Monday, February 18, 2008

What is it with fat opera singers? And what can we do about it? Herewith a few answers and modest proposals.

Went to the New York Metropolitan Opera last weekend. Saw Carmen, starring Olga Borodina as the tramp home buster Carmen, and Marcello Alvarez as Don Jose, the schlump corporal who falls in love with her and dies.


Look, I know this is probably not politically correct. And I don’t want to cast aspersions on overweight people, since I’m what you might charitably call on the chunky side myself, most especially around the middle.

But I’m not even dreaming of ever portraying a feckless young corporal who’d jilt his fiancée and break his momma’s heart. Nor, for that matter, would I play a slutty seductress who makes grown men trash their marriages and fiancées.

Much less do I dream of playing it to an opera house full of suckers paying big, big bucks. (My credit card bill for two tickets came to in excess of $300, and I didn’t exactly have the best seats in the house.)

Don’t ever let
the singer sit on you

Even from the back – way, way, way back of the orchestra section, where they have the $300-a-pair cheap seats – it was pretty clear that if you were lying on the ground and Carmen ever sat down on you, you’d be a goner. I mean, check it out for yourself.

As for Don Jose, he was built like a meat-and-potatoes desk jockey who wouldn’t dare get up from his swivel chair and into a real sword fight – for fear he’d drop dead of a heart attack or a stroke.

The plump diva
busted foot syndrome

Yeah, they sang great. Olga was sensationally good, despite feeling some pain. Somebody came out between acts and begged us to be tolerant of Olga because she had injured her foot in the first act. I didn’t see the injury happen. But on the other hand, the voice and the girth are what you tend to notice when Olga does an aria on stage. Feet? What feet?

Listen, I’ll admit I’m not the first person to notice that singing opera and lugging around 50 to 150 or more pounds of excess blubber seem to go hand-in-hand.

Don Cook, Casey Stengel
and three centuries of
overweight divas

In fact, when I went to check it out , I discovered that I’m very late to the discovery. There are at least five theories about why opera singers are either better when they’re fat, or get fat because they sing. In addition, I found several theories about who it was who coined the line, “The opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings.”

A sportscaster named Don Cook seems to get the credit, but I seem to remember hearing the line, and an attribution to the man who coined it, much earlier than 1972, the year Cook is said to have uttered it. The author I seem to remember was the late New York Yankees baseball coach Casey Stengel, a master of the mangled bon mot. One of my favorite Stengelisms, “There comes a time in every man's life, and I've had plenty of them."

My beef isn’t fat. My beef
is slender credibility.

So where’s the beef? It all has to do with a thing called “willing suspension of disbelief.”

That’s the process by which entertainment-goers make an unspoken agreement with the entertainment that says, “I know this can’t possibly be happening, but I’ll go along with it because it’s somehow got my common sense by the short hairs.”

Bug Bunny and Wiley Coyote are great suspenders of disbelief. I know a rabbit can’t talk. I know a coyote can’t step off a cliff, freeze in mid-air, look down in horror at where he’s about to plunge, and then, after about five seconds, go into free fall. But hey, while it’s happening I don’t squirm in my chair and say, “Nah, never in a million years!”

Unfortunately, hefty opera singers can’t pull off what cartoon rabbits and coyotes can pull off. An elephantine Carmen waddling around the stage, with or without busted foot, is no way going to convince me that she’s the world’s champion sexy-seductress, except maybe of those weird guys who pick up nude fat lady magazines in porno shops and thumb them (plus whatever else) out in the garage.

So we’ve got to do something, folks. I propose that instead of having fat people play skinny people, the creative community ought to get out there and write operas about fat people.

Operas about weight –
and the people who carry it

For example, we ought to have a tragic opera about an overweight heiress who falls in love with a tone deaf (so he doesn’t have to sing) lothario and kills herself when she can’t take off 175 pounds and thus win his heart. Her tearful aria, Troppo obeso per mio soldi, sung while running on a treadmill, ought to bring audiences to their feet, tears pouring down their cheeks as they applaud and weep.

Aside from Othello, I don’t see many parts for Afro-American singers that would long sustain credibility. So I propose an English-language opera called, How Oprah Got Her Weight Back, telling the story about how our greatest TV star turns anorexic because of her concern over elections and fibbing memoirists, losing her authority along with her weight until she goes on a crash diet of stuff like cheese doodles and donuts. The aria that would have them howling “Brava, Brava, Bravissimo!” in the aisles would contain yodeled lyrics such as,

Sweet stuff is neat stuff
O yo-delaydihoo, yo-delaydi hoo, yo-delaydi hoo
Cheese doodles fried noodles yo-delaydihoo
Mixed with a Crispy Creme donut or two.
I could envision a magnificently touching French language tragic opera called Carport, about an overweight, middle aged American couple that get hopelessly wedged into the space between their car and their house during a Minneapolis winter and confess their feelings and affairs to each other, forgive each other, and then freeze to death. Their most memorable duet would be,
Il n’y etait rien qu’un affair,
Il n’y avait rien a souvenir
Je m’en fou

I love you.
Or, instead of a ponderous, unlovely opera like “Nixon in China,” how about a light Viennese operetta called “Nixon Goes To David K’s” in the style of The Merry Widow? To a sprightly waltz, a fat Nixon might put down his chop sticks and sing in German:
Ein klein schwein rippe
Mite grosse garnelle

Gebraten in die wok

Gebraten in die wok

Alles hier ist gute

Gebraten in die wok

Alles ist gute

In die wok-awok-wok!
Where’s Miss Piggy
now that we need her?

Still another way to go would be to have cartoon characters or puppets play the lead roles in existing operas. I’m absolutely convinced that Miss Piggy (lip-syncing to the magnificent voice of Olga Borodina) would go a long way toward enabling me to suspend my disbelief.

This would be especially so if Elmo played the jilted Don Jose, and the toreador Escamillo were played by Kermit the Frog. There have to be parts in there for the rest of the Muppets like Bert and Ernie and Oscar the Grouch.

Don’t like a lip-syncing Miss Piggy? How about a lip-synching Britney Spears? But of course, I’m only thinking aloud.

1 comment:

AlexVK said...

Dammit,I cannot easily believe there could be an actual causal relationship between extra pounds and opera singing.None of the 'theories' sound too plausible anyway,they mostly sound hilarious.

I mean,is there any causality between pop stars' profession and their perfect,ripped bodies?

I'd be more likely to believe that opera singers let themselves go just because they feel they can get away with it,since they only validate a stereotype.

The solution you're proposing seems to be the best.Hahaha...