There was a post today in the New York Times Arts Beat culture blog about this kerfuffle going down in Italy where the soprano Daniella Dessi withdrew from a Traviata directed by Franco Zefirelli because he basically said " a woman of a certain age and plumpness is not credible in the character." Yikes.
I saw Daniella Dessi sing Norma in Bologna (in the same production from the youtube video of Kate from a few days back) and I have to say I thought she was totally a sexy lady! So I think the whole thing is bizarre, but it made me want to write a post about size and singing.
For me, my natural thinness is something I think I've actually had to overcome and find ways around. If you look around there are literally NO waify opera singers - I mean, the "thin like model" ones - although most singers are in shape and look healthy these days. But the really skinny girls who you want to yell "EAT" at when you see them wearing size 25 jeans are not prevalent on the operatic stage. Except for maybe a few really high, tiny coloraturas, I really can't think of any. And the ones that are on the thin side, still often have good-sized round rib cages. I can say from a personal point of view that my voice has definitely gotten richer, darker, and larger since I've gained 15 or so pounds in the last 10 years. And I feel really strongly that if I made a concerted effort to gain maybe 30 more pounds, I might be able to sound more like a Carmen. Not that to sound like a Carmen you have to be zaftig, but I think on my frame and with the voice I was born with, I would need a little more fat for it to beef up enough to sing that role. This may be a controversial thing to say, but I really believe that body size affects voice size.
And I've had some conversations with colleagues recently that lead me to believe I'm not the only one who thinks that. I have two different colleagues who made a concerted effort to gain weight when they felt that they had gotten too thin and were having trouble supporting their voices, and therefore weren't putting out enough sound. It's especially a problem if you're working in the States because we really value big voices here since so many of the theaters are so huge. In Europe it's much easier to get away with having a smaller voice and so maybe there are some waify singers over there that I haven't yet encountered.
I will say however, that I get SO annoyed that I want to go postal on people's asses when they meet me and say, "but how can you be an opera singer? You're not fat!!" I seriously want to hit them over the head with a sharp stick. But actually, that stereotype probably didn't come from nowhere, so I shouldn't be so impatient with those poor people. I don't really see myself Renee Zelweggering into Bridget Jones any time soon, so I'll have to be content with Cherubinos and Rosinas for now. But I certainly hope the opera world doesn't become as obsessed with weight as hollywood because I've seen some of those actresses in real life, and they seriously look STARVING. And opera singers need to at least be able to eat a big plate of spaghetti after singing. I mean, really.