NaBloPoMo XXVIII: It isn’t Over till the Fat Lady Sings


“It isn’t over till the fat lady sings.”

I won’t get time to write tomorrow, so I’m doing it today. Tomorrow I have a singing lesson in the morning and then in the evening, a rehearsal for the concert on Saturday. In between, I’ll probably need to lie down … Anybody who thinks singing isn’t a physical activity, … wrong!  I know there is this lingering image of sopranos as large ladies.

It’s not so much so today. There is the famous case of opera singer Deborah Voight, sacked by a casting director, because of her size, from a production of Ariadne auf Naxos. It was all about a black dress.  She slimmed down (by 135 pounds) and took back the part, on invitation, in a later production of the Richard Strauss opera, wearing that same black dress!

Does size matter, when it comes to singing? Yes. Not because of black dresses. The build of a singer influences what kind of voice he or she is going to have. If you think of the chest as an empty barrel in which sound is made to resonate, barrels of different sizes will resonate differently. I’ve read that when Callas lost a lot of weight (80 pounds) some considered that it was at the cost of some of the quality of her voice. What she said about her decision to slim down, was that it was so she could fulfil her art.

The fat lady expression is said to originate in Götterdämmerung the last of Wagner’s Ring cycle operas. The large lady is Brunnhilde, a valkyrie. She has an aria close to the end of the opera (she’s going to die gruesomely by self-immolation) which takes 20 minutes to sing; and while wearing a horned helmet and carrying a spear and shield. I can’t see a size 6 lady doing that every night for months on end, can you? I’m just an amateur, but I have practised to sing Liebestod, from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde and it’s exhausting! I do love this aria, but I’ll never sing it in public, of course. Wagner requires physical strength and stamina, as well as a voice.

I hope you enjoy the immensely fabulous voice of Birgitt Nilsson in the above extract from the Brunnhilde aria. Nilsson was singing – even in her sleep – before she could walk.

P S  I’m not fat 🙂

About AnnIsikArts

Artist/Writer, Proofreader/Copy Editor
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