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What happens in San Francisco stays in San Francisco

brewer_isolde“It is in the Wagner repertory that Ms. Brewer has truly frustrated her fans. She has sung Isolde magnificently, though so far only in the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s ‘Tristan Project,’ which used Bill Viola’s videos, while Ms. Brewer and the other lead singers performed as in a concert, with music stands and vocal scores.” [NYT]

116 comments

  • 21
    Clita del Toro says:

    Brewer apparently has memorization problems? She seemed ok in the LOC FroSch???

  • 22
    Arianna a Nasso says:

    Bravo, Harry @ 14.1.1.3 There have been countless ‘big boned’ singers with large voices who have proven that one can sustain a long vocal career without becoming obese. Of course, a segment of the public loves to spread the lie that “big voices come in big bodies” to excuse the obese.

    jatm2063 @ 18 The picture posted here is 4 years old. Brewer has lost some weight since then though she still would quality as overweight.

    I wonder if Brewer will wind up a cult singer -- someone like Podles -- who for various reasons, achieved her potential on a limited scale. With a voice like hers, she should have started the Hochdramatisch rep by her mid-40s rather early 50s. But from what people have posted here, she continues to have a successful marriage, has raised a daughter with whom she has a great relationship, and if she didn’t have the ambition for a “bigger” career, she probably will end her days a very happy woman. Sad for her fans, but good for her.

    • 22.1
      jatm2063 says:

      Yes, and as I said in #18 already, even if she has lost some weight, she is still HUGE. She hasn’t gone down to merely “sturdy”, or “big boned”, or “full figured”. She’s big and fat. Just like Natalie Dessay is a skinny scrawny little thing. It is what it is. Nothing more, and NOTHING LESS.

    • 22.2
      Cocky Kurwenal says:

      I think Brewer is having the career she deserves, frankly, given her vocal endowment.

    • 22.3
      SilvestriWoman says:

      Arianna, I think you’ve come closest to the truth. Brewer has admitted in interviews that she purposely stalled her career in order to raise her daughter. If memory serves, she had an active voice studio in the St. Louis area. She most definitely enjoys a wonderful marriage to her college sweetheart and loves their home in an small town in Illinois, across the river from St. Louis.

      From the looks of her schedule, she’s definitely concentrating on concert work. Can’t blame her… Any singer knows that, unless you enjoy Fleming/Domingo status, the real money is in concert work. Don’t know if it’s true, but I heard that, back in the late 80s/early 90s, John Cheek was making more money than Sam Ramey (then in his prime). How so? From his busy concert schedule -- most especially, all those Messiahs.

      • 22.3.1
        jatm2063 says:

        If she likes concert work, she should do that and not worry about opera so much unless the mood strikes her. More power to her! It must be really nice for her not to be slave to an agent somewhere in NYC, booking her hither and yon for things she doesn’t want to do, and taking her away from her family year round. I’m glad there are a few out there who can make that choice and make it work.

  • 23
    SilvestriWoman says:

    What’s particularly unfair is that, though Ms. Brewer is a very big girl, she’s much slimmer than in the photo above. Post-surgery, she lost quite a bit of weight and swims regularly. This picture, though from a distance, is more representative. The gown also looks like a black version of the red gown she wore at Ravinia -- form-fitting to the hip. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/25/arts/music/25missa.html

    • 23.1
      jatm2063 says:

      This picture, though from a distance, shows the plain and simple truth. She’s very large and fat, about the same size as Anthony Dean Griffey.

      Do you think that she looks slim in this picture?????Anyone????? Does anyone look at this photo and think, “Oh yes, she is the ideal physical type to play a 20 year old virgin Irish princess named Isolde.”

      As for the alleged weight loss, well, they all tend to yoyo up and down, Jane Eaglen and Jessye Norman and Pavarotti did too from time to time. And look where they all ended up. Big and fat.

      • 23.1.1
        CruzSF says:

        Is anyone denying that she’s fat? Such a fact doesn’t justify some other commenters’ cruel jokes about it, though, does it? I wouldn’t think so.

        • 23.1.1.1
          Bluessweet says:

          Cruzsf- You are always a voice of reason and moderation. It’s a shame more do not emulate your considered and considerate posts.

        • 23.1.1.2
          CruzSF says:

          Bluessweet: I make no claims to sainthood. I just don’t see the need for the unprovoked attacks and cruelty. I’ve certainly said and written things out of turn. I hope I’ve had the decency to apologize when informed that my comments — even those made in ignorance — have hurt someone’s feelings.

        • 23.1.1.3
          BETSY_ANN_BOBOLINK says:

          I second Bluesweet with an added, “Hear! Hear!” “Gentle” and “Man” fit so well together under his picture.

        • 23.1.1.4
          CruzSF says:

          Oh, Bets, you must have me confused with someone else. I’ll cop to “man,” but “gentle” doesn’t sound quite right.

        • 23.1.1.5
          BETSY_ANN_BOBOLINK says:

          Oh, all right, I take it all back.

          If I promise never to say it again, do you mind if I still think of you as nice?

        • 23.1.1.6
          CruzSF says:

          Hahaha. Please do. I trust that your imagination will put me in a better light. :-)

        • 23.1.1.7
          luvtennis says:

          I was about to post something much more forceful in response to some of these rude posts.

          I hope the folks making all these comments are physically perfect and very lucky.

          Karma is a bitch. Maybe God will give you a reason to envy the fat one day, Jat and Oh Rest.

      • 23.1.2
        kashania says:

        I don’t think anyone was claiming that Brewer was now slim, just that she has lost signficant weight. Based on that photo, I’d say that she has. And for the record (not that it’s important), Jessye lost weight consistently starting in the late 80s. Pavarotti did see-saw.

        And I find the glee with which some posters call singers “fat” distateful to say the least.

  • 24
    oh rest says:

    Can’t we all just get along? Let’s all go out for a hot fudge sundae. My treat.

  • 25
    CruzSF says:

    Am keeping in touch via iPhone, so I’m not able to access the Chat. I’m sure I missing all the fun.

  • 26
    Earl Koenig says:

    My first encounter with CB was not in Wagner, and indeed not in opera. It was her Wigmore Hall recital in which she performed songs by Strauss, Marx, Vaughan Williams, and Hundley. The Vaughan Williams cycle “Along the Field” remains one of the most moving audio accounts of anything I’ve ever heard, period. The fact that such an large voice (and it is large, I’ve heard her on many occasions) can be used with such restraint is the mark of a great artist.
    She also has a special dedication to contemporary American composers, which warms my lil’ heart.
    Size just doesn’t have an effect on me, unless a singer lets it affect their performance. Caballe, Norman, M. Price, Voigt, Traubel, and Brewer all belong to the special class of artist that can transcend mere music making to produce art. I, for one, know that my life has been enriched by the contributions these ladies have made, regardless of the bodies in which their voices reside.

    • 26.1
      Earl Koenig says:

      I also meant to include Stephanie Blythe in that list!

    • 26.2
      Bluessweet says:

      IMHO, a beautiful voice is a treasure and we should all be delighted to find one and hear it. This summer, I attended several concerts by young, trained singers. The over-all quality was superb. There were several overly large (can I put it that way?) people in the group. Their slimmer, trimmer colleagues were most supportive of their efforts. Indeed, it seemed to me that in some cases, the larger sorts were more popular among their peers than some of the other, more average sized people.

      The problem that I have is that I, myself, am not attracted to large persons of my sexual preference and do not view those body types as romantic. Hence, I do not like to see productions in which large people are cast as romantic leads. If it were Broadway or Hollywood (or Bollywod, for that matter) such persons would not be cast in leading roles. I just saw an exhibit of Hollywood costumes at the Michener Museum in Doylestown, PA (well worth the visit.) The size of the women’s gowns was so small as to be impressive. Wow! Where did they find so many women that small (at least in the waist, we will not talk about bra sizes) who could act?

      Anyway, I am pleased to hear larger people with good voices sing in concert and sing roles where they are not portrayed as romantic images. I have seen criticism of Dessay for being too active and of Brewer as being too inert. While body type has much to do with the amount of stage movement, I do nor see this as a make or break for many operatic scenes (Kindly note I did not say all operatic scenes.) Each style of presentation can work for me, given the action required by the plot. I often wonder what need there is for much movement during an aria, which seems to be almost a soliloquy most times anyway.

      Just my 2 cents.

    • 26.3
      luvtennis says:

      Earl:

      I think the problem that some have with Brewer the singer is that the voice is “old-fashioned” large. Ample, but lyrical. She has a voice that I imagine resembles singers like Gadski and Lehmann. Large, but not cutting, with real glow at the top and little of the metal or forcefulness of some more modern dramatic sopranos.

      I would give anything to hear her sing live.

      • 26.3.1
        SilvestriWoman says:

        Spot-on, luvtennis, though you haven’t heard Brewer live. She’s always approached her voice lyrically rather than shoot for the grandness. Though well into her 50s, Brewer’s voice remains fresh and without strain. A few years ago, I heard her Verdi Requiem. Though she did not make my hair stand on end, the floated high B-flat was easy as pie. If I were still singing classical music, I’d be begging her for voice lessons!

      • 26.3.2
        MontyNostry says:

        One of the points on which Brewer scores is that she’s very good with the text. She articulates clearly and colours the words while sustaining the vocal line beautifully.

        • 26.3.2.1
          Earl Koenig says:

          I agree with all three of you above. Although she does not have the metallic edge of a Varnay or Nilsson; the voice is large and rounded. There is a bit of metal in the top, which I find thrillingly effective in the heavy rep that she does sing. The piano singing and the attention to text are what make the aforementioned Vaughan Williams’ cycle so soul-stirring.
          A friend of mine with Cincinnati Opera said of Brewer “She sounds like she’s still 35” -- who sings the same rep that could say the same at her age?

      • 26.3.3
        Cocky Kurwenal says:

        That’s not the problem I have with Brewer, a voice I find perfectly large enough (although not exceptionally so) having heard her live and on recordings. I just don’t hear the warmth or the glow, and I do hear strain and edge -- not the kind of edge that is desireable in a dramatic soprano, rather the kind of edge that sounds like she’s uncomfortable while she sings.

        To me, it’s just lacking in colour of any kind. I agree she pays great attention to the text and is well prepared and a good performer. I just don’t see the appeal of the instrument itself.

        • 26.3.3.1
          Earl Koenig says:

          CK -- Have you listened to the live FRoSCH from Chicago? The opening of the third act hit me like a hammer! The way she sings the “Ich hab’ ich nichts getan!”, and plunges into her heavy chest voice…ah!

          I’d really recommend that performance, or the Vaughan Williams I mentioned above as a measure of her art. The color and the pure instrumental glory of her voice are, in those works, undeniable.

        • 26.3.3.2
          Cocky Kurwenal says:

          Yes I have, and sorry, still nothing -- I am denying the undeniable. I do quite like the chest tone she employs on the very line you mention, but not what precedes it.

  • 27
    tinney says:

    Maybe I’m just way off about the weight thing but for the most part this is something within a person’s control. Whether or not you have a God given ability to sing is, for the most part, outside of a person’s control but how you look IS. If the only thing separating you from being extraordinary in all aspects is your weight then why not take the time to do what needs to be done?

    • 27.1
      Cocky Kurwenal says:

      It really isn’t that simple, hence the desperate measures taken by some that have ended up in ruined careers. It’s not about taking ‘the time to do what needs to be done’, it’s bringing about a whole change in your relationship with food which may have been ingrained since childhood, and of course your lifestyle. I think for a lot of people, it is relatively easy to decide that they really must start doing some exercise, but addressing the mental issues surrounding the food and the consumption of it is a completely different and much more difficult ball-game.

  • 28
    Tubsinger says:

    As someone who will always struggle with weight, I am sensitive to the issue of overweight singers, and I know that what was dramatically acceptable--or even palatable (no pun intended)--has changed in the last 20 years or so. Cruelty, even with the anonymity of the internet, is still cruelty.

    I am bemused by the largely-political contention that corn syrup is a major contributor to excess weight, as sugar “from sugar cane” could not possibly have been used throughout the country for the past 100 years all the time, everywhere. We’ve been making sugar from corn, beets and probably other sources forever, as transporting and processing sugar cane itself from the tropics was economically not viable. To those of us who struggle with weight (and sweets, particularly), sugar is sugar--dextrose, fructose, glucose, sucrose, etc. If there is any real science linking corn sugars to higher rates of obesity it may have to do with its excessive use and not the chemical breakdown in the metabolism.

    As for discipline, and those who claim they cannot lose weight, I would point strictly to the lap=banding procedures. They just don’t fail. I’ve known several people who’ve had it done and the weight loss always follows. Accordingly I don’t believe too much in medical reasons why people can’t lose weight. But if singers want to remain heavy, and don’t want to go through the agony of attempting to get and stay thinner, that’s their choice and they should be judged on artistic merits and not strictly on appearance.

    As for weight loss being attributed to vocal crisis, I don’t think that’s medically supportable--fat weighs on the musculature and the “renowned” cases of weight loss allied with serious vocal change are frequently linked with other forensic causes (repertory choice, age, etc). Moreover, I have yet to hear of a singer who overcame a vocal crisis by putting on 75 pounds. If that ever becomes advisable, I am available to detail precisely how to achieve that goal in six weeks or fewer.

    • 28.1
      PirateJenny says:

      Isn’t it fun what we learn on Parterre?

      To clarify, I did not suggest that a singer should avoid losing weight, nor that putting on weight enhances a voice.

      With reference to high fructose corn syrup, yes -- a large part of the problem is the quantity with which it is shoved into everything in order to do something with all the corn that is over-produced through subsidies. However, the current consensus in the research community (despite what the major food companies tell you -- kind of like tobacco a few years ago) is that high fructose corn syrup is processed differently.

      I quote from Bray et al in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition -- not, I repeat, NOT the Hippie Quarterly of Reflexive Delusions About the Man: “The digestion, absorption, and metabolism of fructose differ from those of glucose. Hepatic metabolism of fructose favors de novo lipogenesis. In addition, unlike glucose, fructose does not stimulate insulin secretion or enhance leptin production. Because insulin and leptin act as key afferent signals in the regulation of food intake and body weight, this suggests that dietary fructose may contribute to increased energy intake and weight gain.”

      None of which is to argue that I think it is impossible for people to have a healthy lifestyle and lose weight. My reference to the structural issues underlying obesity was simply made to point out that even for well-educated, intelligent people, it is hard to really understand how to get healthy.

      And compounding the issue is the enormous industry predicated on weight loss, much of which is full of contradictory, erroneous and even potentially harmful information.

      • 28.1.1
        Tubsinger says:

        I wasn’t directing my comments at you or your postings--the canard about weight loss causing vocal decline has been around for decades.

        As for the diet industry, I’m continually shocked that in our regulated state, there are still advertisers who can hawk products to lose weight (“dietary supplements”) that are not even approved by the FDA. Why this is allowed, I’ll never know…

    • 28.2
      kashania says:

      No one has said that excess fat is what makes a singer better. However, when a singer is very large, they tend to rely on the size of their bellies to strengthen their diaphram muscles. From what I understand, pushing against all that weight strengthens the diaphram muscles. When a singer goes through a rapid weight loss, their diaphram muscles don’t have time to adjust and start getting weaker. The singer then has to re-learn their technique because they can’t rely on their old way of supporting the voice. I wonder if strenuous stomach excercises would help singers transition into their “new” bodies.

      This support problem has plagued singers as large as Norman and Voigt but also more average-sized singers like Callas and Scotto.

  • 29
    Clita del Toro says:

    Tubsinger: High-fructose corn syrup is not a natural product; it is not found in nature and is synthesized in factories/lab. Surgars made from corn, beets cane, etc. are, on the other hand natural products.
    I don’t understand the mechanisms of how all that works, but the high-fructoce syrup in NOT a good thing for us.

    I am just saying that all sugar, especially HFCS are not the sugars that have been around for millennia and do affect the body differently and negatively.

  • 30
    Clita del Toro says:

    As for regular sugars, who would drink a can of Coke or other soft drinks knowing that each can contains fifteen teaspoons of sugar??

  • 31
    Clita del Toro says:

    On the other hand, who would drink a can of Coke or other soft drink knowing that it contains fifteen teaspoons of sugar. YUCH! Pas moi!

  • 32
    Clita del Toro says:

    Oops, sorry, it’s more like 10 teaspoons--my math was off, but I think there is a lot of the high fructose stuff in there. Still who would want to eat 10 teaspoons of sugar of any kind.