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Arts & Culture

It Ain't Over Until The Rad Lady Sings: Diva Cage Match Erupts Sunday

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Dan Norman Photography
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The COVID-19 pandemic has dropped the curtain on many performance venues, but not one of opera’s more punchy events.  Diva Cage Match was set to take the stage in Eugene last May, but has now reinvented itself for a virtual crowd. However, it’s no less outrageous for it.

With any Diva Cage Match, you’re apt to see more high notes being shattered than folding chairs, but the pro wrestling vibe is still there. 

“We’re looking for someone who floats like Madame Butterfly, and stings like Beatrix Cenci…” proclaims a YouTube promo for the event.

David Lefkowich is the creator of Diva Cage Match, and its emcee.

“We can’t wait to unleash this upon the Eugene opera community,” he says.

There’s been six Diva Cage Matches since 2017. Lefkowich says the seed was planted in 2014 in Lexington, Kentucky. A basketball game held the night before his show drew more than 30,000 people. The opera? 300.

“I kept thinking, “Wait something is wrong here. Somehow sports are doing it right.  They’ve got a lot of people coming. And the Opera, we’re having to beg people to come. So that is when the idea began, how do we fuse this idea of competitive sports with the grandeur and the excitement of grand opera?” And Diva Cage Match was born.”

[FADE UP "DONDE LIETA" FROM PUCCINI'S LA BOHEME FOR A BRIEF POST]

One diva, Emily Pulley, is ready to resonate.

[QUICK FADE UP OF "DONDE LIETA" FOR SEVERAL SECONDS, FADE UNDER]

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Credit Eugene Opera
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Promotional banner for this year's Diva Cage Match.

If you look at Pulley’s Diva profile shot on promotional materials, she’s got both fists curled and her “fight face” on.

“Yes, I tried to give it the eye of the tiger as best as I could," laughs Pulley.  "And I think I came off as mildly homicidal...which is a good look for a soprano.”

Pulley won’t trash talk her five rivals, because she adores them all. And she adores Diva Cage Match because it upends –even bodyslams – general impressions of opera.

“People have a preconceived notion about opera as being stuffy, and you have to hang around with snooty people, and this is about as far as you can get from that," explains Pulley.  "I think it frees up a lot of the singers to also think outside the box, or the boxing ring. And you get an interesting blend of absolutely down to earth, and surreally spectacular in its own way.”

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Credit Dan Norman Photography
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Winner of DCM Minneapolis 2018 Helena Brown and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey.

Divas will be judged for their presentation as well as singing. Expect creative and over-the-top staging from all six contestants. Judges will make the final determination of a winner, but crowds – even if virtually present – have their own voice.  Again, David Lefkowich:

“I’ve had some wonderful responses to the operas that I’ve directed, but I’ve never had people chanting and whooping it up, and hollering back at the stage when their favorite diva is crowned Diva Champion.  It’s truly an exciting evening.”

Andrew Bisantz is the artistic director and conductor for the Eugene Opera.  He says the pandemic upended plans to hold the match earlier, but now they’re ready to go with some technical prep and social distancing.

“And to not be able to be in the same room with these fantastic artists and just sit at the piano and accompany them, you know…it puts a little bit of a lump in your throat," he tells KLCC. 

"But I’m just thrilled that we get to make music even in this fashion.”

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Credit Dan Norman Photography
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Divas Helena Brown and Alice Chung in the second iteration of Diva Cage Match in Minneapolis in 2018.

Three celebrity judges will determine the Diva Cage Champion: Eric Richardson of the Eugene-Springfield NAACP; transgender rights advocate and comedienne Bethany Grace Howe; and opera tenor and actor Anthony Luciara.

Note: “Diva Cage Match” streams this Sunday night at 7:30.  Visit EugeneOpera.org for ticket information.

Copyright 2020, KLCC.

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