The Week in Arts: Has the curtain come down on big voices?

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I hesitate before writing about the weight of opera singers. About 10 years ago I reported on Pavarotti in
Tosca at the Royal Opera House and noted that he was unsteady on his feet, with his knees seeming to give way under his large girth. The Pavarotti fan club sprung into action with a letter to my then editor urging: "As David Lister seems so interested in legs, please send him to cover football matches, but keep him away from the Royal Opera House." This request was turned down, somewhat to my regret.

I hesitate before writing about the weight of opera singers. About 10 years ago I reported on Pavarotti in Tosca at the Royal Opera House and noted that he was unsteady on his feet, with his knees seeming to give way under his large girth. The Pavarotti fan club sprung into action with a letter to my then editor urging: "As David Lister seems so interested in legs, please send him to cover football matches, but keep him away from the Royal Opera House." This request was turned down, somewhat to my regret.

But this has been such an extraordinary week for big bodies in big operas, that it cannot be ignored. Pavarotti himself gave his last operatic performance, again in Tosca, this time at the Met in New York. Again his tendency to sit down whenever possible was noted. Back here, the Royal Opera House confirmed it had removed the much praised singer Deborah Voigt from the lead role in the upcoming production of Ariadne auf Naxos because of her size. The production apparently will involve much rolling around on the floor. And the creative team couldn't picture Miss Voigt carrying it off.

Perhaps there's an element of sexism here. Pavarotti, with his enormous girth, can win ovations as the lithe lover Cavaradossi in Tosca; but Miss Voigt, one of the great voices of the age, is judged unsuitable because of her size.

With the exits of Pavarotti and Miss Voigt, this could be seen as the week we said goodbye to the traditional suspension of disbelief in opera, and the casting of weighty people in weighty roles. At least I would have said that until the third weight-related story. In the new production of Samson et Dalila at the Royal Opera House, Denyce Graves as Dalila was six months pregnant, and visibly so. Strange that it is no longer politically correct to be fat in dramatic opera, but OK to be visibly pregnant. It certainly brought a new slant to the Biblical tale. Samson could now be seen as a very modern character, a new man. Here was someone prepared to betray his country and cause the death of himself and many others, not for some nubile beauty, but for a heavily pregnant woman. This was opera at its most radical.

Suddenly, I feel I want to see all three of them, Pavarotti, Voigt and Graves, in the same production: one never to be forgotten swan song for traditional opera casting. And the opera should be La Boheme, in which well-endowed sopranos have for 100 years played the consumptive Mimi. I see Miss Voigt as Mimi, Pavarotti as her student lover, Rodolfo, and the heavily pregnant Miss Graves as Mimi's sexually provocative friend, Musetta. It would bring the house down, and probably the stage with it.

There's Method in Kate's sadness

Much has been made of Kate Winslet bursting into tears on American TV this week, while praising her husband Sam Mendes. It was an emotional moment, and some commentators have poked fun at Ms Winslet's tearful outburst.

But they have failed to take note of the show in which Kate cried. It was not a chat show, nor a fluffy celebrity biography programme. It was Inside the Actor's Studio, a regular slot devoted to the techniques of acting. What we saw was a fine demonstration of the method style of acting, with Kate clearly preparing for a future role in Tennessee Williams, or perhaps giving a sly, public audition for a late try at Juliet.

Her husband, the acclaimed film and theatre director, would have been duly impressed, as would directors around the world. I fully expect to see many other actresses and actors giving us their Kate Winslet moment on television.

Stanivlasky would have been proud of her.

¿ The arts always relish satirising or exposing the dark secrets and the internal shenanigans of politics. But the strange goings on in the arts world escape such scrutiny. At Sadler's Wells, the relatively new chief executive Jean-Luc Choplin surprised everyone a few weeks ago by saying he was returning to his native France to run an arts institution. But he would definitely be here for more than a year to see through his ambitious plans. This week a terse press release from Sadler's Wells said that M. Choplin had left with immediate effect and would not be returning. What happened? Who fell out with whom? Surely there is a play in this, or better still, as it is Sadler's Wells, an expressive dance piece.

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