A more serious, less anecdotal, follow-up to previous post Does Weight Count?
Do women need to be fat to sing opera? No
Given opera is visual as well as musical should they be thin(ish)? Probably.
Are fat singers better than thin singers? “Better” is subjective; singing voices differ as much as speaking voices. Executive skills (pitch, high-note ability, low-note control, etc) tend to be a given in these competitive days.
Why then are there still fat singers? Why are there fat women?
Why was Debra Voigt (Brunnhilde in the Met’s recent Ring series) required to undergo surgery to reduce her weight while Stephanie Blythe (Fricka in the Ring), of a similar weight, not required to? I think because Voigt takes leading (ie, more dramatic) roles.
Are there disadvantages to being fat? Visible sweat.
Where did the earlier tradition for fat singers begin? The $64,000 question. That singers tended anyway to be fat is speculative. Pre-war opera drew a minority audience who appear to have been satisfied solely with vocal – as opposed to acting – ability. Fat may have been associated with vocal ability because there were fewer thin singers. Amelita Galli-Curci was thin(ish) and a star.
When did this tradition change? Post-war; Callas started out fat (and drab); dieted; became a world star. However, Joan Sutherland (known affectionately as La Stupenda) was almost her equal. Because Callas became shrill in the upper register while Sutherland’s typically bel canto technique was impeccable the fat-is-best credo still had some support.
Why did the tradition change? LPs made opera more popular and (arguably) led to more live opera. TV also contributed, certainly in my case. More people were seeing opera.