While opera is predominantly associated with music and theatrical performances, some devoted fans have taken their passion for the art form into the sporting realm. In recent years, a growing community of ‘opera athletes’ have emerged worldwide competing in unique opera-themed competitions that test their vocal prowess and physical abilities. In this article, we explore some of the exciting opera sports that have developed and the dedicated performers pushing the boundaries of this fusion between music and athletics.
One of the most popular opera sports is Operatic Biathlon which combines cross-country skiing and live singing. Events mimic traditional biathlon with athletes skiing laps while hitting specific notes or phrases from well-known arias. Their vocal accuracy is judged alongside ski times. Major competitions attract professional singers from leading opera houses competing for cash prizes. The World Operatic Biathlon Championships held in Austria each January draw massive crowds and television viewership.
For athletes seeking solo challenges, the international Aria Circuit tours 6 cities with qualifying events. Competitors perform full unaccompanied arias judged on vocal quality and breathing/posture endurance during runs or bike rides. The winner of each city’s event earns prize money and qualifying points. The athlete with the most overall points after 6 competitions takes home a lucrative grand prize. Notable winners include Spanish tenor Alejandro Marco and American coloratura Nicole Car.
A more team-focused adaptation is Scoring Operas – played similar to netball on outdoor courts. Two teams of 6 opera singers attempt to “score” by belting out full sections of assigned operas within a time limit without musical accompaniment. Correct pitches and rhythms earn baskets worth various point values depending on difficulty. Dynamic defending and robust lung capacity give certain singers advantages. World Cup events in this rapidly growing co-ed sport are televised annually in over 50 countries.
Blending elements of polo and singing, Aria Polo sees 4-person teams compete while performing set arias on horseback. Riders try to guide the specially trained horses through obstacle courses across an open field within a time limit singling continuously. Their vocal scores combined with fastest safe completion times determine winners. Beyond tournaments in Europe and Americas, exhibition Aria Polo matches often feature at premier equestrian shows attracting horse and opera fans alike.
In this test of brute vocal and physical strength, competitors strive to belt out full belt-busting coloratura passages while hoisting progressively heavier weights over their heads in different lifts. Top male and female “diva weightlifters” can sing vocally taxing runs from roles like the Queen of the Night from Mozart’s Magic Flute while lifting over 175 lbs. Contests done in strongman arena style are immensely popular on internet broadcasts. Reigning champions include Russian bass Maksim Trusov and American mezzo-soprano Stacey Fuller.
Conducted similar to traditional distance running marathons, competitors run 26.2 miles while continuously singing through an assigned opera or set of arias without instrumental backing. Popular marathon routes feature scenic backdrops like the Venice coast. Runners are scored on completing the full distance within a qualifying time while assessed on pitch, breathing, and overall vocal endurance. Top male and female finishers receive marathon champion titles and prize medals. Irish tenor Ronan Tynan holds the men’s record finishing Wagner’s Ring Cycle in 3 hours 8 minutes.
A variation played indoors involves singing and target shooting accuracy. Athletes fired air pellet rifles at distant paper targets in between belting phrases from selected arias. Each sustained note and clean hit increases their score while misses or vocal mistakes deduct points. Matches mimic standard biathlon formats with both team and individual styles of competition. Australia’s singing biathlon nationals routinely attract top marksmen and classically trained singers to their fields to vie for annual titles.
While still a relatively small community numerically, the number of devoted opera athletes and events is growing each year as the unique fusion of music and sports captures more interest. With competitive performances tested to their artistic and physical limits, these specialized singers are pushing new boundaries in perseverance and creativity. As opera sports continue expanding with new styles of combined singing and athletic contests, their devoted fans and competitors work to further establish the budding niche within international opera culture and athletics.