Singer's gastric bypass proves it ain't over until the fat lady slims

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The Independent Culture

The soprano Deborah Voigt became better known for her weight than her voice when she was fired last year from her signature role in a production of Ariadne auf Naxosfor being too fat for her sleek black costume. She was the butt of humiliating jokes along the lines of "it's not over till the fat lady sings".

The soprano Deborah Voigt became better known for her weight than her voice when she was fired last year from her signature role in a production of Ariadne auf Naxosfor being too fat for her sleek black costume. She was the butt of humiliating jokes along the lines of "it's not over till the fat lady sings".

Now the American opera singer has revealed she has had drastic treatment for obesity, losing seven stone after a gastric bypass.

Voigt, 44, said she knew surgery could be "extremely dangerous" for a singer. Opera performers who shed significant amounts of weight, such as Maria Callas, have been known to lose vocal quality.

But she says the results of the surgery are "a blessing" although she acknowledges she has to think about her singing technique more than she used to. "The sort of automatic engagement of the abdominal muscles from the excess weight doesn't happen any more," she said.

Voigt had the surgery at Lenox Hill hospital in New York last June, and says she has decided to go public now because people keep asking about her new look. "I felt it was time to talk about it," she told The New York Times. "I don't want to be dishonest."

She resumed performing just seven weeks after the operation, and has been encouraged by the reaction to her singing since then, in roles such as Elisabeth in Wagner's Tannhäuser.

At her heaviest Voigt wore a size 30 dress, fitting the stereotype of the oversized opera singer. Now she fits into a size 14.

Before she was sacked from a Royal Opera House production of Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos in March last year, Voigt had already decided to undergo the treatment. "I thought of having this surgery when they started doing it 20 years ago," she said. "But it was an extremely dangerous procedure then, with a high mortality rate."

The procedure creates a pouch out of the top of the stomach, and connects it to half of the small intestine. The tiny capacity remaining takes away much of the choice about eating, because patients become ill if they overindulge.

A decade ago, there were fewer than 20,000 operations a year for obesity in the US. Last year there were 150,000, of which 75 per cent were gastric bypasses, according to Marc Bessler, of the Centre for Obesity Surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

Voigt said: "I'm going to get to show [the audience] something they haven't seen. A different way of moving on stage, a more compelling and believable approach. I still think of myself as a very big woman. My mind hasn't had the opportunity to catch up with the progress my body has made in a short time."

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