This is the second in a series where we tackle the adorable, the silly, and the thought-provoking questions about opera that we’ve received from students. Read on – you just might learn something too!
Why does the classic opera stereotype of a fat lady in horns singing, exist and persist? -Oliver, Miles River Middle School, 7th grade
Chances are that even if you don’t know much about opera, you’re familiar with the “fat lady in horns” image! This stereotype is drawn from Richard Wagner’s epic four-part opera, Der Ring des Nibelungen, usually referred to as the Ring Cycle. It’s a fantastic, mythological adventure of gods and goddesses, a stolen, magical golden ring, and jealousy, revenge, and love. One of the central characters is Brünnhilde, a warrior Valkyrie, who is traditionally depicted wearing a breastplate, a winged helmet, and carrying a spear.
At the end of the 17-hour long (!) Ring Cycle, Brünnhilde sings an incredibly challenging aria that is often known as the “Immolation scene” – this is what the saying “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings” refers to! Looney Toons also immortalized the horned lady archetype in their classic, hilarious send-up of opera, What’s Opera, Doc?
Today, we try to recognize that there’s a LOT more to opera than the horned lady stereotype suggests – besides, it’s pretty rude! So the next time you meet an opera singer, don’t ask about her helmet. Ask about all the fabulous music and characters she is currently exploring!
Do operas have mascots? -- Kaliyah, Joseph Lee K-8 School, 5th Grade
We love this question – they definitely should! We don’t know of any operas that have mascots, though a few operas feature animals. For instance, Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen follows the story of a fox named Sharp-Ears, and the operatic version of The Little Prince features roles for the Fox and the Snake. Animals are a crucial part of other operas as well, from the birds that bird-catcher Papageno chases in The Magic Flute, to Brünnhilde’s trusted horse Grane in the Ring Cycle, to elephants and horses that form part of the Aida procession! Sometimes we even get to see animals onstage as part of the production, which is always magical and can lead to some unexpected arias!
What would you pick as a mascot for your favorite opera?