Tuesday 29 March 2005

It ain't over till the fat lady sings

I was saddened to read the article in the Guardian saying that Deborah Voigt had undergone gastric surgery in an effort to lose weight. She evidently had the treatment in June but has recently told everyone about it because people had started to notice her decrease in weight - she's lost 7 stone.

Ms. Voigt is perhaps most recently famous for the kerfuffle about her non-appearance in Covent Garden's production of Ariadne auf Naxos because of her weight; the producer had refused to sanction a costume change. When news of this hit the press, as it did repeatedly last year, there were moments when I wondered who was driving the publicity campaign; it seemed as if perhaps the diva herself was trying capitalise on the free exposure. If this is so, then she may be regretting it as the press coverage has ensured that Ms. Voigt is best known for her weight, rather than her stupendous voice.

I saw Deborah Voight on stage at the Met in 2003 and she was an impressive performer both physically and vocally. Size need not be an issue providing the performer is a good actor and knows how to be expressive, which Voigt does. All it needs is a decent producer/director to work with the diva/divo. Unfortunately this does not always happen.

In her last outing as Turandot at Covent Garden, Jane Eaglen and the revival director did sterling work in adapting the roles movement requirements so that Eaglen could be expressive as Turandot but never look foolish (after all Turandot should not look foolish). Eaglen said at the time, that she can do most things a thinner person can, but you don't always want to see them and they are not always suitable for the character.

This was evident in the revival of Jonathan Miller's production of Tosca at ENO in which Eaglen sang quite some years ago. The revival director reproduced on Eaglen all the movement which had been crafted for Josephine Barstow. The results were, at times, awkward and on her final run up a plank to leap off the ramparts, almost laughable. Large people running are rarely dignified. Surely the ENO staff must have realised that the final image we were presented with was unsuitable for the end of Tosca, even if it is what Mr Miller created, though with a rather slimmer singer.

The most expressive large singer that I have known was the late Rita Hunter. I saw her in only a handful of roles (Brunnhilde, Turandot, Leonora (Il Trovatore)). But even though it was over 20 years ago I still have vivid memories of her singing and her stage presence. She was not a vigorous stage performer, but had truly expressive hands and face; there are moments from Act 2 of The Twighlight of The Gods which remain embedded in my visual memory.

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