THEATRE With David Benedict

The Eye On Theatre

La Traviata and Don Giovanni, The Drill Hall, London, WC1 Alternating performances until 23 Nov (0171-637 8270)

There's more nonsense spouted about opera than about any other art form. "So elitist," sneer the gainsayers. "Sane people can't afford it." Not so. Shelling out for one of Pavarotti's rare appearances may require a second mortgage, but pounds 7 will buy you the best sound in the house at ENO. The top-priced seats there aren't cheap (pounds 45), but think of the wage bill for the orchestra, chorus and backstage crew, let alone singers' fees. As for elitism, you try getting change out of pounds 20 for a seat at a Premier League football match anywhere other than on your living-room sofa.

Along with quarrels about audibility, foreign languages and the like, the commonest misconception is that opera singers can't act. While it is true that no one is aching to cast Kiri Te Kanawa as Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth or Blanche Dubois, Willard White had a good stab at Othello in Shakespeare's non-musical version, under the watchful eye of Trevor Nunn. Okay, so Ian McKellen and Zoe Wanamaker eventually wiped the floor with him, but he still put up a pretty good fight for the first three acts.

Still unconvinced? Then you can't have seen the trail- blazing work of Music Theatre London. Ten years ago, Nicholas Broadhurst was Richard Eyre's assistant on the legendary National Theatre production of Guys and Dolls, and Tony Britten was the musical director. In the course of the run, the pair of them led members of the cast in a workshop on Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. The results were so exciting that MTL was born.

There have been ups and downs in the company's fortunes but now they're back on top form with two of their greatest hits, Don Giovanni and La Traviata.

Opera novices have been astonished by their musical and dramatic strengths, while seasoned buffs have been forced to eat their hats when watching the Don's lechery so vividly portrayed or experiencing Violetta's painful sacrifice so movingly rendered. For genuinely theatrical opera, look no further.

EYE ON THE NEW

Director Jude Kelly has enticed Eleanor Bron and Prunella Scales to Leeds for the British premiere of A Perfect Ganesh by Terrence McNally, one of Broadway's favourite playwrights. An intriguing prospect.

1 Nov-7 Dec, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds (0131-244 2111)

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