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On singers’ size

Last updated Dec 19, 2019 | Published on Jun 12, 2015

Winner of a fellowship at the Bayreuther Festspiele, Mr. Griglio’s conducting has been praised for his “energy” and “fine details”. Mr. Griglio took part in the first world recording of music by composer Irwin Bazelon and conducted several world premieres like "The song of Eddie", by Harold Farberman, a candidate for the Pulitzer Prize. Principal Conductor of International Opera Theater Philadelphia for four years, Mr.Griglio is also active as a composer. His first opera, Camille Claudel, debuted in 2013 to a great success of audience and critics. Mr. Griglio is presently working on an opera on Caravaggio and Music Director of Opera Odyssey.
Dear music critics of the London Times,

I have read quite a few of your opera critiques: more often than not, they seem to carry on the dangerous habit of focusing on something unrelated to the core of a performance. Going back only one year, in your opinion Tara Erraught was too fat for the role of Octavian and, more recently, Lisa Milnes retired from the scenes due to her size.

It seems to me like you are sending to the Times articles that are tailored for Vogue.

Maybe I am just old fashioned, but I still think that opera is a perfect balance of theater and music. Both of them require acting and singing skills, if I’m not mistaken. They do not require for the singers to be models as well.

I’m afraid, you, my dear critics, are undermining yourselves by doing exactly the opposite of what is required by your job description: you are conforming to the industry standards. Unfortunately, these “standards” are focusing more and more on so called beauty – which is, may I remind you, subjective – and less on the primary aspect of opera: singing. Without singers, fat or slim, there is no opera. As a conductor, given two singers for the same role, I would hire the one that sings better any day of the week and couldn’t care less about her/his size. As an opera-goer, I want to hear good music-making and see good acting.

Mass media endorse the obsession with body fashion, but unless you are a shareholder of Protein World, that should not be of your concern. And why are you exclusively targeting women? Your job is to inform the public and give them your knowledgeable opinion on the artistic aspects of a production. If you want to gossip or, worse, express your sexist prejudice on someone’s appearance, I would advise your boss to show you the door. The Times should have no time for it.

Sincerely yours,
Gianmaria Griglio

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Gianmaria Griglio is an intelligent, exceptional musician. There is no question about his conducting abilities: he has exceptionally clear baton technique that allows him to articulate whatever decisions he has made about the music.

Harold Farberman

  1. Melanie Christensen

    First my apologies for writing in English – I sing in Italian but do not master the language. Second, thank you for these comments – as a dramatic soprano with the bulk to match the voice, I appreciate your reminder that music comes first, aesthetics after … and being believable in a role is not about size, but about how convincing the rendering of the characterization. My favorite example of this comes from Japanese Nô theatre, in which big burly men, masked and gowned, play young girls with total credibility, through extraordinary talent and rigorous training. “It isn’t over until the fat lady sings”, we say in English – and oh, how she sings!! But we do so better if, in addition to everything else we must master, we don’t have to obsess self-consciously about our girth or anything else about our appearance

    • Gianmaria Griglio

      Completely agreed Melanie. I hadn’t thought about the No theatre, but it’s a great example. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Barbara Quintiliani

    Caro Maestro,
    Mille grazie! It is about time we return to worrying about great singing and the great expression of emotion on the stage. Like most women, my weight fluxuates- perhaps a little more extreme than most due to my need to take steroids in high dosage for an autoimmune dissorder. This does not keep me from singing and singing well. I had the opportunity to sing a rarity of Donizetti at the Wexford Festival in Ireland, the title role Maria Padilla. It was such an honor to be trusted with such a difficult and demanding role. I was lucky enough to not only recieve an enthusiastic response from the audience, but from the press as well. Nearly every publication including The Stage, The Telegraph, and other foreign press gave me unbelievable reviews, and not a one mentioned my weight. The Sunday London times gave me a tremendous review and said many lovely things about my technique and my interpretation but had to add in that I would have to make a career “outside the glamorous opera circuit” because of my weight. It was hurtful after putting all of my heart and soul into something. But- it was just a piece of paper after all. What truly matters is what our audience thinks and experiences. They enjoyed the show. The were enthralled in a rare opera of Donizetti. They left the theater excited and elated. We did our job. I got many wonderful letters- and still do by the way concerning this performance. It is sad and unfortunate that this important publication is lowering itself to tabloid standards to sell copies. It is entirely their loss. Best wishes to you and again, thank uou for standing up and saying something. I long to return to the time when the maestri protected and nurtured the singers in the opera house. You sir, are doing such a thing by writing this. Bravo! Warm wishes- BQ

    • Gianmaria Griglio

      Dear Barbara,
      thank you for your words. Your experience, I’m afraid, is just one of many. Nevertheless, as you pointed out, in the end it’s just a piece of paper and what counts is the emotions we can give an audience when we make art. That is the ultimate and most important thing. It’s all what music is about.

  3. Liisa Davila

    Thank you very much for your support of the singer. As a soprano starting out in this business I am intimidated with the competition of being model shape and size for the stage. I was trained as a musician– not a model–for this career. I expect to use all of the training and education I have invested in to learn and grow in the world of opera, which I love.

    With respect and gratitude I appreciate your comments.

    • Gianmaria Griglio

      Thank you Liisa. A lifetime is not enough to learn about opera. I feel the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know. I just don’t see the point of adding extra unrelated subjects to it, such as one’s shape. I wish you the best in what I hope will be a life long affair with music!

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