Top 10 Reasons Why Opera Singers Tend to Be Plump

Think Luciano Pavarotti (among males) and Montserrat Caballé (among females).

Some people say this is a popular illusion (that most opera singers are plump). But I didn't find a credible source/survey about the average weight of singers by music genres, that also should include a historical perspective and not only a snapshot of today's state.
Shortly, I can't confirm it but I can't deny it either.

I know that not all great opera singers are plump - for example, these singers aren't: José Carreras, Isabel Leonard, Lawrence Brownlee and Joseph Kaiser, to name a few.

But many of them ARE plump and there are several theories trying to explain why. This list is a compilation of different reasons derived from those theories.
The Top Ten
1 A large amount of fatty tissue surrounding the larynx increases its resonance capability and thus produces a more pleasing sound.

I agree that a vibrating note sounds more beautiful when a large amount of fatty tissue also vibrates to support this note.

2 It's hardly possible to have a great deal of fatty tissue around the larynx without carrying a great deal of fatty tissue elsewhere on the body.

If you watch the video for the song "Barcelona" by Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé, you will see that Freddie looks like a little tiny boy next to her.

3 Opera singers needed a more powerful diaphragm than normal in order to project their voice without a mic above the sound of a large orchestra.

You know, when modern opera was created (circa 1600 in Italy), there were no mics, and opera singers had to be heard by everyone in a large opera house.

4 To drive their more powerful diaphragm they need a large chest cavity that provides a suitable mass

Luciano Pavarotti's chest is much larger than normal.

5 Opera producers in the 18th and 19th centuries probably recognized the huge advantages of huge singers and sought singers with a large neck, chest, rib cage, mouth, and overall - everything large.

There's even a phrase, "The opera ain't over until the fat lady sings."

6 In the 18th and 19th centuries opera became more popular and needed larger opera houses, hence larger singers with powerful voices who can be heard everywhere in the opera house
7 Opera singers may be predisposed to put on weight because the thoracic expansion brought about by their exercises in breath control results in increased oxygen intake with its concomitant increase in appetite

One of the most famous opera diva roles - Madame Butterfly - is fondly referred to as Madame Butterball.

8 Opera singing itself expands the body, particularly the rib cage.

And a huge barrel chest makes the singer look huge, although he or she may not be obese.

9 Opera had castrati, who naturally put on weight.

A castrato is a male who had a prepuberal castration carried out to preserve the male voice into adult life and sound like a female. He never reaches sexual maturity. But metabolism changes when a male body has no testosterone - the body gets less muscle mass and more fatty mass.

Castrati first appeared in Italy in the mid-16th century. They played female roles because, at the time, females were not allowed to sing in the opera. It seems castrati emerged mainly because of gender discrimination. And the "prima donna" (Italian for "first lady") was a castrato.

Thank God, this cruel practice of castration in the name of art died with allowing real females to enter the opera art. Castration for musical purposes was officially made illegal in Italy in 1861, adopting a French legal code which forbade the practice.

10 Opera singers are plump because they can be

Why can they be?

1. Opera is one of the few remaining entertainment fields where talent matters more than physical appearance, and the opera audience doesn't mind a plump opera singer if they do their job well.

2. A dancer must be fit, but an opera singer can be fat. Why not?


In 2004, opera singer Deborah Voigt was dismissed from a Royal Opera House production in London because she was too fat. I don't know the details about this case, but it seems to be one of the "amendments" of the 21st century.

Bingo! This is the only actual reason that applies to modern times. As posted previously, "One of the few remaining entertainment fields where talent matters more than physical appearance." Well said.

The Contenders
11 Because they eat too much.
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