Lesley Garrett, soprano
supreme, now stars in a Saturday night telly tackfest.
The Doncaster Diva has dollied up and is taking opera
to the masses.
The classical music world's efforts to
appeal to the great unwashed (that's us lot, by the
way) have always been a bit bonkers. There's been Mario
Lanza huffing and puffing through 50's musicals; Pavarotti
And Pals kicking footballs about during the Italia90 World
Cup Finals; endless K-Telly "Fat Lady Sings"
compilations; Nigel Kennedy's fiddling footie hooligan;
Vanessa Mae in her nightie standing in a duckpond, The
Royal Philomaniacs stood up on the Hammersmith Odeon stage
all awkward like...
against elitism, ignorance and the patronising of
audiences. I'm very pro presenting the best music
I can to the widest audience possible."
Somehow Opera has had a harder time of it
since the Great British Public found out how much public
money was being spent. An artform long used to huge orchestras,
vast elaborate set pieces and grand venues is now having
a good go at meeting it's public. And heading up the front,
arms wide, is our Lesley Garrett, daughter of a Doncaster
railway signalman. After two decades as the darling of
the English National Opera she has stepped off the pedestal
and into our living rooms without missing a beat.
It's as if she found her true voice when
the music stopped. We had no idea that behind her
Atlanta, her Eurydice, her Zaide and her Musetta was a
down to earth Yorkshire lass with a gorgeous local accent.
Prima Donnas are supposed to smile and bow and wave. All
small talk curtailed in preparation for the next perfect
performance. Lesley Garrett's smouldering passionate characterisations
of Verdi and Puccini heroines had put her alongside the
great international sopranos like Jesse Norman, Joan Sutherland
and Renata Tebaldi. To hear her speaking broad Yorkshire
left us gobsmacked.
Up until then the Garrett image had been
akin to a silent movie star, swooning around on erotically
charged publicity shots and CD covers, only really visible
in character on the big stages. It certainly helped that
she had the figure and glamour to suit those passionate
heroines, and she added a frisson to her English National
Opera roles that soon attracted great attention. But It
took a performance alongside comic drag sensation Lily
Savage (all fag ash and lippy scouse humour) on a benefit
stage to ease her into talkies.
| Lesley Garrett and Lily Savage (Paul
O'Grady ) at a benefit for the Stonewall lesbian and
gay organisation. They did a duet of Rossini's
Cat Duet and brought the house down.
This is where the down-to-earth Yorkshire
lass (who just happened to be this awesome Soprano Prima
Donna) began to emerge Garboesque. There was a South Bank
Show documentary and a behind-the-scenes thing with prime-timers
Pauline Quirk and Linda Robson. Then finally a big glam
special entitled "Viva la Diva" which featured
Lesley's performances of musical numbers as well as popular
Arias. The audience lapped up the show. It tapped into
our love of daft musicals and made us realise just how
much of the heavy stuff we already knew from advertising
jingles and TV themes. That it was linked with such disarming
homely chat from the lass herself, and packaged in a Saturday
Night gloss that had long been swamped by gritty hospital
dramas and grotty doccy soaps about Airports and hotel
Lesley Garrett has a passion for the
opera world that is beginning to have a real impact now.
Her Saturday TV show "Lesley Garrett Tonight"
follows the original formula of mixing camp with classic,
and is now into it's second series. She is proving uniquely
able to attract the heaviest of opera heavies into sharing
a spotlight with mere TV stars. Her ability to slip form
"Hello Chuck" Cilla-style homilies to belting
out a number from Don Giovanni is a winning one. Stirring
it all up with Eurovision/Eurotrash set pieces and the
kind of dancers not seen on the screen since the days
of the Petula Clark Show or Val Doonican is perfectly
in keeping with the times.
The English have always loved it's best
boys and panto dames. Lesley is showing that that
all this and more can be found at the heart of the Opera
world, and draws on songs from My Fair Lady and An American
In Paris to prove her point. It's all there. The costumes.
The blokes dressed up as women. The sassy broads running
rings round paupers and princes. Camp as bottled coffee.
The distance between Carmen and Cinders is not too far
at all, missus.
Meanwhile the Classical world took another
step towards mainstream pop culture by presenting it's
first Classical Brit Awards in May. Our Lesley was there
of course. Charlotte Church, the Welsh teenager who has
two albums in the US pop charts, was inevitably Artist
of The Year, and Nigel Kennedy got a gong for Outstanding
Contribution to Classical Music. Italian tenor Andrea
Bocelli was honoured by listeners of Classic FM...
Lesley's autobiography is just out
- called "Notes From A Small Soprano" it further
documents the extraordinary rise from Donny schoolgirl
to International Diva Superstar. That there's little mention
at all of the telly work shows that she's not about to
turn into a chatshow host. Music still comes first. It's
clear she's only just pausing for breath. The Safety Curtain
is up and Act Three is about to begin. Shh.
don't just come from a musical family, but from a musical
community. The musical heritage of Yorkshire is deep and
wide. This was the land of smoke and fire, coal steel
and sweat. The community that underpinned my upbringing
was born from the pits and the steelworks and the railways.
And woven into the fabric of this harsh existence was
Back cover of 'Notes From a Small Soprano'
(Hodder and Stoughton)