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

The Queen's Throat by Wayne Koestenbaum
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it was ok
bookshelves: read-in-2009

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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Reading Progress

Started Reading
June 2, 2009 – Shelved
June 2, 2009 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)

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message 1: by C. (new)

C. I don't much like opera, but I liked your review. Excellent as always.


message 2: by Whitaker (last edited Jun 03, 2009 05:08AM) (new)

Whitaker Wayne Koestenbaum: "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."

ROFTL. {ahem} Wayne, sometimes a hole is just a hole.

David Giltinan: "...the kind of drivel exemplified by the paragraph..."

Mwa ha ha ha ha! Too right man!




message 3: by Jason (new)

Jason Yeah, great review. Koestenbaum wrote a book on Jackie Onassis that offered, for each moment of strange exuberant insight, four or five moments of the "feverish" excess you cited here.

Full disclosure: I have trouble making heads or tails of opera. Who does write well on the subject? (Music seems to bring out the strangeness in many writers. I love Greil Marcus, but he can veer from brilliant and incisive to bughouse loony in three sentences.)


message 4: by Buck (new)

Buck That does it. I'm chucking my LPs.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

I loved Jackie under My Skin Interpreting an Icon. It was so excessive and campy. I wonder if Jackie read that herself? LOL


message 6: by Manny (last edited Jun 04, 2009 10:45AM) (new)

Manny And there I was, thinking that the MP3 had taken over because of compactness and convenience. (CDs have holes too, correct?) Thank you for that insight!



message 7: by Jen (new)

Jen I haven't read this book but my heart strangely warmed when reading about the "Callas cult"...when I was in college and I told others I was in classical voice the polite remark was always "Don't you love Callas?"

Telling them that I was overfond of Leontyne Price didn't help things.




message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

Leontyne Price!!!


message 9: by Rose (new)

Rose Gowen Tangentially, I really wanted to love this book: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/65...

(Koestenbaum wrote the introduction, it's about a diva) for the beautiful cover, if for no other reason-- and I just couldn't stay with it. Too baroque for me, I think.

Lovely review.


message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

Wow.. I tried to read that book also but I found it too strange, and I was mad at myself for not being not gay enough to appreciate it. LOL


message 11: by Rose (new)

Rose Gowen Ha! It did occur to me that I was too hetero for that book.


message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

And I agree with you that the cover was gorgeous. It reminds me of Klimt and Schiele.


message 13: by Ivan (new)

Ivan I'm trying to get my LGBT book group to slect this as I think it will apark quite a debate. We've read some great books that leave us all looking at one another and saying: that was great...did you see Glee this week?


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