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body size in opera


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#16 Clara 76

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Posted 11 March 2004 - 08:07 PM

Anyone know the answer???
Out of curiousity, why is it that male opera singers can be as huge as they want, and still be hired in the "Prince" roles...yet women are fired for the same thing.
Clara :wink:

#17 carbro

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Posted 11 March 2004 - 08:10 PM

Rhetorical question, right?

#18 Clara 76

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Posted 11 March 2004 - 08:22 PM

Why Carbro,
you saw right through me!!!!!! :wink:
Clara :grinning:

#19 GabbyN

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Posted 12 March 2004 - 04:24 PM

Wednesday night my parents went to Metropolitan opera to watch one of last performances of Luciano Pavarotti. They told me that it was painful to watch because of his limited abilities to move across the stage, there were extra chairs for him to sit , or to lean on. They found that very disturbing.
In my opinion health is that matters the most.

#20 Drew

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Posted 12 March 2004 - 11:59 PM

I can't speak about the Voigt situation. I can say that one of the greatest opera performances I ever attended was Jane Eaglen and Ben Heppner in Tristan und Isolde at the Metropolitan Opera (with the much slimmer but also remarkable Rene Papp as well). The production was staged for them and worked with them. It had an abstract, iconic quality that allowed the beauty AND drama of the music to come through -- and lesser singers could not remotely have achieved the same impact in this opera. In general, I don't think it's too much to ask opera directors to work with great singers with unusual or extreme body types -- let alone garden variety 'big girls' (I'm quoting a quote on an earlier post) or, indeed, big boys. I accept that an opera house may want to do some productions where they give the director a free hand for her or his vision -- I even support it -- but I'd be sorry to see a major opera house give up on on great voices in the (supposed) interests of musical 'theater.'

#21 dirac

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Posted 16 March 2004 - 11:10 AM

Well, Eaglen and Heppner are virtually the only singers to field for a decent Tristan these days, so of course productions will be built around them, as it were, and would be even if they had to be hauled to the stage on a dolly. The cold fact is that Voigt is still replaceable while Eaglen and Heppner, for certain roles, are not. I think the language used by Covent Garden's people in their public statements on this matter is unconscionable, no matter what the circumstances, but I didn't get the impression that they were planning to hang a sign saying that the seriously overweight need not apply under any circumstances.


Clara76, you're absolutely right, and Voigt herself has wondered aloud about the same thing. Weight simply isn't the fraught issue for men that it is for women, and you can see this in fields other than opera.

There was a short but interesting item in People magazine on l'affaire Voigt, and the article outlined the many and varied efforts that Voigt has made over the years to reduce her weight. She's one of those people who has tried and tried – fen-phen, everything. It sounds to me as if she should forget about that and focus on her singing. Many others will be ready to hire her, I'm sure.


Prejudice against the fat is one of the last kinds of discrimination that it's still "okay" to indulge in, and that's terribly wrong. (Voigt apparently has been receiving hate mail denouncing her as a self-indulgent fatty.) As far as opera singers are concerned, there's no scientific evidence linking great big bodies to great big voices, but that's unrelated to the discrimination issue.

#22 atm711

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Posted 16 March 2004 - 01:21 PM

Has anyone seen Karita Mattila's "Salome" at the Met this week???Talk about 'having it all'---Wow! :D She apparently went 'all-the-way' with those seven veils.

#23 oberon

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Posted 16 March 2004 - 03:14 PM

I did not draw a correlation between voice size and body size, though that is how some people read my message. If that were true, Lina Pagliughi and Luisa Tetrazzini would have been great Wagneriennes whereas in fact they were high, light, brilliant coloraturas. What I am saying is, if you are a big woman and you build your technique and support system on a certain frame and then, after you have made a success, you decide to shed 100 pounds you are going to alter your instrument. Carol Vaness was not fat by anyone's standards...she carried a nice bit of weight and was somewhat "hippy", but she looked great. Her very dramatic weight loss left her stunning to behold while the voice was diminished in scope and "ring"...I was there, immediately before and immediately after. The change was amazing. Same is true of Goerke and Gruber.

Voigt has a great career going: new EMI contract, her TRISTAN to be released on DG, and big plans at the Met in the next few seasons. She should not sacrifice the career she has built just so she can wear a black cocktail dress. I'm sure she realizes this.

Someone mentioned Schumann-Heink. She was reportedly still singing very well in her 70th year, giving lie to the idea that being fat is deadly. My favorite story about her: in a rehearsal she was to enter thru a doorway. She could not fit thru and there was no way to alter the set so the director said: "Mme. Heink, just enter sideways" to which she allegedly replied: "I have no sideways..."

#24 dirac

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Posted 16 March 2004 - 04:11 PM

Certainly such radical adjustments can affect the voice, as mentioned earlier. As for the effects of obesity upon the health in general, I refer you to the Centers for Disease Control, which has had much to say on the subject recently. :D The article in People mentioned that Voigt had been trying to lose weight for health reasons, not cosmetic ones.

#25 Hans

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Posted 16 March 2004 - 04:23 PM

Maybe Voigt could try ballet....

#26 Mel Johnson

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Posted 16 March 2004 - 06:01 PM

I have the perfect role for her. She Who Sings in Robert Joffrey's "Remembrances".

#27 BW

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Posted 17 March 2004 - 05:29 AM

This afternoon, on WNYC's program Sound Check will be discussing this:Ring Bearers.

There is little that strikes more fear in the hearts of opera novices (and some connoisseurs, for that matter) than Wagner's "Ring of the Nibelungs"—eighteen hours of German mythology requiring a four-night commitment. As the Metropolitan Opera revives Wagner's vast epic starting this Saturday, it's a perfect opportunity to explore why its philosophical themes remain relevant to this day. Host John Schaefer speaks with Philip Kitcher, Columbia University philosophy professor and co-author of Finding an Ending—Reflections on Wagner's Ring. Kitcher will shed some light on how different forms of love, freedom, heroism, authority, and judgment are explored and tested as the cycle unfolds. Also on the show, Brian Kellow, features editor of Opera News magazine, looks at the recent controversy that erupted when soprano Deborah Voigt was fired by London’s Royal Opera House because she was deemed too heavy to sing in the forthcoming production of "Ariadne auf Naxos." How does the opera business approach image-making? Do opera singers have to be large to make a large sound? Tune in and find out.


I believe it's on at 2PM here.

#28 carbro

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Posted 17 March 2004 - 10:56 AM

More on The Ring, this Friday at 3:00 p.m. (WNYC-FM, 93.9), and 7:00 p.m. (WNYC-AM, 820):

The Ring and I: The Passion, The Myth, The Mania

WNYC Special Explores the Impact and Influence of Wagner's Ring Cycle on the Eve of the Metropolitan Opera's Presentation

It might seem hyperbole to claim, as many Wagnerites do, that The Ring Cycle is "The Greatest Work of Art Ever." But the grandeur and power of this monumental work have permeated our culture from Star Wars to Bugs Bunny to J.R.R. Tolkien.


A 17-minute preview of Friday's radio show is archived on WNYC's website. You can scroll down for the audio link.

All of WNYC's shows are available for live streaming, for those interested BalletAlertniks who are beyond the reach of the radio signal.

#29 oberon

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Posted 18 March 2004 - 05:57 AM

I feel sure Voigt is aware of both the benefits and hazards of staying like she is. If she loses weight, she will undoubtedly feel and look "better" but she will also most likely compromise her instrument. She is damned if she does and damned if she doesn't.

Andrea Gruber apparently went to the extreme of having her stomach stapled; she looks quite sensational now but her middle register is sagging and the top has lost its brilliance. When your body is your instrument, how do you decide?

Yes, it is dangerous to be obese. However, maintaining a healthy regimen in no guarantee of a long life. Two men that I worked with, both fitness buffs and healthy eaters, died of heart attacks at ages 38 and 40 respectively. And a lovely Japanese friend of mine, a rising mezzo-soprano, worked out constantly and maintained a beautiful figure with a healthy diet, and died at age 33.

#30 Hans

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Posted 19 March 2004 - 08:50 PM

Genetics also plays a role, and of course being healthy is no guarantee of a long life. But I don't think it's mere coincidence that there are so many ancient ballet teachers around :devil:.

I see your point, though, about one's body being one's instrument (it's a similar idea for dancers). I would think that she should focus less on the numbers on the scale and simply try to get regular exercise and eat healthfully without bothering about losing a certain number of pounds. That way, she would be taking care of her health without really compromising her voice.

(I also don't think Fen-phen and other dieting "quick-fixes" are a good idea at all--they tend not to work in the long-term and can cause severe problems. Moderation in all things, the speed of weight loss included.)


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