Why are opera singers fat? Maybe they’re not all fat, but some of the old school ones were whales, though they do sound better than whales. Is there some advantage to all that girth for a singer? Justin Bieber isn’t very fat.
— High C, out there
Well, he’s not very good, either, so the Beeb’s no comparison. Let’s just say, opera singers’ fat rap goes back in history. Once, the art form was a smaller, more intimate production, without blaring orchestras and shield-waving Valkyries. No need to blast one’s voice to the third tier back in the rafters. A diminutive warbler could hold his own before the modest audiences. Show business being what it is, ’twasn’t long before productions became grander, orchestras were added, stages were asprawl with chirping extras and clanking swords. With no modern microphones or speakers or clever acoustics, opera stars needed bigger voices and a much bigger stage presence. Taller, chestier singers could project their voices and rise above the surrounding din and stage flash. It also was a time when the portly were assumed to be better than you and me, somehow healthier, wealthier, reflecting a life of gluttony and leisure. Audiences wanted their opera idols to match the Pillsbury Dough Boy.
In the ensuing years, there’s been no need to command the theater by physical presence alone, though the fat-opera-singer stereotype persisted. Beyond that, is there any need to be a Pavarotti to have a sublime voice? Biologists have weighed in with various opinions: Fat around your larynx creates resonance and a pleasing voice; to get a fat neck, you’ll end up with a fat body. And, a large frame and body aids mighty voice projection. Or, singing releases some kind of hormone that causes weight gain. Finally, the act of singing enlarges the chest and fools your eye into thinking singers are fat. Others are lukewarm about these explanations. That fat-around-the-larynx stuff has been pretty much disproved, though there might be a little merit to the strong-chest ideas. But science so far hasn’t seen much advantage to a fat singer.
Singers themselves say that a life on tour, with odd hours, restaurant and banquet meals, and frequently late dinners makes a sane daily menu almost impossible. It’s difficult to stick to the rigors of a diet-and-exercise routine. In fact, some bright operatic lights have tried dieting. Pavarotti himself fought a losing battle. And old-school superstar Maria Callas actually managed to lose 80 pounds at one point in her career. Naturally, some crochety critics said that in the process she lost her magnificent voice, but of course there’s no proof of that. On the flip side, not long ago a tubby soprano was yanked from an opera production because, according to the artistic director, her girth clashed with the whole ambience he was trying to establish onstage, As for me, the fat lady has sung.
I love chocolate-covered cherries, but I can’t figure out how they make them. Do they cover the cherry with chocolate and then squirt the juice in there somehow? Do they make the top, pop in the cherry and the juice, then put on the bottom?
— Merrilee, Solana Beach
The entire Alice family is on a big shape-up campaign lately. Pop moved the refrigerator into the garage, at least 20 yards farther away from the TV, and he breaks a nice little sweat jogging back and forth. (He also decided to watch less TV every day, so he bought a set with a smaller screen.) Ma Alice is into week three of an all-turnip diet. We toss them to her twice a day, down the cellar stairs. She’s been stuck there ever since she went to do laundry with a Sara Lee sampler pack for company. Guess that last cheesecake put her over the top, girth-wise. Another five pounds, and Pop and I should be able to grease up the door frame and spring her loose. Ma says turnips aren’t too bad if you run them twice through the rinse cycle.
Anyway, I’ve pledged not to answer any high-fat, high-sugar questions until I’m back down to my fighting weight. For the past week I’ve grappled with nothing but knotty posers about rice cakes and celery, so I think I’ve earned a chocolate-cherries day for good behavior, The mystery of liquid-center candies is truly a story of better living through chemistry. According to the Russell Stover company, famous makers of the treats, they begin with a maraschino cherry wrapped in a thick fondant paste made of sugar, water, and a natural plant enzyme called invertase. The cherry-and-fondant blob is then dipped in chocolate. Gradually, the invertase converts the sugar’s sucrose into liquid glucose and fructose. In a matter of hours or days, depending on the fondant recipe, the cherries are bobbing around in that messy syrup. Stover warns that the internal air pocket left when the fondant liquefies can cause the candy to explode if you take them on your next high-altitude hike. Heck, sounds like fun to me.