Opera: Bit of a song and dance

DIVA ON THE VERGE PEACOCK THEATRE LONDON
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The Independent Culture
SHE'S DISCOVERED casually stretched out across a grand piano, in the manner beloved of Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys. This is not, you swiftly realise, your average evening with a diva.

Hardly surprising when you consider that Julia Migenes's early career included playing in the original Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof, and the fact that she really made it big in movies (albeit singing), when she starred as a highly convincing Carmen in the successful film of the opera.

This comic evening demonstrates that this diva is on the verge of a lecture, and instead of an overhead projector, we have her voice. And her temperament, which, she proudly announces, has had her kicked out of many an opera house.

Sporting Cleo Laine's hair, Barbra Streisand's fluttery fingers and Eartha Kitt's kittenish pout, Migenes is on a highly laudable mission. This, she tells us, is opera for those who would not go and those who would not go back. Fine and dandy, but there's a problem. Who else but opera fans are going to book to see her? This self-selecting audience doesn't need persuading.

Undeterred, she sets off with brio, comparing the immense length of piano strings with their human equivalent, the vocal cords, while illuminatingly brandishing two tiny elastic bands. The focus of her show, however, is parody.

She begins with the mad scene from Lucia di Lammermoor, translating as she goes, which starts off as funny - Donizetti's libretti are not famed for their literary merit - but quickly goes flat through repetition. Observing the absurdity of ageing sopranos attempting Juliet, she shows the horrors of operatic acting "broad enough so that deaf people could get it".

Migenes has strong clowning skills - shown off best in Violetta's death scene - but a better director could stretch her further and make this much funnier. Sadly, there's nothing here that couldn't have been done 30 years ago (and was, by Anna Russell).

The great La Gran Scena di New York company has been doing all this with far more flair for years. Their comedy is far sharper and scores far more points, and the fact that they are all men in drag leaves you astonished that they can even sing the material as written. There is no such safety net for Migenes, whose voice - always idiosyncratic - is now well past its prime, a fact underlined when she sings two numbers "straight". Sadly, she can't have it both ways.

Last perf, 14 Mar (0171-314 9002)

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