Sunday, May 30, 2004

Singer's size of little importance to readers

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

My box has been overflowing with mail about the story, "Singing Above the Storm" (May 16), an interview with opera diva Deborah Voigt. She was dismissed from singing her signature role in Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos at London's Covent Garden, because she didn't fit into a black cocktail dress for the production.

Here are some opinions on the question, "Do looks matter in opera?"

• "The average American woman wears a size 16 to 18. I'm a little tired of, it's OK to make fun of the fat lady," says Nancy Wiggenhorn, 51, of West Chester Township, who spent 10 years managing large-sized clothing stores for women.

"There are as many of us as there are people who wear size 2, 4 and 6. The last group to make fun of is people who are overweight. It should be about health, not about appearance. ... Opera is about the voice. She's not Christina Aguilera."

• The attitude, says Renee Alper, 46 of Mason, "is unnecessary, prejudiced and simply helps to continue this country's unhealthy obsession with thinness. As a disabled individual, I have a particular stake in the concept of inclusive opera and theater."

• Thomas Hyatt, 67, of Loveland, disagrees, and believes that looks do matter. "The same problem concerning excess lard holds true for Luciano (Pavarotti). When he lumbers on stage, it is best to avert the eyes and just concentrate on the voice ..."

•  "Are people insane? Can't they get past the superficial, everyone-should-look-like-a-model mentality?" counters Anita Bradford, 42, Batavia. "My God, listen to Ms. Voigt's talent!! ... Plus-size people have just as much right to live on this earth and pursue their dreams as so-called normal-size people. Keep it up Ms. Voigt!"

• "Comparing opera to films and TV is unfair," says Jill Dew, 52, of Ryland Heights. "The visual wasn't as important during the first 300 years of the art form, as it is now. All people cared about was the voice. Nowadays, nothing is left to the imagination."

•  The opera singer, e-mails Joy Muchlinski, 61, of Conover, Wis., "may be a large woman in size but she is also a large woman of character, beauty, poise and graciousness. Have we stopped looking at these values?"

• Timothy Tesch, 53, of Wyoming, believes, "Ms. Voigt's dismissal is only an artifact of these times and does not reflect her world-class performance. It shouldn't matter that Ms. Voigt is on the heavy side. But many years ago, the expectations of the paying public were forever changed by the advent of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleader organization. After that, the game was never enough, and television demanded more spectacle."

• We've lost touch with our imaginations, says Jeannine Pearson, 52, of Finneytown. "One can sit through an opera with closed eyes and still 'see' the whole performance."

•  Says Paula Adamson, 56, of Anderson Township: "Hollywood has definitely carried the 'thin look' too far and put much pressure on our young people to be thin. My concern is really for Ms. Voigt's health (and) all the complications that can arise from being overweight."

• "Let's forget this silliness and move on," e-mails Mark Hite, 46, of Columbus. "Opera performers probably reflect the diversity of how 'real people' look better than do the performers in any other art form."

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