Famous Cuban-American soprano Lisette Oropesa says opera directors are increasingly demanding that female stars lose weight — or their jobs. While opera singers, traditionally, have been known for being full-figured, Oropesa said she was told she needed “to fix the weight problem if you want to have a chance at all” at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House. In 2005, she was 210 pounds. Today, she weighs 123 pounds.
‘That’s a lot to lose,” Oropesa, 35, told AFP.
Male singers, she added, don’t face the same pressure to drop weight.
“As long as they appear and come to work, they are OK,” said the singer. “There are roles I wasn’t even considered for because of the way I looked,”Oropesa said previously in an interview with The Times of London.
In recent years, a debate has erupted in the opera world over whether singing talent — the factor that should presumably be most important to an opera production — had been superseded in the eyes of critics and directors by physical appearances. Deborah Voigt, one of the world’s most popular sopranos, was infamously ousted from the London Royal Opera House in 2003 because she was too large to fit into a dress for a production. Using her severance pay, Voigt underwent gastric bypass surgery to become slimmer — a decision that she said helped her win new opportunities. In 2014, Irish mezzo soprano Tara Erraught was unmercifully castigated and insulted for her weight by so-called music critics in major newspapers during her U.K. stage debut at the Glyndebourne festival opera, prompting outrage from other female singers.
“How, then, have we arrived at a point where opera is no longer about singing but about the physiques and looks of the singers, specifically the female singers?” wrote fellow mezzo soprano Jennifer Johnstone in an article for The Guardian. “Barely any mention of her voice, a gloriously rounded and well produced instrument, was made, and there was little comment on her musicianship, dramatic commitment or her ability to communicate to an audience and to move that audience to tears … I, for one, had thought we as a country had moved beyond the point where women were treated as second-class citizens, but clearly overt sexism is still rife, no matter what we are led to believe.”
“The thing that really gets to me about the reviews is that all of them, almost grudgingly, admit that she sang the extraordinarily difficult role beautifully. And yet the bulk of their criticism is reserved for her body type,” added internationally-renowned American mezzo soprano Jennifer Rivera. “Expecting every single person to look like the character they are portraying will leave out certain, very special voices that in other eras, when weight and appearance were less of an issue, were considered some of the greatest voices of their generations.”
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