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Era of the "Fat Lady" is Over, Says American Soprano Danielle de Niese

By Classicalite Newsdesk on Jan 27, 2014 03:54 PM EST

The American soprano Danielle de Niese, has told the Daily Telegraph newspaper that the era of the "fat lady" stereotype in opera is over. Or rather that it has no basis in fact, though it might linger in the media and people's imaginations.

It's an interesting point, and comes from a singer who made her name as much on her seductive stage presence, in her breakthrough role as Handel's Cleopatra at Glyndebourne, as on her vocal talents, impressive as they are. And De Niese, who has (the newspaper tells us with some relish) just performed in "a racy production involving a lesbian affair" of Calisto, in Munich, claims that singers now come in all shapes and sizes and there is no real basis in the parodic image of the fat diva any more.

It has been claimed over the years that a portly figure is good for the voice. Yet many of today's leading ladies, from Natalie Dessay to Nicole Cabell, don't seem to need the extra weight (actually it has always really been the case--Felicity Lott was never podgy, and Callas went up and down). In fact, it feels extremely ungallant to even discuss the subject. De Niese asserts that the question should not be one of weight but of what kind of physical support a soprano finds works for her.

Where it is dangerous, though, is in the pressure caused by cinecasts. The omnipresence of the close-up has increased pressure on opera singers to slim down. Several veteran sopranos have expressed warnings about this. A decade ago Deborah Voigt underwent surgery for weight loss after being ousted from a Covent Garden Strauss production for being too big for the costume and the concept.

Losing weight is not wrong per se, of course not. But it all comes down to health, vocal and physical. Nothing else should matter, really.

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Tagsdanielle de niese, Glyndebourne, Handel, cleopatra, it's not over till the fat lady sings

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