If "Sexing Up Opera," as a Chicago-area Daily Herald article puts it, were a gimmick or detracted from the music and performance, it would be a very bad thing indeed. But the rise of several immensely talented and physically attractive and personable young performers can only be good for opera.
As the Daily Herald story reports, twenty-eighty year old soprano Danielle de Niese, a grad of the Metropolitan Opera’s Young Artist program, represents the trend.
According to the Daily Herald story, she has brought not just beauty to the stage but also a great voice, a love for vocal improvisation which is just right for the Baroque-era works in which she specializes, and a talent for dance which is unmatched on the operatic stage of our time.
The relevant question is whether physical attractiveness is somehow inimical to operatic beauty. Those who oppose the trend must make a positive case that physical beauty actually undermines the art of opera. It seems to me very unlikely that such a proposition can be positively established.
I have yet to hear her sing or see De Niese perform, but reviews have been very positive, and de Niese is having great success at weaning young people away from Britney Spears and fostering an appreciation for real art:
With her fashion model looks and her incredible charisma, de Niese has already been targeted by critics like Evan Eisenberg of Slate.com, who says she’s the most promising ambassador of popularizing opera since the late Beverly Sills.
De Niese isn’t sure she deserves that mantle, but she does make an effort to do youth outreach programs wherever she performs. Two Chicago student outreaches are already scheduled, plus an interviewing/autograph session at Schaumburg’s Prairie Center for the Arts, which provides de Niese a golden opportunity to tout her critically acclaimed first CD, a collection of Handel arias on the Decca label.
De Niese may yet get younger audiences focused on opera instead of Britney Spears. At a recent variety and pop concert in London, de Niese sang Cleopatra’s final solo aria "Da tempeste" from "Casear" and got a surprising response.
"I’ll never believe what I saw," de Niese said. "There were people in the audience actually bopping their heads along like a rock concert."
If businesses can use sex to sell everything from cars to shaving cream, is it really so bad for opera stars to be attractive when it doesn’t compromise the art?