From Blindingham Hall: why are sopranos fat?

From the blog of Blindingham Hall, jointly written by Catherine Rose and me… I recommend reading from the beginning…

Letters the Seventeenth and Eighteenth:
From Rogers to Lady Effingham; and from Lady Effingham to Rogers

Dear Lady Effingham,

What a to-do! There was a fight in the Philip Glass Arms last night – a nice pub, but the bars haven’t changed since it’s been opened.

I sat near Thelion Spart, the arts reviewer for the Blindingham parish magazine. His latest review of the Blindingham Opera Group was less than kind, with the headline ‘BOG Off’, and the village is all a-quiver.

How proud I felt when Mr Spart decided to talk to me! Like all music critics, he’s very important – I know, because he told me – and he laughed kindly when I said I thought it was rude to criticise people. He told me that he’s just telling people what they should think, and they should be very grateful.

Then Vauxhall came in with his new girlfriend, Addie Pose, who sings for Blindingham Opera Group. Vauxhall spotted Mr Spart and came straight over. ‘Did you call my bird a fatty?’ he started, and said a lot of things I didn’t understand. Once we’d mopped up and cleared the broken glass away, I helped Mr Spart back to the table. Addie, who is of comely build, squeezed into the window seat in the Snug Bar with Vauxhall, and although he did have some difficulty reaching his pint, he seemed content.

Mr Spart explained that although Addie had a lovely voice, the role of Little Orphan Annie should be played by a young girl, preferably one who looked underfed and smaller than Miss Hannigan the orphanage owner. I said that I thought the voice was the important thing and he laughed at me. I’ll never forget his words, because he made me write them down.

‘If you want to listen to the voice, put on a CD. Opera is theatre, my dear. Belief can be suspended but it cannot be hanged and left to die. The eye informs the ear and ugliness, in whatever form, is distracting to our artistic sensitivities.’

He must be right, because he’s a well known critic, but I didn’t feel quite comfortable agreeing with him. I hope you’ll be able to help clear my mind. I asked Vauxhall, but not much of his reply could be written down.

Incidentally, Helga and Vauxhall are getting on very well and they seem to have developed an interest in insects. They were discussing the bugs in the bedrooms, and how many of your guests have been happy to pay for the videos that they have recorded. What fascinating visitors you have, to be interested in such things.

Yours as ever,

Rogers

-o-o-0-o-o-

Dear Rogers

I am deeply concerned about members of my staff becoming involved in such an unseemly fracas. I will ensure that Mr Dawson hears of it and that he lets Vauxhall feel the firm smack of his discipline. Vauxhall is an excellent mechanic, but he has an unusual background – Lord Effingham met Vauxhall’s former employer in a rather unorthodox establishment in Syracuse. As a consequence, Vauxhall’s knowledge of how the trusted servant of a house such as Blindingham should behave may yet be imperfect.

However, I can but applaud his choice of companion. Addie Pose has great promise as a singer, and may yet burst the bonds of the BOG and rise to the true operatic stage. I hope eventually to hear her in the great trouser roles such as Cherubino (in Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro) or Octavian (in Richard Strauss’s Rosenkavalier). As in the great British tradition of pantomime, the leading man is often played by a young lady. I understand from my previous meetings with her that Addie is already interested in cross-dressing, so it shouldn’t be too much of a leap.

As for Mr Thelion Spart, I fear he is sadly out of fashion. While the ability to act has certainly become a requisite for opera singers in this day and age, a certain embonpoint must remain welcome, if not universal. The days of Luciano Eatsalotti, when the leading tenor, great in every sense of the word, had to reach the stage by means of a golf buggy, are over, but artistry must always triumph over waist measurement.

Sopranos in particular have always been subject to sizeism, I fear. This may partly be because they have always been the object of interest of the great conductors – you would be surprised how many male conductors have married lady singers – or, in the case of others such as Humbert von Karryon, merely been associated with them.

You put me in mind of an idea that has occasionally surfaced in my ever-fertile mind: that of establishing a country-house opera company at Blindingham. They are all the rage you know – it’s not just Glyndebourne, but also Longborough and Garsington. A chamber version of Strauss’s Salomé might attract Ms Pose to the title role, to perform the Dance of the Seven VeilsThat would show Mr Spart what he is missing!

I would have to discuss the potential impact on the grounds with the gardening staff of course – I am at leisure in the hothouse most afternoons should you wish to pursue this.

Yours ever,

Ophelia, Lady Effingham

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