11.21.08 Sting, Costello, but No Fat Lady...


What do you after wrapping up the biggest rock tour of the last two years? After all in August Sting finished the grueling 18 month worldwide reunion of The Police that grossed way over $300 million. This week it spawned the bestselling concert video as well.

Most rock stars would just go home and relax. Not Sting. Last night at the landmark Theatre du Chatelet in Paris he opened in an opera - yes, an opera, a real opera - written by Elvis Costello's long time musical director Stevie Nieve and his wife Muriel Teodori, and co-starring Costello and the eldest Sting progeny, Fiction Plane leader Joe Sumner.

Among the aficionados who turned out for the occasion: British pop legend Marianne Faithful, and film directors Mike Figgis and JP Davidson. Mrs. Sting - Trudie Styler - was front and center, as well, with actress daughter Mickey and newly minted best selling writer from the UK Simon Astaire ("Private Privilege").

It was quite an occasion too as Sting had only on the night before performed a showcase of music on the lute in the very same theater, playing selections from his album, 'Songs from the Labyrinth'. He heads out next week to showcase this material on a tour of Australia, Japan, Hong Kong and other far flung locales.

Like I said, he could have just gone home.

But the opera, called 'Welcome to the Voice', has been percolating for some time since Nieve and Teodori began workshopping it more than eight years ago. It was only when Costello and his band decided to join The Police on tour this year that the idea hatched for Sting to participate in the recording of Welcome to the Voice (already out on CD) but to put on a professionally staged version of it here.

The lead role of Dionysos could not be more perfect for Sting, who hasn't acted in legit theater since his successful turn in 'The Threepenny Opera' on Broadway nearly two decades ago. Dionysos is a romantic lead, a Greek steel worker who falls in love with opera and dreams of being with three of its leading ladies: Carmen, Madama Butterfly, and Norma. Eventually he finds a real diva named Lily who entrances him just as much. The role, as defined by Sting incorporates not only his ever-expanding vocal range - impressive in a non rock setting - but his matinee idol good looks and athleticism.

Figgis, who directed Sting long ago in the cult movie, 'Stormy Monday', was visibly impressed (as was the audience, which gave the opening night cast a ten minute ovation). "Did I know back then that he could do this? The answer is Yes!"

Costello plays the local police commissioner, a comic character. Joe Sumner, Sting's eldest son, is his friend and enthusiast. In his black Russian hat and heavy greatcoat Costello looked like he was having a lot of fun up on stage even though he told me later he was battling a grippy flu. Sumner - whose voice is often compared favorably to his dad's-turns out to be a natural leading man on stage, a possible find for Broadway producers looking to cast their next rock musical.

But it was the women of "Welcome to the Voice" who really set the Theatre du Chatelet on fire. The gorgeous throated, sexy divas who played the "ghosts" of Dionysos's fevered fantasy were Marie-Ange Todorovitch as the "ghost" of Carmen, Sonya Yoncheva as Butterfly, and Anna Gabler as Norma. The magnificent Spanish singer Sylvia Schwartz won over not just a few hearts as Lily, Dionysos's "real" object of obsession.

We've come a long way since days of songs like 'Roxanne' and 'Alison', of narrow neck ties, and thundering power pop. And even though Sting and Costello can do that any time they want, and make millions to be sure, that's what makes "Welcome to the Voice": that much more of an achievement.

These two multi talented musicians may represent the last generation of rockers able to stretch beyond their original genres and take on other forms with so much success. (Costello has also performed with the Brodsky Quartet and a variety of pop and classical singers.) Bravo to both of them!

'Welcome to the Voice" continues in Paris through next week, all sold out to the top tiers of the Chatelet.

© Fox News by Roger Friedman
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