Diva of fun
Soprano Julia Migenes is a true keeper of the flame. Through her popular one-woman show, "Diva on the Verge," the opera star has done her best to keep what she's called "the greatest antique of them all" vibrantly alive for music lovers everywhere.
'Diva on the Verge'
Soprano Julia Migenes
Place: Paliku Theatre, Windward Community College
Time: 4 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $50, to benefit the theater ($15 is tax-deductible)
Also: Jan. 31, Castle Theatre in Kahului, Maui; Feb. 2, Hilo Theatre; Feb. 4, Kahilu Theatre, Waimea
The show has an obvious attraction to opera fans, as it features her favorite arias. Migenes' formidable résumé includes a career launch with the New York Metropolitan Opera; worldwide acclaim for her title role in the 1984 movie adaptation of Bizet's "Carmen," opposite tenor Placido Domingo; and top-selling album releases over the years.
But it's Migenes' performance and storytelling skills that hold the attention of those who don't attend opera. She mixes in monologues of her family life (born on the Lower East Side of New York into a emotionally volatile ethnic mix of Greek, Irish and Puerto Rican) and humorous tales from her own career on stage.
All this is thanks to promoter David Gest, who would later find celebrity as husband to Liza Minnelli for just 16 months.
"I was asked to do this big, fundraising Hollywood thing by David, and it was happening in three days," Migenes said from her Los Angeles home. "So when I got there to rehearse, he asked me in that distinctive voice of his, 'You got a killa aria?' 'Yes, I do, as a matter of fact,' although I was still wondering why he wanted me to do this on such short notice.
"But I found out the night of the event. Michael Bolton was singing with this gospel choir with these 15 mamas, and when they were done, the place exploded with applause. Then David, who was sitting nearby, turns to me and says 'Now!' Then I realized why I was asked to sing, because nobody wanted to follow that!
"So I walk on stage. I'm wearing this big Dior dress, and I told the audience I'm going to compound this whole thing, and I'm going to sing for you this Puccini aria about this girl who thinks, 'Well, who needs money when you've got love.' And as I'm talking, I'm thinking that people think I'm some kind of strange stand-up comedian, so when I started singing, there's this unbelievable high note I have to hit, so when I sang it, I held it, and then took out a watch to see how long I could do it."
Those who love opera, love the idea of a diva, Migenes said. "But we need to laugh about it in order to bring other people in. ... (My show) is actually a great step into the opera world for lots of people, those who would like to know more about it, and I'm inviting them with this type of fun show."
Local freelance writer E. Shan Correa saw Migenes' show in Paris and said the performer was a particularly "awesome 'die-er.'" A portion of her show highlights the absurdity of extended death scenes and Correa recalled how Migenes "flops down on the floor, sings, dies, gets up, sings, throws herself over a sofa with complete abandon, sings, dies some more -- you get the picture!"
"Yes, it does take them forever to die," agreed Migenes. "They may be bleeding to death, but somehow, it doesn't affect their voice. So I like to take people and show them why they should suspend their disbelief when it comes to opera."
Migenes' four shows on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island are part of several U.S. dates before she takes "Diva on the Verge" across Europe.
The opera star also tours the world with "Passions Latines," showcasing her dancing skills, from classical to flamenco, tango to salsa.
She has been to Hawaii before -- in 1987 for a guest role on "Magnum, P.I."
"I remember it being very humid over there," she said, "and, to be honest, I don't know how I got the role." (According to the Internet Movie Database Web site, she played Dr. Rosita Esteverdes in the episode "Pleasure Principle.")
"But I also remember Tom Selleck being a very sweet man."