinny so I was beyond delighted that I would get to perform this dream role but, because of that ever decreasing self esteem, always felt inadequate. I could sing it with no problem at all but always felt I was being judged because I didn't look right. The chances are I wasn't being judged by the majority of people who saw it, however, when an important man in the world of opera comes to you after the performance and the only thing he can think to say is "at least you know you can sing it" you can't help feeling disappointed.

Now, at the ripe old age of 40 I don't much care what people think of what I look like. I have, ironically, started getting fit and have lost 2 stones in the past 7 months (this is in no small part due to my Zumba addiction) but I am doing it because I want to do it and not because someone thinks I should. This won't really help my career now as I do feel, operatically, that ship has sailed but I am in awe of any bigger girl or boy who does not let other people's perception of what a character should look like physically get in the way. 

I thank Norman Lebrecht for writing about the thoughtlessness of some opera critics (the voice is important too you know) and I wish the beautiful woman at Glyndebourne, and all those being ridiculed or lambasted because of what they look like, all the best for the future. I only wish I had been stronger.

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