A German theatre critic has refused to back down after US soprano Kathryn Lewek accused some reviewers of “fat shaming” her.
Lewek said Manuel Brug’s description of “fat women in tight corsets spreading their legs” was “derogatory”.
But in a piece written in Die Welt on Tuesday, Brug said he “wasn’t referring to any particular character on stage”.
He then added: “If she shows her body on stage she has to deal with being described like that.”
Brug wrote in Tuesday’s article that he had described her portrayal of Eurydice in a production of Orpheus in the Underworld “as a character in an aesthetic universe. Just not as being slim. This is my duty and task as a journalist”.
The singer was widely praised for her performance at the Salzburg Festival in Austria.
Brug continued: “I wasn’t referring to any particular character on stage. But rather to the principle of the staging itself. The American singer in the role of Eurydice clearly didn’t understand this, as she probably can’t speak German.
“The singer in the role of Eurydice appeared mainly and ostentatiously in either a flesh-toned or a black corset. These were so tight and short that they made it deliberately and abundantly clear that this was a woman who was being shown as fat.
He added that “it didn’t and doesn’t matter to me as a critic how thin or fat singers are, as long as they excel at singing their roles”.
Some other reviewers had called Lewek “fat”, “stocky-looking” and “buxom”.
Speaking to the BBC earlier this week, Lewek called the comments “antiquated” and “ridiculous”.
She said her role in Orpheus in the Underworld was clearly a sexualised one (“she has sex with everyone on stage”) so she had been prepared for “some comments”.
But the soprano, who recently gave birth, was stunned to read reviews that she said critiqued her “postpartum mom-bod instead of reviewing the show”.
She said Brug’s column in particular “really lit my fire” adding: “It was such a derogatory way of describing what my character was all about.”
Without naming Brug, she lashed out at “body-shaming and fat-shaming” on Twitter, writing: “Time’s up on these juvenile bullies.”
The negative comments sparked a furious backlash from other singers.
“This is absolutely disgraceful,” wrote British tenor Anthony Gregory. “Why is it ‘interesting’ that all the ‘thin ladies’ on stage had dresses? Was that a disappointment? So sorry you’re having to put up with it Kathryn.”
“Commenting on anything that is unrelated to the performance is irrelevant,” added Brit Award-winner Camilla Kerslake, noting that “male singers rarely have to put up with this”.
In response, the paper’s editor, Dr Ulf Poschardt, said Brug’s review had been misinterpreted.
“This report was not meant as a personal insult – and it is not written as a personal insult,” he said.
Born and raised in Connecticut, Lewek has established herself as one of her generation’s strongest coloratura sopranos, performing with the The Metropolitan Opera, Opera Leipzig, English National Opera and as a soloist at the BBC Proms.
“I’m not ashamed of how I look, I’ve got a thick skin, and it felt like an opportunity for me to help my community – because it’s unacceptable. It’s not good journalism.”