Parting Glances: Phantoms of my opera

By |2017-10-31T06:36:16-04:00October 31st, 2017|Uncategorized|

I’ve had oddball coincidences shaking up my go-for-the-gusto, once-around-only, skeptic’s life — so much so I’m wondering if there isn’t a Cosmic Joker trying to attract my attention.
What She, He, or It intends to do with said commodity I haven’t a clue; but given post-winter blahs I’m tempted to respond, just in case I’m missing out on something big.
One coincidence took place last week in Ann Arbor, where, as everyone knows, there are two classes of jokesters: those with tenure and those without. (Both frequent the aut Bar.)
But let’s jump back to last July when the coincidences began: misdialed calls to my unlisted number from the Redford Fire Department (with friendly apologies later). All followed within days by a Detroit hook-and-ladder truck parked outside my apartment building at night. A false alarm. (No partying.)
Up early next morning I vary my walking route, something I rarely do. Twenty minutes into my stride I find myself watching a three alarmer in progress. Midweek at BTL I reach for a Funk & Wagnals to check definitions. Its shelf mate: “Fire Next Time.”
Other coincidences. One: I’m at Reel Pride Film Fest watching “Fishbowl Memory”. The phrase “a leap of faith” pops into my head out of nowhere. Split seconds later the camera focuses on a bridge with people crossing it. Without warning, a guy takes a dive into the river below. The scene shifts.
Two: I’m goofing off at Barnes & Noble, reading The Advocate’s tribute/obit to architect Philip Johnson. I look up and a gentleman walks by who’s a dead ringer (if you’ll pardon a resuscitated pun) for Johnson. Same look. Bald head. Glasses. Hey! Aren’t you . . . .
Now last week’s “sing”-chronicity. Border’s, this time — browsing “The Sibyl Sanderson Story: Requiem for A Diva,” by Jack Winsor Hansen. I know little about this 19th century, California-born singer who for a decade was one of Europe’s great sopranos. She died tragically in 1903, age 38.
I find a cozy corner and read entranced. Sibyl had a marriage engagement (broken) to William Randolph Hearst. She wed a Cuban millionaire. She had a three-octave range. She was French opera composer Jules Massenet’s untouchable goddess (he her meddling Svengali). She drank because of stage fright and became hopelessly alcoholic. Sanitorium stay. Failed come back.
Broke, she talked a jeweler into giving her a priceless necklace on credit (to pawn). It vanished (along with her voice). She was probably fatally poisoned by her “devoted” maid. The good news: she was a late-blooming lesbian. And . . .
Monsieur Massenet — who wrote operas to highlight her glorious voice: “Thais,” “Manon,” and “Esclamonde” (with its dazzling D above high C) — first sensed her sapphic yearning and introduced her to a lesbian enchantress. Jules, a married man, hoped his match making would prevent future alliances for Sibyl with (rival) conniving males. (It did.)
Gossip source: Sibyl’s estranged stepdaughter, famed soprano Mary Garden (1874-1967), who shared the secret in a private letter to Carl Van Vechten (photographer, novelist, Harlem Renaissance patron, married gay.) Spicy libretto material, indeed!
Later I sit languidly at Common Language Bookstore, sip a latte leisurely, and (breathing correctly from my diaphragm) leaf through a Euro gay mag. What do I spot first thing? Mon dieu! An ad for a revival of “Esclamonde,” the rarely performed opera Jules Massenet wrote for sadly forgotten Sibyl Sanderson.
Maybe my Cosmic Joker is an Opera Queen. (If so, I carry a mean spear for curtain calls.)

About the Author:

Charles Alexander