Posted by ESC on November 04, 2004

In Reply to: Posh birds flashing gusset and old boilers letting off steam posted by L on November 04, 2004

: : : : Whats the origin of the phrase "It aint over till the fat lady sings"

: : : bluffers' guide to opera.

: : : the last piece of opera is usually a large female vocalist. opera is apparently so turgid that people try to leave early on the pretext of thinking it is over.

: : The somewhat Runyonesque dictum, "The opera ain't over till the fat lady sings," is attributed to Anonymous in The Columbia World of Quotations , which compares it to "Don't count your chickens before they're hatched." I think I've heard somewhere, "The fight's not over till the last bell." The saying is not about opera, but about waiting before jumping to a conclusion.
: : But as regards opera: the last piece in an opera is actually only rarely the fat lady singing an aria. There's usually a big scene with lots of people singing and sometimes moving about (a finale), in which the music may get pretty loud. It may seem a little turgid to some, especially if the opera is by Wagner, but that's not really the right word. Busy, confusing, noisy, might be more appropriate. SS

: Ben Elton, through one of his characters described ballet as "a load of posh birds flashing gusset". Not sure I can disagree.

: The intensity of opera is away from modern tastes - Lord of the Rings had to be cut down for the cinema, but The Ring Cycle isn't for the stage. I'm planning to watch all 3 LotR films in succession in their full directors cut versions, so maybe I could manage Wagner, but even when the libretto is in English, it often seems unintelligible. I wonder whether the original opera buffs found it too long, or whether they were more patient than the 3 second generation.

From the archives:

From Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996): "The opera ain't over till the fat lady sings. The outcome of any contest isn't known until the final results are in. Thus, don't make premature judgments or give up too soon. Often associated with Wagnerian opera, specifically Brunhilde's 'Fire Song,' in 'Die Walkure,' and the fact that Wagner may seem interminable to nonaficionados. Thus one's impatience would be relieved when 'the fat lady sings.' Originated in the United States in the 1970s. Bartlett's 'Familiar Quotations' attributes the coinage to San Antonio TV sports commentator Dan Cook. Ralph Graves claims in the August 1991 issue of 'Smithsonian' that it has its roots in Southern proverbial lore: 'Church ain't out till the fat lady sings. There are still other attributions, but nobody really knows who coined this popular saying."