Viva La Diva/3 Mo' Divas
Double the divas, double the fun
How many African-American operatic divas can one live music capital handle? Six, if two upcoming concerts find the audiences they're seeking. This Sunday, as part of its Black Arts Movement Festival, ProArts Collective is presenting Viva la Diva, a concert featuring Othalie Graham, dramatic soprano; Lori Brown Mirabal, mezzo-soprano; and Judith Skinner, contralto. Then, next Sunday, the Long Center for the Performing Arts hosts 3 Mo' Divas, with Laurice Lanier, mezzo-sporano; Nova Y. Payton, soprano; and Jamet Pittman, soprano.
Count these among the latest generation of concerts striving to capitalize on the phenomenon that arose from teaming Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, and José Carreras in 1990. When the Three Tenors turned out to be a global sensation, it was inevitable that imitators would try to duplicate their blend of classically trained singers with material from the operatic, pop, and folk repertoires. And so the Three Tenors begot the 3 Countertenors, the Three Irish Tenors, the 3 Chinese Tenors, 3 Redneck Tenors (seen at the Long Center in May), the Ten Tenors (headed to the Long Center next April), Three Tenors & a Soprano, the Three Sopranos, and assorted others. 3 Mo' Divas is producer Marion J. Caffey's distaff response to the success of Three Mo' Tenors, which showcases a trio of African-American singers. While Caffey's vocalists all boast serious classical chops, the Mo' Music concerts are much more about contemporary popular music, with rhythm & blues, jazz, Broadway, and gospel outnumbering the operatic selections. That's not to discount the power of the performance – the tour rolls into town with its share of rave reviews for these women, especially with regard to the more soulful stuff they sing – just to say that the concert packs its arias into the first few numbers.
Viva la Diva, which is billed as a one-time-only teaming of its three vocal stars, draws much more from the operatic repertory in terms of both heavyweight classics (Carmen, Tannhäuser, Il Trovatore, Un Ballo in Maschera, Samson et Dalila) and 20th century works (Puccini's Turandot, Menotti's The Medium, Weill's Street Scene, and, naturally, Gershwin's Porgy and Bess). It also spreads its arias throughout the program, alternating them with numbers from musical theatre (The Wiz, The Music Man, Kismet) and spirituals such as "I Want Jesus to Walk With Me" and "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel."
To our ears, both concerts sound thrilling, and experiencing them both would be exciting not simply for the grandeur of the music-making but to hear today's generation of African-American operatic divas build on the proud tradition of the pioneering women who came before them, some of whom graced our city with their voices. Forty-five years ago, the indomitable Marian Anderson visited Austin and sang in the then-new Municipal Auditorium on the shores of Town Lake, and just six months ago, on the same site, Kathleen Battle sang in the very new Long Center. The echoes of their voices are still ringing through the city and will be when these six new divas arrive this month, giving their beautiful songs an even richer and more glorious sound.
Viva la Diva will be performed Sunday, Oct. 12, 3pm, at King-Seabrook Chapel on the Huston-Tillotson University campus, 900 Chicon. For more information, call 236-0644 or visit www.bamaustin.org.
3 Mo' Divas will be performed Sunday, Oct. 19, 7:30pm, in Dell Hall at the Long Center for the Performing Arts, 701 W. Riverside. For more information, call 474-5664 or visit www.thelongcenter.org.