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April 16, 2015updated 11 Jan 2016 1:05pm

Diary: Melinda Hughes reveals the on-tour antics of an opera star

By Spear's

Pasta diva

I thought the days of statuesque divas making the boards creak on stages all around the world were gone, but not if a new friend of mine has his way. In New York earlier this year, just before the cold snap, I found myself doing a tour of celebrity chef Mario Batali’s restaurants, flailing my napkin behind me as we went.

Mario had come to my Weimar-themed cabaret show at the Metropolitan Room in Manhattan last year and despite being a die-hard rock ‘n’ roll fan had apparently enjoyed being transported back to early Thirties Germany. So much so, in fact, that he insisted on offering me the carte at Del Posto, Babbo, Otto and my favourite, Lupa. It’s not over until the fat lady eats, apparently.

What a feeling

A quick jaunt to LA took us to the birthday party of a dear friend, actor Michael Nouri (best known for his role in Flashdance). I sang a little ditty for his party guests, forgetting how much Americans fall for the English accent, and was promptly asked by two people to record their voicemail message for them. I could start charging.


The two strands of my singing — cabaret and opera — came together with the popping of corks recently. When performing my show Cocktails with the Diva at the Edinburgh Fringe last year, I found a kindred spirit and fellow performer who also shunned the grunge that prevails when a thousand students whose top priority isn’t regular washing descend on the city. Nancy Dell’Olio and I clung to each other for dear life.

As a prelude to the Opera Awards in late April, Nancy hosted an evening which was a riff on Desert Island Discs, and she wanted some help in choosing her eight arias to impress the opera crowd and Edward Seckerson, her interviewer. She turned up at Cheyne Walk with a couple of vintage bottles of Gosset, her favourite champagne, and needless to say we did very little work on the show. We did, however, end up singing Libiamo, the drinking-song from Traviata.

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Life’s a drag

I accompanied a close friend, the divine drag queen Miss Hope Springs, to the London Cabaret Awards; all Hope’s hilarious songs are written in the persona of a has-been Las Vegas showgirl, which suits her just fine. It was a reunion of sorts: both our fathers worked together on the set of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Which, now I come to think of it, would also have been a good drag name for her.

Off we trekked to the Café de Paris for the awards one rainy night and, my goodness, what a surreal and louche world the London cabaret scene is (if you hadn’t already got the picture). The almost-naked man who slathered himself in baby oil and disappeared into a giant balloon only to emerge as Elvis easily stole the show.

Note well

Last summer I sang Aida for Dorset Opera and clearly I didn’t hit any bum notes as they asked me to perform my Kiss & Tell cabaret for a fundraiser in February at the home of Sir William and Lady Hanham in Wimborne. England’s country-house operas put on fantastic productions with full orchestra and international singers every year. Mind you, this summer’s hot ticket isn’t exactly opera: Bryn Terfel is starring in Fiddler on the Roof at Grange Park.

Video nicety

After our concert at Wimborne, I asked for Dorset Opera’s blessing to use some backstage footage for the YouTube video for my new song, Je veux diva (which, as you will certainly know, is a pun on the aria Je veux vivre from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette). We also got permission to film in the Royal Opera House’s Crush Room after artistic director Kasper Holten saw us perform at a leaving party for one of his staff.

Well, the song has gone more viral than a star soprano’s throat the night before a role she doesn’t want to sing. Opera sensation Joyce DiDonato and critic Norman Lebrecht have been pushing it on Twitter, although a certain pop-classical diva satirised in the song hasn’t yet got in touch. Still, if she’s at the Opera Awards on 26 April at the Savoy, she’ll be able to see me sing it in person.

Melinda Hughes is an opera and cabaret singer and cult youtube star
@melhugsopera Kiss and Tell Cabaret

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