David Lister arts notebook

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The Independent Online
Ah, those tiresome interviews with opera stars. An excuse for an album plug or a lengthy tribute to this maestro or that diva. Until ... one star, one of the biggest stars, enjoys lunch just a little too much and fires a volley of prejudice and political incorrectness.

Roberto Alagna, hailed as the next Pavarotti, was interviewed in Paris this week. He was asked by one newspaper about the recent Channel 4 documentary Naked Classics about him and his wife, soprano and fellow dream-team member, Angela Gheorghiu. Alagna didn't much care for the comments made by first nighters at the Met in this documentary ... no let's use his own words as you might have missed them:

"It's not reality, what they showed on television. Those women who said I was not good. They were prostitutes. From the street. Hah! And that man who said I didn't hit the top C. I know he is homosexual. It's outrageous, outrageous!"

Now there's an object lesson in how to alienate a sizeable chunk of your opera audience around the world. Alagna hails from Sicily where I gather you wear your manhood on your sleeve in interviews. But I also gather that the remark about homosexuals went down less than well at EMI, his record company, where the phone lines were buzzing with panicked executives. It wasn't quite the pre-publicity quote they were looking for either at Glyndebourne where Alagna and Gheorghiu sing on 27 April.

A Glyndebourne spokesman distanced himself with commendable rapidity: "It's not our event. EMI has hired Glyndebourne for a gala." At EMI, a spokeswoman confessed: "The interview was not quite what we we expected."

Perhaps it is most charitable to see Alagna's remarks as a plea for open access and egalitarianism. A man who maintains that New York streetwalkers can be found in the Met is an egalitarian at heart.

West End producer Thelma Holt was not just in New York to toast the Broadway success of her production of The Doll's House this week. I gather that between performances she scoured the Broadway theatres for ex-pats on stage, cornered them in their dressing-rooms and brought back their postal votes for the election. Janet McTeer and Owen Teale in her own production were made to sign. Then she walked along Broadway to collar Antony Sher and Deborah Finlay appearing in Stanley. Did she ensure she got a representative sample of the acting public? "Not bloody likely," Miss Holt replies, "you don't think I'd be traipsing up and down Broadway for the Tories do you?"

The first person I bumped into in my hotel on a visit to Karachi turned out to be veteran horror film actor Christopher Lee. It was a slightly surreal experience because Lee was accompanied by an army officer minder with a machine-gun and also because the tall, distinguished grey-haired actor looked uncommonly like the chap on the banknotes, Pakistan's founder Jinnah. Things rapidly got more surreal. The Pakistani press tried to whip up hysteria against an English actor playing the nation's hero, putting a picture of Lee playing Dracula on the front page of the biggest English language daily. If this was mischievous. the next day's coverage was downright scurrilous, with a front-page headline asking "Is Jinnah film the new Satanic Verses?" It then emerges that the former editor of the paper, who has been writing these pieces, actually went for a part on the film and failed the audition. I took myself off to look at the restoration work being done on the Mohatta Palace, former residence of Jinnah's sister and discovered hidden in the grounds an old and decaying cadillac. This wreck, it turns out, was the founder of the country's private car. Perhaps Sotheby's should restore it and auction it off. Or, better still, do it up and give it as a present to Christopher Lee.

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