Diva 2 Diva 

Leslie Hassberg breaks down the operatic arts for ladies who love ladies, and those who love them.

In Tony Scott's arty 1983 vampire flick The Hunger, Catherine Deneuve sits down at her piano and plays a barcarole from Léo Delibes' opera Lakmé for Susan Sarandon. "It sounds like a love song," Sarandon's character says. "It was sung by two women," Deneuve replies. "Still," Sarandon insists, "it sounds like a love song." Deneuve's sultry answer? "Then that's what it is." And that's about it for girl-on-girl action in the opera world, and even that interpretation is a bit elastic. So what does mezzo-soprano Leslie Hassberg have planned for her Opera for Lesbians (and Friends) concert and talk happening this Saturday at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley? "If there were only lesbian-themed works, it'd be a very short concert!" she says. "I will be singing two arias from 'pants roles,' where the character is a man or boy played by a woman, who is in love with a woman. There will also be an aria from a contemporary opera called Clara Barton, composed by a Bay Area lesbian, Mary Watkins."

The inspiration for the concert came from Hassberg's December 2004 Nightingale Sings in Berkeley cabaret concert, which comprised mostly show tunes and jazz, but also included a few opera and art song choices. "My audience, mostly consisting of lesbians with little or no exposure to opera, responded very enthusiastically to this new -- to them -- repertoire," she recalls. "So I decided to do a whole concert of arias, with explanations of the operas, roles, history, language, and even a bit of musical structure."

Hassberg and soprano Yulia Ronskaya (conductor of Voices: Lesbian Choral Ensemble) will also perform selections from the ubiquitous Carmen -- heard in everything from The Bad News Bears to Nina Hagen and En Vogue tracks -- Puccini's Gianni Schicchi and Turandot, Mozart's Marriage of Figaro and Magic Flute, and Verdi's Attila and Il Trovatore, to name a few. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m., and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley is at 1 Lawson Road, Kensington. Please note that the location of this event has been changed from the Montclair Women's Cultural Arts Club. Tickets cost $18 in advance, $20 at the door. E-mail lhmezzo@aol.com for further details.

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