The incredible shrinking diva

September 16, 2008
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"Traditionally, it isn't over until the fat lady sings. But it seems it will soon be over for the singing fat lady."

So opens a piece in The London newspaper The Independent concerning the slimmer and fitter brand of opera star now on the rise. The slenderizing of opera talent is the result--claims the article--of a younger audience expecting more than the static stand-and-deliver quality of old school tenors and sopranos.

So are we heading toward a world of supermodel Mimis? Are Pavarotti-sized powerhouses on the outs? 

"I hope we don't see that," the article quotes John Allison, editor of Opera Magazine. "I hope we don't see the end of the phrase 'before the fat lady sings' either, because there are some pieces that require singers to have a huge set of lungs and a big frame to go with it. If glamour and looks are hired before vocal ability, then you are heading for trouble."

So what are your expectations when you go to an opera? Is it all about the voice? Or should opera have the same casting demands as musical theater? Is all of this a form of size-ism?

Your thoughts?
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  • It is nice to see singers being more active on the stage, and there certainly is nothing wrong with singers losing weight if they feel they really need/want to for whatever personal reasons they may have. But people who care more about what singers look like than the music are not real music lovers. Plain and simple. If they were, they wouldn't care what the musician looked like.
  • You know it just really angers me that people give some much weight to what a person looks like, especially women. It shouldn't matter what size they are so long as they can sing! The obsession with looks is dangerous. Why are so many girls fighting anorexia and bulimia? Because societey is always telling them it's not ok to be over a size 6! If some Opera fans are so shallow as to expect the singers to be thin then I just don't know what the world is coming to, but it's not good!
  • Poppycock I say! Let's focus on the voice and talent -the size and looks of the singer should be irrelevant.
  • Wait a minute...if you are a plus-sized singer, are your lungs really bigger than a slimmer vocalist's, as the Opera Magazine editor suggests? I'm no doctor, but that sounds absurd.
  • If looks didn't totally matter, then why the attention to the sets, costumes and lighting? Just sling everyone onto the bare stage in their sweatclothes. Of course, if the cast is going to sing badly there is no need for any of it, but in the case of creating a mood and a place - to a certain extent - appearance is everything.
  • Sue B,

    I think the looks that don't matter are in regards to the weight of the singers. I do think the look of the set is important, because as you say, it creates moods, places, etc. But I don't think a fan of opera cares whether the costume, which also helps with moods, places, etc, is a 4, 14, or 24, as long as the singer in it sounds great and tells their story well.
  • The era of plant and sing is over. And that's a good thing. Opera is a full spectrum experience, and just focusing on the greatest singers, whether they look the part or can act, takes away from the total.

    I don't think it just a matter of looks, but a matter of acting and looking like the person actually belongs in the role. Right or wrong, much opera is about good looking people, and it requires an incredible suspension of disbelief if the person singing doesn't look the part. It's hard to believe that the person playing the eponymous La Giocondo is for real when she is 300 pounds, for example.


    If you get a chance, see a production at the Chicago Opera Theater. They use up and coming singers who are young and good looking, but more importantly look the part of the role they are playing and actually act. The result is a revelation. And their baroque and modern repertoire is really inspired too.

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