Sunday, February 07, 2010

Clothes War-Horses

Rupert Christiansen comments on a column Opera Chic has written about conductors' wardrobes:
Offstage, it doesn’t matter what a performer wears; onstage, however, it regrettably does. We are meant to go to a concert to listen rather than look, and ideally how musicians are clothed should have no bearing on the sound they make. But the brute fact is that understated elegance inspires confidence in the performer, while ugly, ill-fitting and garish outfits (still the norm in our concert halls) make one sub-consciously doubt the wearer’s competence. And it matters too in terms of popular preconception and prejudice: a shiny, baggy suit or a Primark evening dress promotes the notion among the trend-conscious young that ‘classical music’ is terribly cheesy and uncool.
Really? I mean, it's all well and good to gossip about classical performers' wardrobes--the clothing of rich and classy people is interesting as always. But people not attending classical music because of the sometimes-dumpy dresses? First, anyone who is lukewarm on the whole concept of classical music is probably not paying for seats anywhere near close enough to get a good look at the outfits. Renaay just looks like a big sequin from the cheap seats at Carnegie Hall no matter what she has on. Second, if the performer and the music isn't doing anything for you in the first place, its hard to imagine you'd want to come back for the great outfits. I'm afraid this is another one of those variables that people can have fun thinking and talking about but has no effect whatsoever on the attendance side of the equation.

That said, while the impact of outfits is questionable, there's clearly a lot going on with appearance where performers' body types are concerned. Whether this is all in programmers'/artistic directors' heads, or whether people are now attending the Met in droves because of all the thin people plastered on bus steps (or is it just increased visibility overall?) is an open question, and has clearly real effects on who we end up seeing on stage.

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