Thank you, Sir, may i have another, Sir?

Cher public, those of you who have written to La Cieca wondering at the frequency Anthony Tommasini uses the word “strapping” to describe opera singers of the male persuasion — well, wonder no more. According to the New York Times archives, Tony has flogged his favorite modifer no fewer than 44 times in the past decade. In one of those instances, admittedly, the “S” word is used literally, something about how Shirley Verrett was punished as a child (!!!) But the other 43 uses all referred to the physical endowments of the NYT critic’s favorite flavors of singer: tenors, baritones, and basses. Each and every one of those bad boys got a good “strapping” from Tautological Tony.

A few of La Cieca’s recent favorites:

“Still, the strapping bass Ethan Herschenfeld made an impact in the role” October 8, 2005

“[Jon Villars] brought many splendid qualities to his performance: a clarion voice; a strapping presence; youthful energy; solid musicianship” September 27, 2005

Lorenzo Pisoni commanded the stage as a strapping Demetrius” March 19, 2005

“The hardy baritone Kyle Pfortmiller makes a strapping Maximilian” March 10, 2005

“Mr. Gunn, an intelligent and elegant singer, is so strapping, handsome and hunky [Dude! Trifecta! — LC] that stage directors search for reasons to get whatever character he is playing to go bare-chested . . . . Surely, a good Idomeneo must convey authority and dignity, and pull off mood swings between defiance and despair. But need he be strapping and sexy?” December 4, 2004

“The strapping, robust-voiced bass-baritone John RelyeaDecember 4, 2004 [A date that will live in history as “the day of three strappings!” — LC]

“Figaro, the strapping, robust-voiced bass-baritone David PittsingerOctober 26, 2004

“the strapping young Russian baritone Rodion PogossovOctober 11, 2004

“The baritone Nathan Gunn brought his robust voice and strapping physique to the role of Guglielmo. ” August 12, 2004

“the strapping tenor Brandon Jovanovich as Boconnion” August 4, 2004

“a strapping Westphalian youth” May 7, 2004

“tall, strapping and handsome Swedish baritone” April 20, 2004

“A supremely intelligent artist and a strapping stage presence, Mr. Hampson has long been aware, some would say overly so, of his own attractiveness.” March 3, 2004

“And the robust bass João Fernandes made a strapping Pluto.” February 7, 2004

“The strapping and robust baritone Christopher SchaldenbrandJanuary 5, 2004

“Schoenberg’s Naked Virgins . . . cavort with strapping, scantily clad young men during the orgy scene before the Golden Calf.” December 19, 2003


18 Responses to “Thank you, Sir, may i have another, Sir?”

  1. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    Well, at least I won’t disagree with his taste in this matter. I can even think of other strapping opera performers, including some tenors too!

  2. Chalkenteros Says:

    Was that photo taken in one of the men’s rooms at the Met?

    I gotta get out of the family circle …

  3. Rev. Manny Gregorius Says:

    Delightful! Thank you so much for this most amusing post. Now, could you please investigate (and perhaps “solve”) one of my personal Times obsessions, which is critic Stephen Holden’s ridiculous over-use of the word “semi-operatic” when describing nearly every frigging cabaret or pop singer that he writers about. Thanks!

  4. Hans Lick Says:

    And all these years I thought “strapping” referred to those narrow things over the shoulders that held ladies’ gowns up. Not in Grace Moore’s case, obviously.

    Hans Lick

  5. rysanekfreak Says:

    Oh!– the picture! It reminds me so much of the “Billy Budd” I once saw in Houston starring Bo Skovhus. I couldn’t get over all the kink (if you know what I mean).
    And I think you do.

  6. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    Rysanekfreak, I gather you enjoyed that production..

  7. Somehow I think Mr. Tomassini is using the word “strapping” as a euphemism for “handsome” as in “ridiculously handsome,” “meltingly handsome,” “fabulously handsome” and so on.

    I’m a little too old and a little too fat and out-of-shape to be doing it, but I’m going to soon be a Celtic Warrior Supernumerary in a Loincloth in “Norma.” I pray that somebody uses the word “strapping” when they see me (rather than bursting into inglorious giggles). We shall see.

  8. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    Il Tenore di Coloratura Superba, we wish you a Happy Birthday.

    Can anyone think of an opera where there’s a celebration or mention of a birthday? I can’t.

    I can think of at least one operetta (The Merry Widow where they celebrate the monarch’s birthday during the first act.) and one zarzuela, but not a full fledged opera.

    So I have nothing to sing to you.

    The second act of the ballet Sleeping Beauty is a birthday party, but I’m not about to try dancing the Rose Adagio.

    Have a happy one.

  9. La Lachrymosa Says:

    Hey SFMike: My daughter and I will be in the audience for one of those Normas. Would you be willing to let me know where you’ll be to look for you?

    ITDG: I don’t suppose Flora’s party could be for somebody’s birthday? Certainly some director somewhere could stage it that way. Think of all those strapping toreadors. And strapping gypsy girls.

    As for the Rose Adagio, I know from personal experience that the balances are much easier to hold if you substitute Converse All-Stars for pointe shoes.

    Happy Birthday, ITDCS.

  10. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    sfmike, where’s that Norma? Can’t recall anyone doing Norma in the US in the near future.

    Incidentally, I also made my operatic review as a warrior in the old Met production of Norma.
    And, ah, yes, I was young and strapping then !

  11. That certainly is a very odd pattern, the over-use of the word “strapping”!

    I wonder what he means when he says it? Hmmm, on second thought, maybe I don’t want to know …

  12. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary:

    strapping = Monstrous; whopping

  13. rysanekfreak Says:

    The upcoming “Norma” in question is in San Francisco. I have tickets for it, “Fidelio,” and “Forza” — three nights in a row — but I’m thinking of skipping the whole trip now. I would love to see “strapping SFMike” pose strappingly in his loincloth, but it’s just too far to travel.

  14. Basta Profunda Says:

    How about some comments about older singers: John Tomlinson, Philip Langridge, Timothy Noble, Paolo Gavanelli, Robert Lloyd, Graham Clark (who started out in life as a professional gymnastics teacher).

    Norma is being performed by San Francisco Opera with the radiant Catherine Naglestad in the title role. Go to
    Love, Basta Profunda

  15. Dear la lachrymosa: Please DON’T look for me on the stage. Unlike most of my fellow supernumeraries, I could care less about being seen by anyone in the audience, particularly in My Loincloth.

    The joy for me is in getting to be an amateur actor, and instead of putting on a play in the basement of some church, we get to work with some of the greatest stage directors in the world and interact with some of the greatest singers in the world.

    Best of all are the musical moments where you happen to be in the perfect place on the stage between the principal singer(s), the chorus and the orchestra and get a blast of musical energy that can probably cure cancer.

    Dear rysanekfreak: I wouldn’t cancel your trip to San Francisco quite yet. Even though we’re going to be doing our first Loincloth and Mud Smearing experience at the piano dress rehearsal tomorrow, I still don’t know if the show is going to be worth going to. It’s hard to be a decent judge when you’re in it.

    However, “La Forza del Destino” is shaping up to be a great, major production with a very good British director, Ron Daniels from the RSC, who is actually taking the libretto seriously. Visually, it’s going to be quite amazing. And the “Fidelio” has a perfect cast in a good production that’s been around for a while that is being directed by Michael Hampe, the original director from 12 years ago. This production is probably going to be great too.

    If you want to keep up on any of this, I’ve got a blog you can get to by clicking on my name.

  16. Thanks for the dictionary definition. What I’d like to know is what HE means by it!

  17. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    Dear Andrea B, what else could he possibly mean? Yes, precisely what you’ve been thinking all along.

    In some cases, of course, it may be just wishful thinking on his side.

  18. Ha, ha good one, ITDG!

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