Not all opera singers are fat. This is seems to be a popular myth that remains in the popular psyche of people because of continous influences in popular culture.
Recently we had a reader who made us an observation: she said she liked opera and often watched performances of famous opera singers on video sites on the Internet. She also observed that many opera singers in these videos were unmistakably obese or fatter than the average person.
Is that true? Are most, if not all, opera singers obese? If so, what is the reason?
Not all opera singers are fat!
You should know this right at the start: Not all opera singers are fat!
This is a myth, or one might say a prevalent illusion among the general public.
It is also a stereotype – a vast generalization that people have made about opera singers, especially female opera singers. In reality, there is no rule that opera singers necessarily have to be chubby.
In fact, many opera singers have an “average” body and are quite fit. It seems that the audience perceives opera as one of the few remaining entertainment areas where talent is more important than physical appearance, but interestingly, modern opera singers are increasingly subjected to stricter, fitter image standards.
If you look up Jose Carreras, Isabel Leonard, Lawrence Brownlee, and Joseph Kaiser on the Internet, you will see what I am talking about.
Why do people think most opera singers are fat?
This is very subjective, and there may be many reasons why not everyone thinks opera singers are fat. One of the reasons for the image of a fat opera singer coming about was cartoons of Wagner’s heroine Brunhilde wearing a giant moo-moo and a horned hat.
There’s also a very popular expression, “It’s not over until the fat lady sings”. This is probably influenced by a particularly long opera called Götterdammerung by Richard Wagner.
Some celebrities from other non-musical fields have also used this saying at some point in their careers, so it became popular and indirectly helped fuel the stereotype of fat opera singers.
However, if this stereotype is based on fact, there may be a few reasons that explain the somewhat frequent obese performances of opera singers. Let’s take a look at some of these legitimate explanations…
Opera singers may have a big chest.
Many opera singers appear thicker than the average person because of their huge chests. Some singers are born with above-average breasts, which helps them get more air into their lungs than normal people could. Singers such as Luciano Pavarotti, Renee Fleming, and Beverly Sills are classic examples.
However, it goes without saying that you don’t have to have a large chest to be a good singer.
“Singing from the diaphragm”
If you are a singer, you’ve most likely had many “experts” telling you to “sing from the diaphragm”, “be grounded, (sort of) literally”, “have low-breath” and so on.
While there’s no scientific research proving that being overweight makes your voice bigger/stronger, there are anecdotal pieces of evidence suggesting that there may be some advantages to it.
One hypothesis proposes that when you’re fat, you basically carry around a lot of weight. As such, you constantly have the ‘tugging down feeling, which may keep you ‘grounded’ and help you learn to sing. This is supported by singers who insist that their voices suffer when their weight fluctuates.
Note, however, that this is merely a hypothesis, without any real evidence.
Opera is hard!
Opera singers gain weight like anyone else in a stressful, travel-heavy job. Opera singing is not a breeze; it’s a high-anxiety job that requires singers to perform for hours at recordings, rehearsals, and live performances. They also have to travel… a lot!
With such a lifestyle, opera singers often neglect exercise and personal fitness. In addition, they sometimes do not get enough sleep, eat unhealthy foods, and drink alcohol, especially at parties, to celebrate their performances.
Opera singers are fat because they can be
However absurd this reason may sound, it is actually quite logical: Other performers, such as actors and dancers, need a fit physique, as it directly affects their performance. On the other hand, opera singers do not necessarily have to pay attention to their weight to sing.
In addition, the audience has nothing against a fat opera singer if he/she does their job well. However, a dancer must be fit enough to do justice to their performance and make their movements on stage aesthetically pleasing.