Diva fever: a thing of the past?

"It's like playing golf: there are good days and bad days." Star of the Rugby World Cup theme and the Royal Wedding, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa is talking about her voice. Even her sternest critics - and there are legions of those - cannot deny the beauty of her tone, but her dramatic talent leaves a lot to be desired. It is this lack of onstage passion that keeps her from becoming a true diva.

In Elijah Moshinsky's "Divas", on tonight's Omnibus (10.35pm BBC1), opera critic Rupert Christiansen claims there are no true divas left, believing that singers are now too careful and too cautious. "They sing on the interest, rather than the capital."

The programme runs the gamut from the gossip of stage-doormen at Covent Garden to clips of Jessye Norman on Wogan, and ends with the opera queens' dream: a collage of curtain calls. It's the moment that cinema can only dream of, when the performer abandons character, steps in front of the heavy, swagged velvet and receives the adulation of an adoring audience. For all the programme's attempts to explain what a diva actually is, simply watching Agnes Baltsa work the audience with her eyes, or seeing Sutherland being showered with flowers tells you the most about the subject. Either that or clips of Callas doing everything from pleading for her life as an artist singing Vissi d'arte to answering the press. Whatever it was, she had it.

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