Further pleasing the audience by saying how thrilled she was to be in St Lucia, how beautiful it was, even how great the moon was here (Cassandra is big on moons), by the end they wanted to wrap her up themselves and take her home, even though she wouldn't accede to a request to take her rather unseasonable-looking suit jacket off.Wilson also made a much more favourable impression than the festival's other invited diva, soul singer Mary J Blige, who at the first of the two closing outdoor concerts at Pigeon Island, scandalised the St Lucians by continually using the f-word, and was later cautioned by the police as a result. Peeking slyly through her dreadlocks, sidling across the stage with her arms wrapped around her body or cooing instructions to the band while managing the difficult trick of looking both vulnerable and feisty at the same time, Wilson was a wonder to behold.She followed with another old standard, "That Old Devil Moon", before letting the guitarist in to dust his broom on a bit of Delta blues, which led eventually to Robert Johnson's "Come on in My Kitchen". On the other side of the island, in the capital Castries, the annual jazz festival started with a bang of its own, with the performance of singer Cassandra Wilson at the Cultural Centre. All this, of course, has nothing to do with jazz, but a side-trip to his lordship Colin Tennant's club, Bang (Between the Pitons), on the Caribbean island of St Lucia, was an experience difficult to ignore, and one to which we must return. And it's all comparatively honest singing: no head-mikes, just occasional, broad pick-up sound enhancement, subtly done although it tends to pick up ambient noise as well as actual music.
The conductor was Simone Young, a convincing Verdian, strong and forthright. But that said, the first-night peformances (there are three alternating casts) were good, with two young leads of stunning promise. Elena Kelessidi, the Greek soprano who caused a stir when she sang Violetta at Covent Garden two years ago, begs comparison with Angela Gheorghiu for her mesmerising combination of fragility and power: a brilliant, gravity-defying top, and easy fluency throughout the whole voice. 'Onegin': Leeds Grand Theatre (0113 222 6222), Fri to 26 Jun; then touring. 'Traviata': Royal Albert Hall, SW7 (0171 589 8212), Tues-Thurs & Sat.. AS THE two acrobats rolled around the floor between the tables of the open-air nightclub, their hands and feet joined together to form a caterpillar tread like a First World War tank, Lord Glenconner said gravely: "They can handle any kind of surface, but gravel is a particular problem." Then it was time for the limbo dancing.
Too expensive, apparently: but still an odd omission for a show edging itself into the world of people's opera.'Manon': Coliseum, WC2 (0171 632 8300), Wed, Fri & to 18 Jun. And apart from the bedsheets, I've only one reservation about recommending this arena Traviata (with this cast) to first-timers: there are no surtitles. Her Alfredo is an Argentinian tenor, Marcelo Alvarez, of soft attack but cream-smooth tone and youthful freshness. And there's nothing behind it to camouflage the organ, entrances and exits but a pinned-together job of muslin and bed-sheets that (a) looks cheap and (b) makes every scene look like it's happening in a sanatorium: not necessarily inappropriate to Traviata, but as piercing a proclamation of poverty as you could ask of international opera.In truth, Traviata is too intimate an opera for arena treatment, and it's like watching a semi-staging through the wrong end of a telescope: Violetta might as well be dying on an ice-cap in the North Pole for all the contact you get with her. With La Traviata, which opened at the Hall on Tuesday, it's a different matter Not much of Richard Eyre's original staging survives There's no proscenium, just a disc-based apron stage.