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‘Diva on the Verge’ Offers a Loving Sendup of Opera

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There are performers like Victor Borge, Anna Russell and Peter Schickele who achieved fame by lampooning classical music. But opera’s Julia Migenes goes at it from the opposite direction in her one-woman show, “Diva on the Verge” at the Odyssey Theatre, sending up her art after having become famous doing it straight.

At first glance Thursday night, you think you have stumbled into a private party; the diva letting down her hair for the inner circle’s amusement. The targets will be familiar even to those whose knowledge of opera extends no further than the caricatures on TV commercials: absurd plots, mature singers portraying teenage ingenues, healthy voices for dying heroines, mountainous women who sing Wagner.

A lot of it is actually pretty funny, and Migenes displays a flair for comic timing and feigned exasperation, earnestly backed by pianist Victoria Kirsch.

But what does “on the verge” mean? I suspect it refers to the fine line real divas have to draw between exploring every emotion of their roles and outright parody. Migenes crosses that line repeatedly in the Mad Scene from “Lucia di Lammermoor,” with lots of physical shtick, on-the-spot translations--each one a howler--and long stretches of real musical sensitivity with no clowning.

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Yet she does the “Willow Song” from “Otello” absolutely straight, singing limpidly, writhing in genuinely felt agony that is just on the verge, as it were, but not quite over the line into parody.

Though it’s hard to say what a newcomer to opera would make of all this, an open-minded aficionado will realize anew how disturbingly ambiguous opera is: ripe for kidding yet bolstered and even contradicted by some ofthe world’s finest, deepestmusic.

* “Diva on the Verge” continues Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays through Jan. 30 at 8 p.m. at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles. $20 to $25. (310) 477-2055.


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