(Als’s article appeared in the 7/25 New Yorker.)
I’m not really much of an opera queen. When, among my gay male friends of the eighties, the talk turned to opera seria versus the “reform” operas of the mid-eighteenth century, say, or opera buffa and its influence on England’s Savoy operas, I shrank to the edge of the discussion, a taciturn schoolboy lost in the cognoscenti’s glittering world of productions picked apart and triumphs recalled. Still, listening to those friends argue the finer points of Maria Callas’s career—or Grace Bumbry’s or Teresa Stratas’s—could be educational and amusing, too, a live version of the world that James McCourt described so knowingly in his 1975 novel about “divadom,” “Mawrdew Czgowchwz.” And it was the memory of those critical, passionate friends, many of whom died of AIDS, that haunted my viewing of the current, brilliant revival of Terrence McNally’s 1995 play, “Master Class” (a Manhattan Theatre Club production, at the Samuel J. Friedman). I can’t say for sure that I would have enjoyed the show as much had I never known those men, but I do know that my sadness at their loss was mixed with joy that McNally had indirectly captured something of their voices in his characterization of the ultimate Voice—Callas.