As cheesy as deep-fried camembert - Celine Dion, O2 Arena, review

Celine Dion performs at the O2 Arena last night
Celine Dion performs at the O2 Arena last night Credit: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

Adele did not make an appearance onstage for the opening of Céline Dion’s four-night residency at the O2 Arena, though she was reportedly watching the show incognito. If the audience was denied the chance to hear two of pop’s biggest voices trading melismas, the veteran superstar paid her own peculiar tribute to the world’s current favourite singer.

During a rambling, eccentric, overlong monologue (rambling, eccentric and overlong being Dion’s de facto conversational style) about her love of Britain (with extended references to bangers and mash), the French-Canadian diva literally sang Adele’s praises. Her a capella blast of Hello hit all the right notes and was only marginally undermined by an attempt to reproduce Adele’s cockney vowels that would have embarrassed Dick Van Dyke.

Lest Adele get too carried away by being named as one of one of Dion’s all-time favourite singers, she also enthused about George Michael and Freddie Mercury (to whom she would sing a tribute later in the show), then gushed over the rather more obscure and weedy voiced electro R’n’B producer Labrinth, singing a snatch of his minor hit Jealous to the apparent bafflement of all 20,000 people in the room.

Credit: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

It was just one of myriad goofily oddball moments in a brash, loud, peculiar show that couldn’t quite decide whether it was a hi-tech pop spectacular, a chatty cocktail lounge act or an old school variety revue.

There is no question that Dion can sing. She has power notes that could be used as weapons of war. Sometimes, the 31-piece band and orchestra would just drop out and the whole venue would be on tenterhooks as Dion prepared to unleash her full arsenal, firing off vocal blasts like a barrage of Exocet missiles while triumphantly striding around the stage, banging her chest and pumping her fist in oddly macho gestures of sporting triumph.

When she was good, she was kind of amazing. There were weepy ballads that could pummel the hardest heart into submission, and sharp pop songs where her voice punched through like a flamboyant guitarist taking a showboating solo.

Credit: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

But it was exhaustingly over the top. Dion was never the most subtle or emotionally nuanced of singers to begin with, and a 15-year stint in Las Vegas has not exactly nurtured her more refined qualities. This show was so cheesy it might as well have been deep-fried camembert.

Dion’s audience loved it, and it is important to recognise that. The singer has come through some hard times following the death of her manager husband and her brother in the same week in January 2016. She got a bit tearful during a series of gushily sentimental piano ballads about overcoming grief, and you could practically feel the crowd reaching out towards her in a wave of love and sympathy.

Yet, although the show seemed to be all about getting back to what she does best, I am not sure Dion has ever worked out exactly what that is. There were overblown blasts of cod-classical poperatics, a touching interlude of French chanson and a baffling string of pumped-up cover versions that were effectively tributes to other singers, including a full-length impersonation of Michael Jackson during Black & White, an utterly bombastic version of Tina Turner’s River Deep – Mountain High and a near hysterical rendition of Queen’s The Show Must Go On that made her hero Freddie Mercury seem like a bit of a wallflower by comparison. Part of the problem may be that she doesn’t actually have enough genuine hits of her own and has opted to pad out her set Vegas style. Even her apparently spontaneous chatter was interspersed with the heavy delivery of scripted jokes that only went to prove that as a comedian, she makes a good singer.

Credit: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

If you really had to compare Dion with Adele, it would not favour the veteran star at all. She has a very unnatural manner, both physically (her movements seem stiff and overly vigorous) and verbally. Her chattiness is odd rather than amusing, the sound of someone who doesn’t know when to stop talking and perhaps has no one around prepared to tell her. And as a performer, she has no spontaneity, no real feel for her material, just a voice she knows she can unleash with lethal force. Everything about Dion is excessive, as garish, bright and overdone as the lights of the city that has been her musical home since 2002.

Her encore, of course, was her signature song, the theme tune from the Titanic. With its flute and strings, My Heart Will Go On offered a rare lightness of touch, as the audience held phones aloft and sang emotionally along. But Dion’s return to Britain for the first time in nine years was more like Raise The Titanic, a blockbuster gone awry, an overblown spectacle with little heart or art.