Understanding The Wonderful World Of Opera
Opera is a grand on-stage art form. It is over 400 years old. It merges drama, dance, music, and even special effects. All of this occurs inside a theater. Opera differs from pop music; for opera singers need to have forceful, open, very resonant voices. Even experienced vibrato singers can’t copy them. In fact, there are two reasons. First, opera singers sang without a mic initially. So the voice was their only organ, gliding on the music, yet it must reach the entire audience. So their voices got the uncanny power that we know today. Second, opera singers practice for decades to master their art. There is hardly a separate division in a school for pop, rock, or jazz music. Opera is much more serious. The singers are more conditioned and have excellent vocal control.
Why The Assumption?
Over the years, there has been a trend of obesity among top opera singers. This includes men and women. Fat-shaming from critics and personal weight-loss initiatives have had drastic effects. But why do the best opera singers have unusual bodies? How does their physiology affect their sound? Join me as I find out.
Perhaps you’ve heard this: “It isn’t over till the fat lady sings”. This expression became popular in the 1970s. Its origin spans back hundreds of years. People argue that it belongs to an extensive opera: Richard Wagner’s Twilight of the Gods ends with a bulky Viking lady singing. She goes on for almost 20 minutes sprouting the expression.
Fast-forward to a few days ago. I remembered the quote or something similar. I wondered about what did the average opera singer look like then? How about now? Does the Soprano resemble her high-pitched voice? Do fat people sing better opera? A larger body cavity amplifies the voice, doesn’t it? This last one resonated with me (no pun intended). So does the forcefulness of the voice show on the body?
I might be a terrible person for investigating this, but it’s 2020 and stranger things are legal. Do fat people sing better opera?
My hypothesis isn’t controversial, however body weight has only so much to do with voice as it affects the vocal organs. So weight doesn’t affect vocal ability. But could I prove this?
What Would Confirm The Hypothesis?
I considered several things that may prove my argument. These are:
- A Google search reveals no trend of obesity among the best opera singers.
- Opera singers or ex-singers don’t think being fat improves singing.
- Research shows no correlation between weight and vocal ability.
- Professional voice coaches support the hypothesis.
Thus any failure is a considerable counter-argument. By the end, I hoped to have a logical answer; yes or no.
Googling Revealed This:
Let’s start by analyzing in the most unprofessional way; for doing a Google search is a quick–albeit uncertain–way to check.
- Luciano Pavarotti comes up first. The great operatic tenor captured many hearts with his deep voice. Undeniably, Pavarotti was plump for most of his career; and that inference doesn’t need quantifying.
- Second, Maria Callas shows up. One of the most mesmerizing sopranos in opera, she’s famous worldwide. Callas’ striking gaze stems not from fake confidence, but a tragic backstory. She lost much weight to fit her roles (appearance-wise). So, in fact, she used to be obese but got fit.
- Next up, Renee Fleming has a stupendously bright smile. She’s petite at 5 feet 6 inches and in the normal BMI range. However, she also slimmed herself for opera.
- • Finally, there is Joan Sutherland. She once said she weighed 220 pounds, but she also had a tall figure (5 feet 9 inches). That means she had a BMI of 28.6 which is in the upper overweight range.
In conclusion, 4/4 of our operatic singers (at least) started off fat. Undeniably weight is a recurring theme. I’m reconsidering my hypothesis.
How Does The Physiology Of Opera Singers Influence Their Sound?
The next logical place to go is to check our vocal cords. Singing is a mechanical activity. Our instrument affects our singing. So what better way than to ask vocal coaches? Here, I paraphrase two people who make a living by teaching how to sing.
- “Form follows function,” says voice teacher Claudia Friedlander. Her message is very simple that “Stop body shaping opera singers,”. She says: “They look how they look to sound how they sound. Criticize the sound, not the body”.
- Elizabeth Zharoff, a vocal expert, gives a definite answer: “Fat effects singing indirectly. A bigger head and chest contributes to air capacity and vocal control. In addition, fat in the vocal box can help produce sounds. Besides, studies show that dramatic weight loss demands relearning singing. Opera singers may have a predisposition of chemicals that make you hungry,”. That might explain the trend and did you know singing opera makes you wider?! Yes, it expands your chest.
It looks like my hypothesis is getting destroyed. Opera singers get bigger as they sing. At least they get wider, their chest expands! And they also eat more….. This is fascinating, isn’t it?
Does Researches Prove My Hypothesis?
Now let’s head to the people who make a living by studying numbers. What researches say about the link between weight and operatic singers?
The result in the only study I found matches the vocal coaches’ statements. The study measured vocal abilities in 29 females. Researchers grouped them based on the BMI scale; underweight, normal weight and obese. What they found is shocking. The obese females had higher intensity levels and sound pressure during running speech. The underweight females had lower air holding capacity (of the lungs). Besides, they could hold a note for a shorter time. Also, as expected, they had a higher pitch during normal talking. The obese group also showed less shimmer in their voice.
This is science-based evidence against my hypothesis. So your body weight has a severe impact on your “resting voice” so to speak. Thus it’s not far off that bigger people have better vocal ability.
There must be a reason so many opera singers are obese. But do they sing so well because of that? The extra air keeping capacity, ability to hold notes for long, and a more powerful voice meet the operatic challenge. It’s no wonder that history’s greatest tenors and sopranos didn’t look like the average person. Whether their dimensions got them into opera or vice versa, weight played an undeniable role.
Summarizing all up. Do you need to be fat to sing opera well? No, you don’t. Does it help you produce sounds at will and stress them longer? Yes, having mass on your side helps. But that comes with a serving of peril of diabetes, asthma, and stroke. Don’t consider becoming obese for opera, please. Instead, if you have a beautiful voice, work on it.