High Art Hangover

Katherine Jenkins in “Viva La Diva”Chalk another one up to curiosity, I guess… when I saw a copy of Viva la Diva (2008) sitting on the charity shop shelf, it seemed such a bizarre concept, I just couldn’t resist. For those who don’t know, this all-singin’, all-dancin’ tribute show, recorded at London’s O2 Arena, sees Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins and prima ballerina Darcey Bussell paying homage to the “divas” and idols who inspired them… including Edith Piaf, Maria Callas and Fred Astaire. Before going any further, it’s worth noting that the concert tour was a sell out (and even got extended!), and that the vast majority of reviews, from critics and punters alike, are overwhelmingly positive… so this post should probably just be dismissed as the ill-informed ramblings of a rank philistine.

As a fan of Punk and Heavy Metal music, I realise how ironic what I’m about to say might sound… but to me Opera is just intolerable “noise”. All that warbling, and repetition, and stretching every syllable past its breaking-point… something about it all just rubs my ears the wrong way. I accept that it’s survived so long because there are a lot of people out there who can appreciate it as an art form… and so long as they do it behind closed doors, and don’t hurt anyone, I say leave ‘em be. But the “problem” with this show is that Jenkins insists on singing familiar show tunes in an intermittently “operatic” style… thereby strangling the spontaneity and spirit out of them. She’s clearly a very gifted singer… but I think it’s rather telling that in the interview included here, she talks about having to “forget some of the technique that I’ve been taught”. You might assume from the show’s supposed raison d’être, that these were songs she’d been singing into her hairbrush since she was a young girl… but, no. For all her good intentions, there’s still far too much trilling going on for my liking… especially when she’s supposed to be playing a rough-and-ready cowgirl like Calamity Jane! And why bother dressing up as Marilyn Monroe if you’re going to sing the Moulin Rouge version of “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” (complete with “Material Girl” snippet), instead of the original? Gah! All that having been said, she is a damn fine looking woman, and she knows how to play to an audience, so it’s no real hardship sitting through her performances here.

Darcey Bussell in “Viva La Diva”Ballet doesn’t actively annoy me the way Opera does, so I probably enjoyed Bussell’s sections the most… although I still have some issues with the “authenticity” of her homage. In the accompanying interview she admits that “the styles in the show have been very different for me… I’ve done a couple more contemporary classes and jazz classes, which I’ve never done in the past.” She doesn’t say how many classes she took, or how much time she devoted to these new styles in addition to her ballet training, but I was a little disappointed by this revelation. Not particularly surprised, just disappointed. It’s one thing to say “this dancer is a lifelong idol of mine, and I want to honour them”, but quite another to the turn around and say “I’ve never tried dancing like them before though… so I’ll just take a couple of quick lessons and hope for the best.” Seems a bit disrespectful, somehow. I wouldn’t mind so much, but there’s a section where she attempts to mimic Audrey Hepburn’s “beatnik” dance from Funny Face, and it just seems so restrained and stilted in comparison to the real thing. A-Hep had so much snap in that scene, it really seemed like she was channelling the “Spirit of Jazz” through her body. If you could’ve read her mind at the time, it would have been full of words like “Zap!” and “Pow!” and “Zing!”… whereas I imagine Bushell’s would simply be counting off the steps, “one, two, three, four”. Very professional, very talented, very limber, and I’m sure she’s a lovely, lovely person in real life… but she can’t dance “crazy”, and she can’t dance “sexy” either. In my humble opinion.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the faux-”Film Noir” section, where a male narrator with a wonky accent kept making off-colour jokes about prostitution! Oy!

About Dee CrowSeer

A comic book writer with an interest in feminism, philosophy, and affirmative action. He/him.
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