March 22, 2004 12:00 PM

Being a little too big to wear that little black dress—what woman doesn’t know the feeling? For acclaimed opera diva Deborah Voigt, though, it turned out to be a fireable offense. Scheduled to sing the title role in a June ’04 run of Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos at London’s Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, Voigt, 43, was dropped after the company deemed her 200-plus lbs. too hefty for their modernized production’s evening wear. (The cast traditionally dons more forgiving togas.) “1 have big hips, and Covent Garden has a problem with that,” Voigt told the Sunday Telegraph. “If I were running an opera house, I’d want the best singer for the role.”

Opera spokesman Christopher Millard insists it isn’t that simple. “Casting is a marriage of theatrical credibility and vocal ability,” he explains. “On this occasion those aspects were not going to jell.” Not that he holds it against Voigt, whose replacement will be the lesser known but much slimmer German soprano Anne Schwanewilms. “We hope she will work [here] again,” he adds. “She is a great singer.”

Voigt has run into this problem—a surprising one in a world where Pavarotti-esque plumpness rules—before. At a mid-’90s rehearsal, conductor Georg Solti demanded, “Why are you so fat?” The comment sent the Des Plaines, III, native, who is divorced, back on a roller coaster of loss (as much as 80 lbs.) and regain. She tried Fen-Phen, fasting and a gastric bubble surgically inserted in her stomach, to no avail. “She would like to lose weight for health reasons,” says Voigt’s rep Albert Imperato. In the meantime she isn’t hurting for work: She will perform a solo recital at New York’s Carnegie Hall in April and has a CD due out that month. Says Imperato: “This is the London public’s loss.”

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