Classical 91.5

Eastman Grad Kathryn Lewek Sparks Debate About Critics

Aug 29, 2019

Credit Kathryn Lewek on Twitter

Early this week, American soprano Kathryn Lewek unleased a firestorm of social media posts taking aim at opera critics who've commented on her body.   Lewek, a nursing mother, says she was appalled and hurt by reviews of her performance as Eurydice in a production of Jacques Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld at the Salzburg Festival.

“I’m heavier now than I ever have been in my life because I had a baby 10 months ago and I decided to breastfeed her for at least a year. It’s not like I live under a rock, I know that opera is both an audio and a visual experience but I was just really surprised at the body-shaming."

Her social media response has sparked an international conversation about the treatment of women by critics.

Read more from The Guardian here.

Here is Lewek's full statement: 

Credit Kathryn Lewek on Twitter

A couple of weeks ago I was bummed out because a couple of nasty critics decided it was their job to review my postpartum mom-bod instead of reviewing the show. I found amazing support within the Twitter and Facebook communities. Social media is a mixed bag, but I love that there is a supportive community out there, if you open yourself up to it. My friends, colleagues and fans all did an amazing job cheering me up, but the whole affair is still on my mind.

So I want to share my story. When my husband and I decided it was time to expand our family, I was fortunate to have a pregnancy free of complications. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t complicated. I was singing on stage internationally well into my third trimester. Labor was trying (that’s another whole story entirely), but then along came the greatest gift of our lives: our beautiful daughter. I was scheduled to resume singing on stage just six weeks later. The scar from my C-section was barely healed. I was exhausted and struggling with postpartum anxiety. I was adjusting to being a new mom and supporting my family at the same time. I received the okay from my doctor to resume normal activity literally the DAY before I went back to the Metropolitan Opera to rehearse Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Magic Flute, which I would go on to perform less than a week later.

During one of the performances in that run, my husband snapped a photo of me (above) in my dressing room at the Met, nursing my seven week old daughter just before Christmas. I have since traveled with my family to eight countries and have driven thousands of miles with my daughter in the back seat. It’s hard enough to pursue this crazy, peripatetic career solo, but packing up the whole family to travel the world can daunt even the most dedicated singers.

Kathryn Lewek (left) on stage. Her performance in Orpheus in the Underworld at the Salzburg festival has been widely praised.
Credit Robin Townsend/EPA-EFE

I have breastfed my baby backstage or in between rehearsals at the Met, the Bayrische Staatsoper in Munich, Opera Monte Carlo in Monaco, the Komische Oper in Berlin, the Salzburg Festival in Austria, and have followed my singer husband to his jobs all over the USA. I have nursed in dozens of airports and pitstops, and pumped breast milk into bottles in a myriad of odd places, such as theater shower stalls, restaurant bathrooms, parking lots and in dressing rooms during wig and makeup changes. Along the way I have struggled to show myself love, patience and understanding; I have tried to be as kind to myself as I would to a friend who was returning to work soon after enduring major surgery. I have sought to heed the supportive words from family and friends who insist that I am a badass fierce and sexy new mama-diva. But even this fortress of support could not protect me from hate seeping in through the cracks.

I know that there are cruel people in the world and that the same communication technology that spreads supportive words also allows those cruel people to broadcast their hateful messages further than ever before. But before this past week, it never dawned on me that such crass and petty cruelty could be found amongst the supposedly highly educated and cultured cohort that we trust to discuss and critique art in its highest form.

I never expected public condemnations of my body at my most vulnerable time.

Body shaming is not new, nor is the fight against it. This experience has opened my eyes to how rampant this verbal abuse and harassment is in our little corner of the artistic world. After reaching out to my social media community for emotional support, I learned of many other terrible stories, much more hurtful and disgusting than my own. I am so disappointed by this.

It is never acceptable to judge another human’s body in this manner. Those who so blatantly lack self-awareness, empathy and plain decency should not have the privilege of having their words published as their profession. I plan to write to the editor of any publication that prints demeaning and hurtful words written by a journalist. I hope all of you will do the same, and join me in this fight against body shaming in the opera community.

Spread the word. This is harassment. Time’s up on these juvenile bullies."