Getting steamed up (or stoned) to Strauss

Has opera become too obsessed with looks?

Strauss, the composer, has been in the news on both sides of the Atlantic. In Britain we've had a lively row about the shape of the up-and-coming Irish opera singer, Tara Erraught, who, in her role in Der Rosenkavalier at Glyndebourne, was dismissed as "dumpy of stature" in The Daily Telegraph, "a chubby bundle of puppy fat" in the FT and "unbelieveable, unsightly and unappealing" in The Times.

In The Mail on Sunday, Liz Jones raged against this "shameful bullying" by (naturally) male critics. "I am sick and tired of women's looks being eviscerated when they have nothing whatsoever to do with their work."

Personally, I'm more inclined to Mrs Mills's view in The Sunday Times that singing "seems to come a long way down in the priorities" of most opera directors these days.

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"What the critics were saying about this Rosenkavalier is that they couldn't accept that the willowy and elegant Royal would have fancied shagging the Octavian of Erraught, and it's difficult to disagree."

Nor are the critics sexist: look at the way they laid into Pavarotti in the latter part of his career. Opera is showbusiness; in showbusiness looks always matter.

More harmoniously, on the other side of the Atlantic, a Denver audience has been listening to the Colorado Symphony Orchestra's rendering of Strauss's resounding fanfare, Also Sprach Zarathustra.

Whether they appreciated the finer points of this I have no idea, since many of them, according toThe Sunday Times, were under the influence of a powerful strain of marijuana called Golden Goat.

The reason? The orchestra, one of America's most prestigious, "is encouraging music lovers to bring their own marijuana to an invitation-only fundraising concert series called Classically Cannabis". This is due to climax at another "weed friendly" performance at Denver's Red Rocks amphitheatre later in the summer.

It is, as The Sunday Times notes, a "startling indication" of the speed with which the drug is losing its stigma in a state that only approved its sale for recreational use five months ago. Colorado's governor, John Hickenlooper, worries that the new status quo may "erode the state's moral character".

His critics say he's a brewer (beer sales are suffering from the competition). They add that he's not averse to the extra $100m due this year in cannabis taxes.

Some 750 different strains of marijuana are now available in Denver. "We're seeing middle-class empty nesters, bankers and accountants who have not smoked weed since college coming back to try it again," a dispensary owner told The Sunday Times. "It complements their taste in wine."

The Denver Post now has a pot reviewer, Ry Prichard, who has so far sampled 400 strains. "The effect on Denver has been amazing," he says.

"The number of drink-drive arrests has halved, violent crime is down, there has been a 15% increase in tourism and we have turned into weed purists like wine snobs." Perhaps a little of that weed might cool things down at Glyndebourne.

Tabloid money: A poster girl for Britain's obscene benefits culture'

Dee real name Deirdre Kelly has become "a minor celebrity since she starred' in the gruesome TV documentary series Benefits Street".

Since appearing on the show, Dee has made a rap record, worked as a guest DJ in a disco in Birmingham "and been flown to Majorca for promotional work', including judging a wet T-shirt contest". Throughout all this, she has gone on drawing welfare payments, as she has done every week since being sacked from her last full-time job "for stealing £13,000". And it doesn't stop there.

"This hideous, obese slattern has become the poster girl for Britain's obscene benefits culture, yet she is unrepentant. Blame the Prime Minister,' she replies when she is asked why taxpayers should support her life of amoral sloth and drink-fuelled debauchery. She's right, too. Well, maybe not this prime minister, whose government is belatedly trying to dismantle the scandalous system which bred the likes of White Dee. But we can certainly blame Gordon Brown, who positively encouraged a festering culture of fecklessness and entitlement, which costs billions of pounds every year and helped bring this country to the brink of bankruptcy."

"Well done to Victoria and David Beckham for encouraging their eldest son Brooklyn to get himself a job in a local coffee shop," says Alison Phillips in the Daily Mirror.

"The 15-year-old is apparently working weekends at the caf in West London. Too many kids are growing up spoiled and robbed of the opportunity to strive and succeed. So Brooklyn must be some kid he's not just the only son of multi-millionaires with a Saturday job, he must also be the only Brit working in a London coffee shop."