Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Book Review : The Queen's Throat

Queen's Throat: Opera, Homosexuality And The Mystery Of DesireQueen's Throat: Opera, Homosexuality And The Mystery Of Desire by Wayne Koestenbaum
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: I am a gay man. I enjoy opera, find certain operas to be truly sublime. But I am not an opera queen

Koestenbaum writes with a kind of feverish elegance that is impressive. But this book - a set of highly idiosyncratic meditations on opera - just bristles with cringe-inducing stereotypes. In particular, his apparent willingness to embrace the 'gay man as ostracized outsider' role is distinctly unappealing.

I enjoyed two of the book's seven chapters - Koestenbaum's reflections on "The Callas Cult" and the final chapter, in which he singles out moments in opera which he finds particularly affecting, and attempts to explain why. (Though he's not always able to provide a particularly coherent explanation, his passion does shine through, and it's always interesting to hear about other people's favorite opera moments.)

I found the remaining five chapters to be a curious melange of the weirdly fetishistic and the worst kind of deconstructive excess. The following excerpt exemplifies these two problems:

"I've always been fascinated by the spindle hole. Everything on the record's face conspires to highlight it: the price circles it; the label and the round window in the protective paper envelope echo its shape....
The hole makes no single anatomical allusion. It makes many. It isn't reductively equal, even in the listener's unconscious, to any part of the human body. But it has always spoken to me of the emptiness at the center of a recorded voice and the emptiness at the center of a listener's life and the ambiguities in any sexual body, including a homosexual body, concerning the proper and improper function of orifices."

He goes on, I regret to report, to devote even more space to the contemplation of a record's label, its grooves, the turntable, and a myriad of other objects remotely associated with opera. I'd like to say that his passion for opera shines through, but for the most part I found his ruminations oddly detached. The musings of a collector, and not of a lover of opera. Had he focused more on the music itself, and not the trappings that surround opera, this would have been a better book.

But if you like the kind of drivel exemplified by the paragraph quoted earlier, then this is the book for you. I was disappointed.

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