Buzzfeed.com had an interesting post on “What Happened To Opera”. True to Buzzfeed’s style the article, while somewhat tongue-in-cheek, makes a damn good point and gets extra kudos for the Bugs Bunny reference.
While the opera productions have become bigger, grander, the singers themselves have not, at least not size wise. Here in America, as well as in other Western social minds, the fat body is considered unhealthy, abnormal, something to be ashamed of, not the socially accepted form of what is sexy.
Many opera companies, especially the smaller ones, struggle economically. And apparently think the solution is to behave like popular music labels and play up the sexuality of their leading stars. Singer Deborah Voigt, a leading dramatic soprano, was famously fired years ago for being too fat to portray a role as the stage director at that time had envisioned it. Voigt was eventually reinstated after she lost the weight through gastric band surgery. Yes, she states it was for her own health reasons, but no one can be blamed for the unspoken wink, wink, nudge, nudge that goes with it. Erstwhile mega operatic superstars such as Norman and Sills and Pavarotti would likely be hard pressed to keep their standing in this new aesthetic. This goes beyond mere fat-phobia into an analysis of appearance in music and theater that is depressing.
If the saying “It ain’t over ’till the fat lady sings” were to held to its truth, it would likely mean the death knell for opera. As with everything else there are exceptions to the rule, those whose amazing voices transcend the benchmark. Still, even those exceptions are growing smaller and smaller and not just in size.
It’s sad, but unfortunately true. Opera used to be solely about the singing. Now not only must the singers have the most amazing voices for the parts, they now must have the looks to go with them and therein lies the rub. There was ad campaign which queried “What is sexy”. And let’s face it, in this climate, the de rigueur definition of sexy = skinny.
The beloved image fat, horned-helmet Valkyrie, belting out Wagner, pretty much synonymous with opera, will eventually be as obsolete as the Beta-max. There are such amazing singers out there whose voices may never be heard because of this downsizing and we will never know our loss.