Live at the Carnegie Hall: Proof that it really ain't over till the fat lady sings...

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The Independent Culture

The generously proportioned American opera singer Deborah Voigt has proved true to the most overused of show-business clichés.

The generously proportioned American opera singer Deborah Voigt has proved true to the most overused of show-business clichés.

Having been dropped from a production at Covent Garden because her fuller figure would not look suitable in a black evening dress, Ms Voigt will appear in a production at Carnegie Hall in New York tonight.

The show will most certainly not be over until Ms Voigt has sung. Furthermore she has shown that the way to Carnegie Hall is not simply through "practice, practice, practice", but also through ignoring your critics.

Confirming another cliché, she said: "You can't really buy this kind of publicity, and good, bad or indifferent, there's the old adage that there's no such thing as bad publicity.

"I've sort of been asking myself, would you have admitted this or brought attention to it had you realised that you would become international news? And I'm not really sure what the answer to that is yet."

Last month, Ms Voigt, 43, and estimated to weigh up to 20 stones, was dropped from a production planned for this summer of Ariadne auf Naxos at the Royal Opera House because she was considered too big by Peter Katona, the casting director. She was replaced by the less well-known but more diminutive soprano Anne Schwanewilms.

A Covent Garden spokesman said of the Richard Strauss opera: "Although Ms Voigt is a wonderful singer, the costume and type of production made it not such a fortunate suggestion that she should be in it."

He added: "Normally Ariadne is presented on a stylised Greek island with the singers wearing toga-type cloths, but we wanted to present it in elegant, modern evening dress. In making these kinds of decision it is not just a question of how someone looks; it is also how they move on stage."

Ms Voigt said she considered the comments hurtful, but with tonight's appearance in Wagner's Tristan und Isolde and the release this week of her first solo recording, Obsessions, she is trying to put the controversy behind her. In the process she says she has brought obesity heightened publicity. She said: "It's been very interesting how many people have been really shocked, just assumed that opera singers were by nature larger than life. It's something that everyone can relate to.

"Everybody has 10lb they want to lose. Or more. And I hate to break it to everyone, but most of the world doesn't look like the woman they've now engaged to sing Ariadne. Most of the women look closer to me."

Within the rarefied atmosphere of the world of opera, the decision to drop Ms Voigt and replace her with Ms Schwanewilms was considered little short of astonishing. The tenor Luciano Pavarotti, known for his big voice and broad girth, said he was outraged.

"Although directors must have the freedom of allowing their vision of an opera to be realised ... we must also realise that we are first and foremost singers," he said.

"I always thought it was wonderful, and paradoxically rather progressive, that opera represented one of the only high-profile worlds in media and entertainment where there did not exist a blatant prejudice of size. Why should a leading lady have to be a perfect size? ... Many beautiful singers happen to be slim. And many beautiful singers happen not to be."

James Conlon, the music director of the Paris Opera, who has worked with Ms Voigt, called her "a very great singer and great technician and musician, and a complete professional". He added: "I hold her in the highest esteemand plan to continue to collaborate with her."

Ms Voigt is from Wheeling, Illinois and now lives in Vero Beach, Florida. She has battled a weight problem for much of her life. "It's late-night eating, it's room service, it's all of that," she told the Associated Press. "I'm not trying to make an excuse for it. I would give my right arm - well maybe not my right arm - but I'd give something pretty significant to not have this issue be a part of my life. But, then again, I look at my life and I think, if this is your greatest burden to bear thus far, you're doing pretty well."