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2002-05-15 How Divas can "lower the tone"

QUESTION : What's the difference between a soprano and the PLO? ANSWER: You can negotiate with the PLO!

 

I have to say at this juncture that a lot of my closest friends are sopranos, so I am not about to give them a hard time. It would be a little rich of a tenor to do so. We higher voices ought to stick together. However, I would like to give a few thoughts to the notion of the Diva.

In the world of classical music, and in particular opera, the leading ladys behaviour frequently comes up for analysis. It just so happens that many of these leading ladies are in fact sopranos, and there is definitely something that seems to take over the brain of us higher voices.

Of course the Diva is not confined to the opera world. Some of the huge iconic Diva figures of the last century emerged, of course, from Hollywood. One only has to look at the outrageous real-life bitchiness between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford to prove that point. Bette once said of Joan that the only lead Crawford never slept with in Hollywood was Lassie!

When Joan Crawford died, Bette Davis was asked what she had to say about her colleagues passing. Bette replied: Always speak good of the dead. Shes dead. Good!.

So what makes ladies like this, for it is almost always ladies, and not we of the more sensitive sex, behave in what seems like such an inexcusable way? The obvious answer really has to be insecurity. More often than not, these Divas endured horrific backgrounds for which they seem to feel the need to apologise in some way. Just like the Shakesperean villain, the classic Diva will have at least one tragic flaw. Surely the life of the great Maria Callas proves that? Her constant search for love, her quest for the perfect image and her desperation to have a child all backfired on her horribly.

In the early 20th century operatic Divas such as Nellie Melba and Tetrazzini behaved in a way which would be no longer tolerated in the modern opera houses. The American soprano Kathleen Battle was recently fired from the Met in New York for her bad behaviour. Some of the things Nellie and Luisa got up to are really not publishable in such a respectable paper, but shall we say that before going on stage, they used the stage-hands in a Monica Lewinsky sort of way!

And of course the Pop Divas behaviour can sometimes leave a lot to be desired. The list of these ladies is a mile long, and some of the things they insist on is beyond most peoples comprehension. Some of the worst behaviour has come from such icons as Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Mariah Carey, J-Lo, and even more recently Anastasia with whom I shared a Late Late Show. The difference was that she arrived in a private jet, insisted on having five rooms (one was a production office, and one contained a Buddha which she had chosen from a catalogue of Buddhas, as you do, that morning), ten types of tea, large selection of sushi, four bottles of expensive champagne, four bottles of red wine (150 euros a bottle), teddy bears, and then.......she went on and mimed!

When I experience this sort of thing I try to rise above it, and just have a good laugh. However some of my own experiences of Diva behaviour could fill several columns. Singing alongside Katia Ricciarelli in Rome, I can see why some call her La Bitchiarelli, though I have to say she was nice to me.

When I sang the role of Pinkerton, my Madame Butterfly whistled her role at the first rehearsal, in order to save her voice. She had just broken up from a long-term relationship with another singer, and kept referring to Tim who had come in and saved her life, her new love. I asked if Tim was another singer? Oh no darling, hes my Fox Terrier!.