Thursday, April 26, 2012

Behind the Scrim

The Queen's Throat: Opera, Homosexuality, and the Mystery of Desire
The Queen's Throat: Opera, Homosexuality, and the Mystery of Desire 

"There is nothing prosaic about a diva. But diva prose is often banal: an ordinariness touched by sublimity. The diva writes to amplify herself, to state the obvious--floridly. (When a nondiva writes diva prose, she writes to admire or to impersonate.) Diva prose is amusing and pathetic because the divas who writes about themselves so grandly are often dead, no longer household words. Because a diva is rarely a dictator, we can afford to be charmed and transported bu the tragicomedy of diva prose, and not insist on greater circumspection." ("Codes of Diva Conduct", p 85)

As an opera lover I found this to be a delightful book aimed directly at all of us who love opera. Unique in his presentation and passionate in his approach to the subject, Wayne Koestenbaum illuminates the queer and queerer aspects of Opera in a way that is both intriguing and fascinating. Using opera as metaphor for gay life the divas of the past take on a melancholy patina that is affecting in its ability to communicate an earlier age of gay culture. The divide marked by Stonewall and the ravages of AIDS lends the book a haunting aura in spite of the morsels of operatic trivia that otherwise are still scandalously funny. The high point of the book for many will undoubtedly be the obligatory paean to the revolution known as "The Callas Cult".

"Luchino Visconti, in a photograph, kisses Callas's cheek, which makeup foundation has made unnaturally pale; Leonard Bernstein exclaims, "Callas? She was pure electricity." Visconti and Bernstein loved Callas not because they were gay but because she was a genius;" (p 136)

There are more details than could have been imagined about opera, from divas to opera queens, including musical trivia galore for those interested in the lives of Callas or Ponselle or Patti. The almost fifty pages devoted to "A Pocket Guide to Queer Moments in Opera" may be alternatively revealing or nostalgic depending on the readers' personal experiences. The result is a unique combination of reflections on camp, glamour, spectacle, privacy, identity, coming-out and more. For those who want to go beyond the basics of the music and drama of opera, who want to delve into the world of gay culture and the desires built upon the lore of Opera divadom, this is the that book takes them behind the scrim and into 'never land'.

“An opera begins long before the curtain goes up and ends long after it has come down. It starts in my imagination, it becomes my life, and it stays part of my life long after I've left the opera house.” 
- Maria Callas

The Queen's Throat by Wayne Koestenbaum. Poseidon Press, 1993.

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