One more note about operas and fat ladies (see what I did there? With the note? Because it’s like music, get it?)
Soprano Daniela Dessi walked out of the role of Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata when director Franco Zeffirelli--you’ll remember him from the Romeo and Juliet we all saw in junior high with Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting– said she was too fat to sing one of opera’s most famous consumptives.
THIS is La Dessi (with friends):
By the way, that is EXACTLY what I wear each morning as my favorite houseboy attends to my toilette (in my head).
Now for those of you who aren’t familiar with La Traviata or La Dame aux Camélias the Alexandre Dumas fils novel (his daddy wrote The Three Musketeers which incidentally has 30% less fat than other classic French adventure novels) on which the opera was based, it’s your tried-and-true Consumptive Parisian Hooker with a Heart of Gold story à la Moulin Rouge except for, you know, not awful in every conceivable way (I’m sorry it just IS and not even Ewan McGregor’s hotness is going to change the fact that Baz Luhrmann directs like a coked-up housefly with electrodes on his balls.)
Marguerite, renamed Violetta in the opera, was based on courtesan Marie Duplessis with whom Dumas fils had a torrid affair before she died at 23.
She’s seen here wearing a white camellia. Apparently Duplessis wore a white camellia when she was available to entertain guests and a red one when she was having her Special Lady Time, which I suppose is a lot more elegant than MY tell which involves taking the safety off my .38.
So if Zeffirelli –who has always been for realism in casting– wanted to cast a sickly-thin 23 year old in the role, then why didn’t he? Is his Google finger broken? Because a quick image search showed me exactly what La Dessi looks like. MAYBE it’s because it’s nearly impossible to find someone that young who can carry a principal with meaning and artistic flair and even LESS likely to find someone capable of singing that role who doesn’t weigh at least a buck fifty.
In fact, the only one I know to have done a credible job –and I’m not saying there aren’t others– is Beverly Sills when she sang Violetta in 1951. The “youngest prima donna in captivity” was 22 and although she was a good bit slimmer than Dessi, no one was going to confuse Bubbles with a consumptive waif.
Ms Dessi says:
‘I can accept criticism before I put pen to paper but not afterwards. I was working well with the conductor of the orchestra but the problem these days is that theatrical directors have too much say.’
Ms Desi [sic] added: ‘I’m stunned. I still can’t believe what I heard him say. I am 1.60 metres tall, weigh 65 kg and take a size 44. There – that’s the first time I have given my vital statistics in public.’
So basically this woman is 5’3″ and wears about a size 14, she had the role and had been rehearsing. Then Zeffirelli calls her “too portly to perform” and Dessi walks out, as does her husband who was playing the male principal and the show went on with two lesser voices.
I mean, I’m not super bright, but isn’t a big part of opera the singing? Because I kind of think it is. Like, if it was just a bossy woman with a great rack and interesting taste in headgear yelling at people for three hours then I feel like I’d be offered more roles than I am, instead of the current number which is –let me rummage through my datebook– exactly zero.
Shout out to Sarahbyrdd for being the first reader to bring this to my attention!