Why Are So Many Opera Singers Fat/Obese?

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 a reader who made us an observation: that many opera singers in these videos were unmistakably obese or fatter than the average person. She said she liked opera and often watched performances of famous opera singers on video sites on the Internet, and many of them were overweight.

Some popular opera singers (Photo Credit: Pirlouiiiit / Wikimedia Commons, biografias.wiki)

Is that true? Are most, if not all, opera singers obese? If so, what is the reason?


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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 about opera singers, especially female opera singers. In reality, there is no nothing that says 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. Brunhilde who appears at the end of Richard Wagner’s Götterdammerung is caricatured as a large woman wearing a giant moo-moo and a horned hat.

This seems to have led to the popular expression, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings”. The saying became popular in the media. Its first recorded was in an article published by Dallas Morning News, “Despite his obvious allegiance to the Red Raiders, Texas Tech sports information director Ralph Carpenter was the picture of professional objectivity when the Aggies rallied for a 72-72 tie late in the SWC tournament finals. “Hey, Ralph,” said Bill Morgan, “this… is going to be a tight one after all.” “Right,” said Ralph. “The opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings.”” There is no convincing scientific evidence that opera singers must be fat to project their voices across a concert hall. But there are several theories that float around.

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.

Luciano Pavarotti

Notice the larger-than-normal chest of Luciano Pavarotti. (Photo Credit: Pirlouiiiit / Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Adele

Being fat may, in some magical way, potentially aid your voice. (Photo Credit: Kristopher Harris / Wikimedia Commons)

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. Music afficionadoes often say that a singer’s voice changes when they lose weight.

While there is no conclusive evidence supporting or denying the above claims, the reason for perceiving this change may be psychological. Reviews of opera singer Deborah Voigt after her weight loss stated that she has an unfailingly lustrous tone, endless stamina and fine expressive restraint.”

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.

In a study on perceptions of opera singers and their weight, a participant quotes that tenors can be overweight since they are the hardest voices to cast in productions. I am fat because i can be meme

The study notes that recent trends show a shift towards singers that are more fit. This makes sense as singing requires voice control and consistent breathing. This is improved through training and exercise.

Can you ace this quiz about opera myths?

Or will you do so badly that your answers shreak and break that wine glass?

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About the Author

Ashish is a Science graduate (Bachelor of Science) from Punjabi University (India). He spearheads the content and editorial wing of ScienceABC and manages its official Youtube channel. He’s a Harry Potter fan and tries, in vain, to use spells and charms (Accio! [insert object name]) in real life to get things done. He totally gets why JRR Tolkien would create, from scratch, a language spoken by elves, and tries to bring the same passion in everything he does. A big admirer of Richard Feynman and Nikola Tesla, he obsesses over how thoroughly science dictates every aspect of life… in this universe, at least.

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