Friday, January 8, 2010

Here we go again ... another "fat" lady

Franco Zeffirelli is in the news ... again. This time, he is accused of doing what seems to be the norm in opera these days: calling a Prima Donna FAT.

The TimesOnline is reporting that Daniela Dessi has quit Zeffirelli's production of La Traviata in Rome because not only was she accused of being fat, but she was also criticized for her age - Dessi is 52.
“A woman of a certain age and plumpness is not credible in the character of Violetta,” the veteran film and opera director told her.
Dessi, who is considering legal action, is reported to have responded thusly:
“Zeffirelli said these things and other, more offensive things,” said Dessi. “I believe a lot in the physical appearance of the singer. I have always taken care of myself. We should be respected for our voices. To be too thin is not good.”

Dessi, who is to star in
Andrea Chenier by Umberto Giordano at the Teatro Real in Madrid next month, said other sopranos such as Monserrat CaballĂ© — a woman of unashamedly generous proportions who had a hit with Freddie Mercury with the song Barcelona — had interpreted the role of Violetta without any comment about their physical appearance.

The singer, who has performed at some of the world’s most famous opera houses including Milan’s La Scala, has worked with Zeffirelli in the past. She said: “I respect the artistic past of Franco Zeffirelli, but I don’t have any admiration for the way he created this controversy.”
Dessi's husband, Fabio Armiliato, was due to sing the part of Alfredo in La Traviata but also withdrew. Zeffirelli remained steadfast saying in part:
“I did say she was on the plump side for the part, and she is. She is is not exactly the kind of woman who is likely to die of tuberculosis,” he told The Times, arguing that La Traviata was a story of “youth and sensual passion”. He said he had offered Dessi an alternative part as Alice Ford, a “mature woman” in Verdi’s Falstaff, but she had turned it down.
When the subject of legal action was broached, Zeffirelli quipped:
"She can threaten what she likes, but I am entitled to choose my singers and exercise my artistic freedom."
Gianluigi Gelmetti, the chief conductor of the Rome Opera — who is believed to have hired Dessi for the role - had to weigh in, of course.

No pun intended.

Maestro Gelmetti disagreed with Zeffirelli’s assessment of Dessi, saying
Dessi’s voice was “in excellent form — and I have to say that her appearance pleases me as a man”.
Uhm ... let's not open that can of worms.

Regardless of the situation, this is great for all parties. You can't buy this kind of publicity ... let's not forget Deborah Voigt and the issues with her Little Black Dress.


I couldn't help but add a quote from one William Hobbs who commented on the TimesOnline article. Unfortunately, I'm afraid it isn't too far from the truth:
What is sad is poor Zeffirelli - he hasn't had an original production idea in 15 years - our Rome Traviata was a retread of a production he did for Callas in Dallas, as his Rome Tosca in 2008 was just like his Covent Garden production for Callas and his upcoming Falstaff will no doubt be a repeat of his 1964 Met production. He was once a respected director and designer but outbursts such as he had at the press conference here ... are those of someone fighting the most tragic effects of age. Madame Dessi still has quite a few good performances left - Zia Zeffirelli I'm afraid not.


To see the entire TimesOnline article, visit their website.

For more on Daniela Dessi, make sure to check her out on the web.

[Photos: Top: Daniela Dessi courtesy of RIA Novosti/Lebrecht Music & Arts. Bottom: Daniela Dessi in Francesca Da Rimini]

1 comment:

Eric Christopher Perry said...

Great post. I'm likely to take Zeffirelli's side but I hear Gelmetti's point. I like a chick with a little meat on her bones too.

In all seriousness though, a good production staff should be able to consider first a singer's vocal capability with his/her personal appearance second. Too much of opera has become about the visual...but then again, I'm a 5'6 tenor so I would be a little biased...

That is not to say that the visual aspect of opera should not be considered- it is a dramatic experience for the eyes also and a certain amount of reality is always appreciated. But...come on...if the woman can sing it damn well then let the audience decide whether or not her "weight" is an issue. I'm sure it would not even be thought twice.

I'd like for Zeffirelli to tell that to Sharon Sweet. I don't think legal action would be the only thing he'd have to worry about!

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