Classical music and the sexism of critics

While some people in the U.S. have been focusing on the disparate treatment of women in the workplace — specifically, the newsroom — over the last week, another inequality has broken out in the open in Europe: Women in classical music, NPR reports.

In separate reviews of Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught, five different male writers used stocky, chubby, puppy-fat, scullery maid, unsightly, and unappealing to describe her “performance.”

On the NPR blog, Deceptive Cadence, Anastasia Tsioulcas writes

Of course, double standards exist across all kinds of media and entertainment. And it would be seductively easy to dismiss this as an unfortunate but distant U.K. phenomenon, except for the fact that classical music, pretty much above and beyond every other musical genre, depends on transnational crosscurrents between artists, managers, labels, audiences and critics.

That’s one reason these reviews are so dispiriting. I’m sure that certain people will question my own motives, but I find it astounding that across five widely read publications, not a single editor saw fit to go back to the writer and challenge what he had written. Yes, visuals matter — even more now, in the age of live broadcasts — but these critics have seized this as license to forget why anybody shows up at an opera house to begin with.

“The fact that we are having this conversation in 2014,” she says, “honestly makes me wonder if classical music doesn’t deserve its stereotype of being silly, reactionary, outdated and out of step with the contemporary world.”

One NPR commenter blames classic music promoters and artists.

“Classical music does itself a disservice when it tries to sell itself on the perceived hotness of its stars. It bothers me so much to see string players posing nude on their album covers, with their violins in front of their breasts. I want my preferred art form to be above all that.”