HELLO STAGE BLOG #2: “I’m a Diva. Get me out of here”.

Anyone seen that TV show, “ I’m a celebrity, get me out of here?” Well, I think there should be a version for the classical music world, and all the DIVAS should be put in there. When I say, “DIVAS”, I don’t mean the original dictionary definition of “celebrated female Opera singer”, but what the word diva has now come to mean, which is quite derogatory, and how it attaches itself to anyone who deems themselves higher and mightier than anyone else. I find that there is an abundance among musicians and people working in the field of classical music, be they critics, managers, orchestra or opera directors, promoters, record producers, and so many others on the food chain of classical music, who think they are so important just because they have associated themselves with Beethoven. Interesting to note that a DIVA acts like one, regardless of how successful he or she is.

Today’s definition of DIVA probably owes itself to all the celebrated female opera singers who became too demanding, as in the following example, which is a well-known story among the classical insiders about a soprano who acted like a DIVA on one particular occasion. And unlike a lot of myths and rumours, this one is actually true.

A celebrated female opera singer was driving in a limousine somewhere in Europe and she was not happy with the climate in the car.

What would you do?

Most mortal humans would ask the driver to turn the heat up or down. Not this DIVA- she called her agent in New York to call the limousine company in Europe, who then had to call the driver to tell him to switch off the air-conditioning!

Now, there have been some counter defense claims to the aforementioned story, saying that she couldn’t speak the language of the driver, blah blah. But in the end, ask yourselves, why does such a story stick? Perhaps it’s not surprising that she ended up being fired from opera houses…

In fact, I could almost sympathise with our DIVA, as I found myself in a similar “divalemna” when I was once traveling in Georgia, (the country, not the song by Ray Charles), in the middle of the night, with a driver who looked like Brutus from Popeye. For the next 4 hours, he smoked non-stop, had the window open, was speeding, and, kept falling asleep at the wheel. I was freezing, smoked out, exhausted but unable to sleep, and so scared to death that I started thinking about whether I owed any cocks to Asclepius. (Hey, come on, stop giggling, I meant cocks, as in male birds- usually of domestic fowl).

Anyway, the police stopped us three times. Each time, I thought I might be saved from my deathproof ride, but Brutus just flipped out some card, and the policeman walked away squealing like a wounded dog. I didn’t speak any Georgian, and he for sure didn’t speak any English. In the middle of pothole motorways in pitch darkness in a location that doesn’t even exist on Google Earth, I didn’t feel it was appropriate to engage in some kind of esperanto or Pictionary with Special Agent Brutus to get him to stop smoking, close the window, slow down and wake up. Plus, I had no cans of spinach. And so, this was perhaps the one moment in my life, if I had an agent in New York, I would have called him/her to call the President of Georgia to get Brutus to drive more sensibly and turn on the heating. Ironically, I actually did meet the President of Georgia later that very day, but that story is for another blog. Where was I? Georgia…spinach…Asclepius’s cock…oh yeah, DIVAS!

I blame DIVA-esque behavior as one of the reasons why many are put off classical music. It even puts me off classical music and I can’t imagine anyone else loving classical music more than me.

There are many, though, who are associated with Beethoven and are immune to the diva-disease. One fine example is the pianist, Emanuel Ax. I had the privilege of working with him on several occasions, and as my duo, Igudesman & Joo, we invited him as a guest for our series at the Vienna Konzerthaus, in 2011. Now, this man is a star, touring the world playing with classical music’s biggest names such as Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, and the New York Philharmonic (over 100 times!). Our budget could not cover anywhere near the type of hotel where he usually might stay, but we did our best to accommodate him in the largest suite of a comfortable hotel Guess what he did next? Sixth-sensing our modest means, he DOWN-graded his room to a single! I don't know many artists of his stature who would have done such a thing. And no, he didn’t call his agent in New York to call the hotel in Vienna. It’s people like Ax that turn me back on to classical music. (To watch Emanuel Ax in action with Igudesman & Joo click here: Manny Spring Sonatas by Igudesman & Joo

So, for all those infected with the Divairus I propose the following: let’s round up all these DIVAS, put them in the jungle with each other for a few weeks, and let’s watch how reality TV will have a whole new spin on it. I bet the series would even par with Game of Thrones, 24, and the likes of best-selling voyeuristic TV entertainment. Who do you think would survive such an ordeal? Who would get “Ax”-ed first?

My bet is on Mozart. Mozart will survive.


Hyung-ki Joo is a composer, pianist, conductor, actor, creator of shows combing music with humour, and the world’s fastest tooth-brusher. His website launches in a few weeks and till then you can follow him on: ww.facebook.com/HyungkiJoo
Author: Hyung-ki Joo
Comments [5]
Maria Busqué - 2015-04-10 10:38
Lots of giggles here :)
Claus Hierluksch - 2015-04-10 11:09
Can remember Asclepius as the father of Hygieia ;)
Bernhard Kerres - 2015-04-10 21:33
Hyung-ki, there is actually a TV series about classical music called Mozart in the Jungle... http://www.mozartinthejungle.com/
Claus Hierluksch - 2015-04-10 23:50
I just googled Mozart in the jungle. why didnt i come across this before? sounds funny!
Claus Hierluksch - 2015-04-12 11:09
Watched already 7 episodes, actually it is quite funny :)
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