OPERA / Frock opera: Edward Seckerson on an evening of arias and graces with La Gran Scena

Never mind three tenors, over at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London, we're talking six sopranos. And not just any sopranos. We're talking New York's finest, bejewelled luminaries of divadom, we're talking frocks and hair-dos (or even hair-don'ts) with a life of their own, we're talking serious lip-gloss. The wonder is that so distinguished a gathering of opera queens can still be assembled under one roof. And that's just the audience.

I think we're long past those malicious rumours that La Gran Scena is in fact a company of men in drag. Perish the thought. Hirsute howlers have no place on this stage, honey. Just think of the rivalry. One of the most heartwarming features of La Gran Scena's shows is the selflessness and professional generosity displayed by their fabulous leading ladies. Well, actually I lie. There are undercurrents - all right, tidal waves - of temperament and one-upmanship. From the moment that our divas sweep through the dry ice for their traditional curtain-raiser - Wagner's 'Ride of the Valkyries' (with 'Hojotohos' to have Wotan cowering for cover) - there's a certain jockeying for position. Head diva Vera Galupe-Borszkh (voice of Callas, hair of Tebaldi), a traumatic soprano known affectionately to her fans as 'La Dementia', gets the pink follow- spot. It was she, after all, who revolutionised opera with her Roman debut, she who 'butterflied as Tosca through the famed underwater production at the Baths of Caracalla'

But's what's a little jockeying for position between divas? Our hostess is America's Most Beloved Retired Diva, Miss Sylvia Bills, known to her friends as 'Silly' or 'Billy' (I wonder who she's modelled on). And if she doesn't mind me saying so, she needs a better script editor and a pacier delivery (honey, we could drive whole arias through your longer discourses). Her speciality is the bitchy slip of the tongue: 'the rotund, I mean renowned, spento, I mean spinto soprano'. She gets the Kathleen Battle jokes. But the real blood-letting (I think that's the phrase) is in the musical 'selections'. Some of the singing is actually quite (let's not go overboard here) average (pace those who speak of falsettos, leave alone marching ones - remember, these ladies sing what's written at original pitch). There's Philene Wannelle's felicitous rendition of 'Iris Hence Away' from Handel's Semele - with the added distraction of an Iris who has no intention of going anywhere but downstage-centre.

But the percentage of gags hitting their target has been higher. Operatic in-jokes are the life-blood of La Gran Scena. At best, they spring naturally (and affectionately) from the absurdities of the genre. Sure, I like their tackiness, bad taste. But camp - high or low - is never enough. There's definitely more mileage to be got from Act 3 of La Traviata - though I shall treasure the moment in Violetta's aria which finds our heroine recalling happier times with Alfredo while pulling handcuffs and a pair of old Y-fronts from her jewel box. And haven't we all been been waiting for the trio from Der Rosenkavalier set in a New Jersey shopping mall (the Marschallin now Marsha Lynne), replete with anarchic surtitles. Directed by Madam Galupe-Borszkh after workshops with Peter Sellout, the spectacle of an overweight, bleach-blonde Sophie shooting up (I'm talking outsize syringe here) for the climax is something opera-lovers may never see again. Earlier in the evening, Sylvia Bills, describing Manon as 'gay, pretty, and thoughtless,' added: 'How many of you can relate to that?' You said it, Sylvia.

Box office: 071-388 8822

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory