Current Standards of Body Type in Opera

I recently read of an incident with Deborah Voigt (yes, I have a love affair with her right now) back in the early 2000’s. She was cast in a performance of  ‘Ariadne auf Naxos’ as the lead Ariadne with the Royal Opera in Covenant Gardens. After a short stint in rehearsals, she was fired from this position because she couldn’t fit into a ‘little black dress’ the director wanted her to wear. She was replaced by a thinner soprano, of less renown, and was asked to leave. This decision create quiet a scandel in the Opera world. She did interview after interview discussing how she felt and the impact this has had on her career. Not surprisingly, this had a great impact on her career, pulling her to the front line of most people’s vision for Opera.

Before and After

In 2001, approx. three months after the dismissal, she had gastric bypass surgery and lost over 100 lbs over the next 2 years! She went from a size 30 to a size 14. An amazing feat for someone that has had weight issues all their life. And this is what I would like to discuss.

Is Opera conforming to the modern stereotype of beauty?

For hundreds of years, Opera had the reputation of being bigger. Bigger stages, bigger costumes and indeed, bigger performers. The phrase ‘It’s not over til the fat lady sings’ is a euphemism for Opera and the typical larger women that have performed. In my first meeting with my vocal coach, he said to me that I was perfect for Classical music and Opera because I’m 6 feet tall and approx a size 14. That was a total reassurance to me because my previous background had been in Musical Theater where both of those measurements were considered bad.

So what type of message does that send?

Granted Deborah Voigt had weight problems her whole life and getting the surgery was a very good thing just for her health. But only a few years later she accepted the role again with the Royal Opera Company after she had slimmed down to what they had required. Personally, I don’t know if I could have handled going back to the company that had fired me, even if I now fit their ‘Mold’. But what does that say? That you only get the roles you want because you are thin? Your vocal ability doesn’t matter as much as your appereance?

I feel that Deborah did what she needed to for both herself and her career. But I wonder how much the world’s image of beauty is infiltrating things which up to this point have not been effected.

What do you think?


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dorothy Connelly
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 05:23:15

    If you had zero concerns about physical fitness and overall health, it’s hard to imagine that this would even be a topic in your blog. Maria Callas, Beverly Sills. Renata Scotto, Renee Fleming, Frederica von Stade seemed to consider fitness essential to their art. The little black dress episode for Voigt may have had as much to do with her not being able to move around the stage easily and portray a sexiness essential to a little black dress part. The fat ladies of Opera get fat the same way we all do: no or little regular physical exercise and eating anything we want (especially after a rigorous performance). Check out iTunes to preview Jean-Pierre Jaquillat conducting Songs of the Auvergne with Victoria de los Angelos…would love you to sing these for my 70th birthday party. AD


  2. Tori Luber
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 10:43:08

    I truly appreciate this post. I’ve been looking all over for this! Thank goodness I found it on Bing. You have made my day! Thank you again! “All that is gold does not glitter not all those that wander are lost.” by J. R. R. Tolkien.


  3. hymwht
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 17:16:30

    Thank you for commenting! I will check the Jean-Pierre Jaquillat preview on iTunes tonight. The reason I posted this was because weight and health has been something prevalent on my mind. Because I have struggled with my own weight since I hit puberty, articles and incidents that happen to people I admire always catch my eye. I heard about this happening to Deborah Voigt and was very surprised because I didn’t know of her when she was at the heavier weight. It was just something that I was surprised by and wanted to find out what other people thought.


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