LISETTE OROPESA

STAR SO­PRANO LISETTE OROPESA FIGHTS OFF EX­CESS WEIGHT TO GARNER MORE ROLES IN THE COM­PET­I­TIVE OPERA CIR­CUIT. SHE PER­FORMS AS AD­INA IN THE “L’ELIXIR D’AMOUR” (THE ELIXIR OF LOVE) AT THE OPERA BASTILLE IN PARIS FROM OCT. 25 TO NOV. 25,

The Gulf Today - Time Out - - CONTENTS | FOCUS - SAYS RANA MOUSSAOUI

We tend to think of opera singers as a volup­tuous breed: it’s not over un­til the fat lady sings, or so the old say­ing goes. But as star so­prano Lisette Oropesa knows all too well, di­rec­tors are in­creas­ingly pres­sur­ing fe­male stars into los­ing weight.

Back in 2005, the Cuban-Amer­i­can singer — sought by some of the world’s most pres­ti­gious opera houses — weighed 95 kilo­grammes. Now, she weighs just 56.

“That’s a lot to lose. It took ive years to get to this weight,” Oropesa said.

The 35-year-old was used to be­ing called fat — she’d suf­fered such taunts since she was a school­girl in New Or­leans.

But as a singer, she soon found that her weight was block­ing her from win­ning cer­tain roles.

“I was told, ‘You need to ix the weight prob­lem if you want to have any chance at all’,” she said of an early ex­pe­ri­ence at New York’s Metropoli­tan Opera House

She ad­mits she was “very up­set for a while” at be­ing told this — but with her ca­reer on the line, Oropesa bit the bul­let.

There’s a prac­ti­cal ele­ment to the push for slim­mer singers, says the so­prano, who is cur­rently per­form­ing at the Paris Opera.

In con­tem­po­rary pro­duc­tions, “they want peo­ple to be ag­ile — we are danc­ing, jump­ing, and peo­ple carry you,” she said.

“If they have a thou­sand girls to choose from, the irst ones they are go­ing to cut are the fat girls.”

She notes, how­ever, that her male col­leagues don’t come in for any­thing like the same pres­sure.

For tenors, of whom there are far fewer vy­ing for jobs, “as long they ap­pear and come to work, they are ok”.

The most fa­mous case of dra­matic weight loss in the opera world is that of leg­endary Maria Cal­las.

De­scribed as “mon­strously fat” by one im­pre­sario in 1951, the so­prano even­tu­ally shed 36 of her 91 ki­los.

At the other end of the spec­trum, Montser­rat Ca­balle — the Span­ish star who died in Oc­to­ber aged 85 -- re­mained through­out her ca­reer the ar­che­typal cur­va­ceous so­prano.

In re­cent years, de­bate has risen to a crescendo over how much con­tem­po­rary opera is favour­ing looks over lar­ynxes.

In 2003 Lon­don’s Royal Opera House sparked an out­cry by sack­ing Deb­o­rah Voigt, one of the world’s best-known so­pra­nos, be­cause she couldn’t fit in her dress.

She used her sev­er­ance pay to fund gas­tric by­pass surgery — a de­ci­sion which even­tu­ally led to new roles.

Rus­sia’s Anna Ne­tre­bko, an­other global star, mean­while shocked some of her fans af­ter re­turn­ing from ma­ter­nity leave 13 ki­los heav­ier. She re­torted that she’d never sung bet­ter.

And there was wide­spread anger in Bri­tain among col­leagues of mez­zoso­prano Tara Er­raught when words like “dumpy” and “stocky” lit­tered press cov­er­age of her per­for­mance at the Glyn­de­bourne fes­ti­val.

“There was lit­tle com­ment on her mu­si­cian­ship, dra­matic com­mit­ment or her abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate to an au­di­ence and to move that au­di­ence to tears,” wrote fel­low mezzo Jen­nifer John­stone.

Some crit­ics shot back that opera is a vis­ual artform, and that peo­ple need to be be­liev­able as the char­ac­ters they are play­ing.

But “body-sham­ing is not ac­cept­able”, in­sists Oropesa, who is sick of rich pa­trons say­ing “’Oh, I am so glad you’re not fat, like so and so’ — be­cause they think they are en­ti­tled to say things like that.”

Whether or not there’s a link be­tween so­pra­nos’ weight and their per­for­mance is still dis­puted.

Some fans be­lieve Cal­las’ voice de­te­ri­o­rated be­cause she lost weight, but spe­cial­ists con­test this.

Oropesa be­lieves it’s a myth that “you should be fat to be able to sing”.

And while she stresses that she doesn’t care about how thin peo­ple are, she also says she’s seen noth­ing but ben­e­fits to her change in life­style.

To slim down, Oropesa didn’t re­sort to dras­tic surgery or a star­va­tion diet -- she started run­ning marathons.

“I have done six marathons and I run al­most four to ive days a week,” she said.

These days, “when I run round the stage it doesn’t make me feel sweaty, or dy­ing out of breath, be­cause I run a lot”.

Af­ter Paris, Oropesa heads to Rome where she’ s per­form­ing Verdi’ s“Rigo­letto ”, then to Barcelona for Han­del’s “Rodelinda” be­fore shows in Brus­sels and Pitts­burgh.

“It is non-stop — a real vo­cal marathon,” she said with a smile.

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