The Telegraph critic Rupert Christiansen defends his position amidst a storm of controversy.
The opera community has united against remarks made about one of the artists in the new Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier. As Limelight reported yesterday, controversy was sparked when five critics made disparaging observations regarding Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught’s physical appearance with scant reference to her musical ability.
In response to the public outcry, and to vindicate the criticisms, The Daily Telegraph published an editorial by its critic Rupert Christiansen who had labelled Erraught as "dumpy of stature" with an "intractable physique". Simply titled “I stand by every word”, the article addresses claims of sexism, a lack of professionalism, and critical integrity but for many it appears to have opened up a whole new can of worms.
Christiansen's defence rests on his statement that "Octavian is a young nobleman, conceived by Strauss and his librettist Hofmannsthal as a Principal Boy-type and most successfully incarnated in the past by taller or more strapping mezzo-sopranos such as Anne Sofie von Otter or Sarah Connolly," adding that Erraught "fails to make it credible that she would be having an affair with the Marschallin, fighting a duel with Ochs or captivating Sophie with her manly bravado."
“I have never traded in gratuitous insults or cheap mockery, but in the theatre I am not reviewing a CD and therefore cannot ignore 25 per cent (or whatever figure you may want to put on it) of what constitutes a musical drama,” Christiansen writes. “Fat and thin can be equally beautiful, but one has to make an audience believe… Opera is a visual as well as an aural experience, a form of theatre: it may be 75 per cent about the voice, but it is also 25 per cent about the ability to act well and create a convincing character.”
He then backs himself into a corner saying "one would not cast a skeletally thin man as Falstaff or an elderly lady as Juliet" despite the fact that many Falstaff's are not fat (the costume takes care of that) and Juliet has been sung, danced and acted effectively over the years by performers from 15 to 50.
Christiansen writes that he is distressed to learn that “Miss Erraught has been upset by the hoo-ha around the reception of her performance”, but as the article mainly defends his own position, it has caused as much controversy as the initial critique. A barrage of lengthy comments are posted in response, exhibiting both support:
As the Der Rosenkavalier saga has shown, the impact of criticism should not be underestimated. It has the means to vigorously better an art form, or demolish it unsympathetically. Closing his article, Christiansen defiantly claims “I am a critic, not a cheerleader. Alice Coote once said to me: “Tell us the truth, no matter how hard!” This is all that I have ever aspired to do.”