One of my favorite opera singers is the mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli. I discovered her work in college and I used to take naps to her CD, A Portrait, on a daily basis.
I loved her voice, her look, her masses of dark curls, her effortless coloratura whether singing Handel or Mozart. I am a mezzo too and I would sing along, no doubt getting dirty looks from all the people I passed in my car.
Here is a video of her singing Caro Mio Ben to give you just a taste of her sublimity.
The top comment on this video:
before i heard her sing i thought she was a plain chunky Italian chick
now when i look at her i see the most perfect example of femininity on earth [sic]
And thus we reach the topic of this post. Opera, one of the few performance arts where you ought to be judged for your recitative and not your waist size, has succumbed to popular pressure.
I was listening to Cecilia’s new album, Sospiri (which means “sighs” in Italian), released in 2010. I squinted at the tiny album cover in the corner of my screen and then blew it up to full size.
Notice any difference between that picture and this, also taken in 2010?
The album cover is heavily Photoshopped, to make her appear thinner. Now this could have been a change Ms. Bartoli herself requested. Who doesn’t want to look as beautiful as possible in their promotional photos?
But it has become so common now it doesn’t even raise any eyebrows or notice. I was sure I was not the only one who saw this, but I searched Google in vain for any reference to the classical community being annoyed at one of their grande dames being visually liposuctioned for the masses.
Never mind that I loved Cecilia as she was (and truly is). Curvy and hippy and womanly and lush. Such photographs do a disservice to her as an artist. Yet, Cecilia Bartoli is currently #7 on Hottest Female Classical Musicians. Is that for who she really is and how she really looks or how she is portrayed in images for her recordings, which sell quite well? And what does “hot” have to do with opera anyhow?
When Maria Callas lost all her weight, many people believe she lost the vocal quality that made her so memorable. Renee Fleming, another famous soprano, said of Callas’ transformation: “It’s not the weight loss per se… But if one uses the weight for support, and then it’s suddenly gone and one doesn’t develop another musculature for support, it can be very hard on the voice. And you can’t estimate the toll that emotional turmoil will take as well.”
Conversely, many believe that Callas didn’t become the mega-star that she was -until- she lost all the weight, even though her voice changed.
I am more sensitive to this because opera is one of the few places you can still find curvy and buxom beauties. They open their mouth and the heavens open.
Let it be about the music, not the number on the scale.
Something to consider:
If you had a voice of fire, would you trade it for beauty?