Specifically, numbers on artist contracts.
These numbers aren’t the ones you’d expect to see. You’re probably thinking dollar signs. Or perhaps dates. Not so. These are the numbers you see when you step on the bathroom scale.
It’s not a new phenomenon at all, but I wonder if its prevalence is on the rise. First you fight for/audition for a role, and prove that you can sing (and act) the #*&% out of it. You are offered a contract, but with a catch. In order to retain the gig, you have to weigh in. And if you can’t hit and sustain the goal, you might just be out of work.
Athletes are no strangers to this. Actors (I would guess, especially those on the big screen) are probably completely used to it. And this isn’t exactly news to opera singers. But even though the opera business is getting more and more fixated on physically attractive singers, I still have trouble wrapping my mind around (virtually) stepping on a scale before you’re allowed onstage. Debby Voigt’s little black dress notwithstanding.
Mind you, the recent conversations I’ve had on this topic do not concern obese people. This is about getting down to a fighting weight that can stand the scrutiny of a camera. It’s about trying to make opera singers competitive visually with the rest of the celebrity circuit. And it’s terribly confusing.
As someone who’s fought with her own scale for over 4 decades (my first diet was at age nine), I’m just glad I’m not on that side of the footlights. Yes, singers should be fit and healthy, and excess weight does no one any good. But it’s so odd to quantify it as a stipulation of employment in a different way than any other factor. (Does anyone make you sing the high C the minute you arrive, before they decide if you’re allowed to keep working?) Then again, are there so many good singers that it doesn’t matter if we siphon off the percentage that don’t look like movie stars? (No comments, please; I don’t really believe this. But it’s worth stating it out loud.)
I love it when sheer vocal talent and prodigious musicianship line up perfectly with a body type that fits the character. In opera, as in life, what I want is for everyone is to occupy a physical space that doesn’t impede their goals. But I’ve seen lots of women who aren’t size 6 who are fit and comfortable enough in their bodies to be agile, versatile, and sexy onstage. And some of them are so riveting that it is we, the audience, who would have been poorer had they not been allowed to perform.
No answers here, just observations and open-ended questions. Discuss amongst yourselves.