Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Julia Migenes is Wild and Wonderful as the Diva on the Verge

Also see Richard's reviews of The Merchant of Venice and Talk Is Cheap ... Dreams Are Priceless

Sexy opera and musical comedy star Julia Migenes is making an appearance at the Empire Plush Room (her show has been extended through August 26).  She has cut down her two-and-a-half hour theatre show to a hilarious, fast paced ninety minutes.  It made me want to see her complete stage gig since this woman is THE campiest opera person since the legendary Anna Russell did Wagner's Ring Cycle.

I first saw this natural soprano in the 1984 French film Carmen co-starring with Placido Domingo (she trained her voice for ten months to sing a mezzo range for the film). She was the sexiest Carmen since Rise Stevens performed the role. She was also outstanding in the vocal department as Rebecca Hershkowitz on the CD recording of Rags, and she appeared here in March 2002 in the A.C.T. commissioned musical theatre piece, Difficulty of Crossing a Field.

Julia Migenes is a self-made diva who has performed not only on the Broadway stage but on the best stages of the world, including Opera de Paris, The Met, La Scala in Milan and at the famed Vienna Opera House where she learned the art of comedy.   Think Maria Callas meets a "Latinized" Lucille Ball in Diva on the Verge. Julia is brilliant as she tells audacious anecdotes about opera.

She comes out onto the compact stage looking svelte in a sexy, black spaghetti-strap dress and says, "this is not going to be an opera recital." She tells the audience that the next ninety minutes will be a quick course in opera "for those who wouldn't go, and those who wouldn't go back."  She says that all opera purists expecting a proper recital show should leave, and points her finger toward the exit door.  No one leaves because she has already captivated the audience.

Julia speaks as much as she sings, explaining in a comical way what she is singing. On the stage are various outfits that she wears to portray various opera characters. Her scene from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor is one of the funniest mad scenes you will ever see. She translates literally, line by line, in English and climbs up onto the piano, where the very talented Victoria Kirsch is playing, as she goes "nuts" in character.

Diva on the Verge contains many hilarious sequences. For instance, before singing from Charles Gounod's Romeo et Juliette she talks about the super titles that are above the proscenium stage in today's opera houses. The audience is so involved looking up at the titles they forget what is happening on stage. When they look at Juliet, who is supposed to be 16 years old, they see a very mature woman weighing 200 pounds singing the role.  She pokes fun at these middle aged divas singing the roles of a Japanese teenager in Madame Butterfly or Salome in the Richard Strauss's 1904 opera (she calls that role a "biblical teenager from Hell").

Julia takes out a book with the original stage directions for a famous scene from Giacomo Puccini's Tosca where Tosca kills Scarpia.  She acts out very comically every step of the stage direction while singing the famous aria.  Her main focal point is the incredulity which goes on in opera. She talks about characters who sing death arias; they require a singer to be in perfect health when the characters are dying of consumption.  A side-splitting example is her Manon, who appears to be dying of strength as the artist drags herself across the floor. She again demonstrates this as Violetta Valery in Verdi's La Traviata doing a great deal of uproarious singing while lying on the floor of the stage. She even brings out a "blood stained" handkerchief.

The performer does become serious when singing a lovely song by Granados, with great thematic resonance. Even when singing the properly sung parts of her comedy scenes, she shows a stunning voice.

The piece de resistance comes at the end when this five-foot two-inch, 120 pound diva puts on her Hungarian ex-husband's white lace curtain and a campy white wig, making her look like a very heavy Kirsten Flagstad, and sings an aria from Richard Wagner's Die Valkyrie. She admits her voice is a little too small to sing like a "Great Dane"; however, she makes a splendid attempt at the difficult aria.

Diva on the Verge will play at the Empire Plush room through August 26. The room is located in the historic York Hotel, 940 Sutter St, San Francisco.  For tickets, call 866-468-3399 or visit

Coming up next is Melba Moore from September 12th through September 17th, and comedian Mort Sahl returns on September 27th through September 30th.

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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