‘I can run my scales way up past high F’, promises the soprano auditioning for Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Magic Flute.

‘Devine, simply devine’, replies the theatre manager, ‘but don’t you also tip the bathroom scales at 180 kilos?’

Such exchanges are becoming the norm, allege some singers. Management’s pursuit of younger audiences is making it harder for the fat lady to sing. Opera is drama, not a concert or oratorio. Hence, the German devotion to theatricality is winning out of the Italian obsession with prima donnas.Roles exist for ample ladies, especially in the older or contralto parts.

There’s not much evidence that the power of a voice, let alone its quality, improves with avoirdupois. Technique contributes more than tonnage, and lung capacity is no help if dissipated keeping the diva upright. Mini’s tubercular look relies on histrionics, make-up, costume and lighting, never on a born Twiggy with the vocal heft of a Callas.

Dieting is not a solution. Fans believe that the sparkle went from the soprano of Wagnerian Jane Eaglen after she lost 36 kilos. If so, the cause was more likely emotional stress than weight loss. At least a singer who chooses liposuction is safe from the fate of Dame Nellie Melba who died of blood poisoning after a face lift.

Tubby tenors abound, with Pavarotti the size of two Valkyrie. Basses are entitled to be large, since half their roles are comic. Baritones, however, are under pressure to be beefcake as directors take their Dons down to the buff.

Meanwhile, back at our audition: ‘I can hold my top F for fifteen seconds”, lies the soprano colosso.

‘Devine, simply devine’, the manager concedes, ‘but since you can’t squeeze into the loo on the Jumbo from LA, can you hold your water for 15-hours?’

Humphrey McQueen