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Why Are Opera Singers Fat?

Updated on March 11, 2013
Lily Pons/Coloratura
Lily Pons/Coloratura

The Operatic Voice

Opera singers are unlike any other type of singer on earth. For the past several decades what is considered to be singing has become so basic that it is practically the same thing as talking. The art of using one's voice musically is no longer common, and we have forgoten that singing was once taken very seriously, and the use of "the voice" was treated no differently than the learning of how to play a classical instrument.

With this understanding, we know that in order to become a world class pianist, violinist, or saxophone player, one needs to have both drive and natural aptitude. Great singers also need to have the discipline to practice and consistently learn, while at the same time, have a naturally good equipment and genes, in order to really break into the very top level of singing.

To have a "big voice" that can fill an opera house without the aid of microphones, as microphones were not in existence when many opera houses were built, having great, or large pipes to project power and clarity are ideal. So, opera singers are not really fat. What I mean to say is they are often large people, with big barrel chests, and broad shoulders. Not necessarily tall or blubbery, fat people. However, opera singers are not held to the standards of beauty that any other performers are, therefore, over eating and letting themselves go physically is also not uncommon.

Its all about the voice;

Yes, in the world of opera it is all about the sound of the voice. Singers are cast to play characters that suit their voice, not that suit their looks. In Grand Opera a singer can easily have an ugly woman playing a goddess. Provided that this ugly woman has a soft, sweet, pretty, and youthful voice. A beautiful woman with a medium pitch to low pitch (mezzo soprano or a contralto) will often find herself playing a witch. A small, young man could find himself playing an old grandfather if he has a low voice and is considered to be a baritone or bass.

Its Not Over Till the Fat Lady Sings

The voices that are attracting crowds to pay top dollar to hear are those hitting the highest notes. "Coloratura or dramatic sopranos" for women, and "tenors" for men. Female sopranos are a little different. There are two main "top" soprano voices.

Coloratura voices; these women come in all sizes, generally, as the light, dancing high notes are what impresses people the most, some of the most beautiful coloratura voices were from small women, such as Lily Pons. However, the Dramatic soprano is something else entirely, demanding extremely high, yet powerful notes. This is the voice that most people are thinking of when they say, "the fat lady sings." A dramatic tenor voice would be Enrico Caruso. Just look at some of his pictures. He is the classic build of a "big" opera singer, barrel chest and not too tall.

What comes to mind when someone says "it is not over till the fat lady sings?" Most people are thinking of someone wearing a long blond wig with two braids on either side of her head, carrying a big stick with horns on her head, (the viking costume) belting in a high, steely voice soprano voice. This would be a very gifted large barrel chested woman with great strength, breath control, while still able to hit high notes. This is German opera referred to as Helden, and is responsible for the reputation of the Fat opera singer.


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    • The Frog Prince profile image

      The Frog Prince 5 years ago from Arlington, TX

      I've never really paid attention to your question. However, I'm not a big opera fan.

      The Frog

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      I love opera and the voice is what makes it so meaningful. Have you seen Katherine on Dancing With THe Stars show this season? She is so beautiful and a graceful dancer. Her opera voice I would not have matched up to her tiny body. I enjoyed your topic.

    • tom hellert profile image

      tom hellert 5 years ago from home

      charlotte church is thin but not super skinny-She is cute and has got the pipes...