"You wouldn't believe the backcombing which went into that," laughs mezzo soprano Karen England when we compliment her on the OperaBabes' new hair-dos.

"Going home on the train after the shoot, my hair was about 3ft high. It took two days to deflate."

Along with her peforming partner Rebecca Knight (daughter of Royal Opera House soloist Gillian Knight), England first came to the nation's attention in 2001 when OperaBabes were invited to sing at the FA Cup Final.

Five years on and they're celebrating the start of their first tour with a new look based around the clawed-a hems and ripped bodice work of star designer Elizabeth Emanuel.

We call it "Regency hussy", England prefers "sexy historical".

Two classically-trained opera singers who met on the set of Mozart's The Magic Flute, England and Knight are now calling themselves "babes", practicing dance routines and talking up the gorgeousness of their male backing dancers.

Some may find this depressing but no one should doubt the enthusiasm with which the duo are embracing their new calling as crossover artists. The "babe" thing was actually Des Lynam's fault.

He coined the moniker while introducing them at the FA Cup, leaving their then label Sony to seize upon it as a ready-made brand.

And while OperaBabes stayed with the label for only one album - their second, Renaissance, was recently released on indie Instant Karma - the women accepted the name had stuck.

But too concerned with having found a couple of lookers to rival Il Divo, Sony never grasped OperaBabes' unique asset - they could actually sing live.

So this is their first tour and England is excited about the prospect of being able to offer something genuinely new - Madonna meets Mozart.

"We start with Parisian 19th-Century decadence, then have a lovely little baroque section where we do Casta Diva and some Handel, and then there's a Spanish ending with Jean Son Buren from Carmen," she says of the show, which is fully choreographed with sets, video footage and mostly live instruments.

You can also look out for some French techno, a "Middle Eastern vibe" and an unplugged section.

"A lot of people think we must be miming because we make it look effortless," says England.

"But if you've had years and years of training, you can sing with your mouth half open and dance at the same time."