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?