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Recently, we had a reader make an observation to us. She said that she liked opera, and often watched performances of famous opera singers on video sites online. She also observed that many of the opera singers in those videos were unmistakably obese, or at least fatter than the average person.
So, is it true? Are most (if not all) opera singers obese? If so, what’s the reason behind it?
Not all opera singers are fat!
You should know this right at the outset: not all opera singers are fat!
This is a myth, or one could say, a very popular illusion among the general public. It’s also a stereotype – a very broad generalization that people have come to make about opera singers, especially female one. In reality, there is no rule that opera singers necessarily need to be plump.
In fact, there are many opera singers who have ‘average’ bodies and are quite fit. It appears as though the audience feels that opera is one of the few remaining entertainment fields where talent matters more than physical appearance, but quite interestingly, modern opera singers are increasingly being held to stricter, fitter image standards.
Just look up José Carreras, Isabel Leonard, Lawrence Brownlee and Joseph Kaiser on the Internet and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Why do people think that most opera singers are fat?
This is very subjective. There may be numerous reasons why many (not all) people seem to believe that 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-music fields have also used this phrase at some points in their career, so the phrase became popular, while also indirectly helping to fuel the stereotype of fat opera singers.
However, if this stereotype could in any way be said to rest on fact, then there may be a few reasons that can explain the somewhat common obese appearances of opera singers. Let’s take a look at a few of these legitimate explanations…
Opera singers may have big chests
Many opera singers may appear fatter than the average person because of their unusually large chests. Some singers are born with larger than average ribcages, which certainly helps them get more air into their lungs than a normal person could. Singers like Luciano Pavarotti, Renée Fleming and Beverly Sills are classic examples of this.
However, it goes without saying that you don’t need to have a large ribcage 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 in learning to sing. This is supported by singers who insist that their voices suffer when their weight fluctuates.
However, note that it’s just a hypothesis, without any real evidence to support it.
Opera is tough!
Opera singers gain weight just like anyone else in a high-stress, travel-heavy job. Opera singing is not a piece of cake; it’s a high-anxiety job where singers must perform for hours during recordings, rehearsals and live performances. Plus, they need to travel… a lot!
With such a lifestyle, opera singers often end up neglecting exercise and personal fitness. On top of that, they may not get enough sleep at times and eat unhealthy foods and drink alcohol, especially at parties to celebrate their performances.
Opera singers are fat because they can be
Howsoever absurd this reason sounds, it actually is quite logical. Other performers, like actors and dancers, need to have a fit physique, as it directly impacts their ability to perform. Opera singers, on the other hand, don’t necessarily have to watch their weight in order to sing.
Moreover, at the end of the day, the audience doesn’t mind a plump opera singer if they do their job well. A dancer, however, must be fit enough to do justice to their performance and make their movements aesthetically appealing on stage.