“That aria, it just ran and ran- it was the Imodium aria!” Charles Handelman declared. It was a rainy night, and the New York City Opera had just wrapped a performance of Handel’s Rinaldo at Lincoln Center’s State Theater. Mr. Handelman-a tall, gangly man with fluffy white hair-was holding court in the lobby of the mezzanine level alongside one of the theater’s corpulent stone statutes. There, he offered stern words for one of the opera’s countertenors, Christopher Josey. “Who does he think he is?” Mr. Handelman asked. ” Marilyn Horne ?”
Next to Mr. Handelman was James Jorden, a former Web producer for Fox News who publishes the informally titled bimonthly, parterre box: the queer opera zine . When an opera debuts in town, Mr. Jorden, Mr. Handelman and a scattering of other parterre box readers and contributors-razor-witted, self-described “opera queens”-gather post-finale to deconstruct the performance like a bunch of Yankees fans schlepping back from the Bronx on the 4. (Mr. Jorden, in fact, noted that his colleagues have long referred to the opera as “faggot baseball.”)
Like all die-hards, Mr. Jorden and these New York loggionisti are demanding. At each opera, performers are praised and bashed; composers are savaged and sainted. “I want art to be a really transcendent experience,” Mr. Jorden explained. “I want to go and have my life changed by it.”
Mr. Jorden, a boyish 46-year-old with a shaved head, said he was introduced to opera as a teenager in rural Louisiana, when his junior high school staged a production of H.M.S. Pinafore . Mr. Jorden assembled the production’s props with a student named Tony Kushner. “We had a really good time doing it,” Mr. Jorden said of his schoolmate, who would grow up to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama for his play Angels in America . “I bought the records of H.M.S. Pinafore and I just played them over and over and over again, and one day my mother said, ‘I can’t take this anymore,’ and she took it off the turntable and put on a recording of Carmen .”
Mr. Jorden was hooked for life; years later, he would have a portrait of Maria Callas (as Medea) tattoed on his shoulder.
These days, Mr. Jorden pays his rent coaching singers in the living room of his shared apartment on the Upper West Side. There, he also edits and publishes parterre box , which he began in 1993. His writers include men like John Yohalem, a freelance journalist who contributes under the pseudonym Hans Lick.
Mr. Yohalem was there that night at the State Theater, dressed in a maroon-and-beige houndstooth blazer. “You need some absolute standard to live your whole life by,” he said. “And I grade everything by, ‘Is it, or is it not, good for opera?'” He had recently been in an argument with someone who claimed that the Nazis were good for opera, since Adolf Hitler was so pro-Wagner, Mr. Yohalem said. He disagreed, explaining that “Hitler put Wagner in the doghouse for years.”
The three men-even the two without Maria Callas tattoos-freely acknowledged that their passion for the opera verges on the extreme. To a person, they take their audience participation very seriously. If they are satisfied with a performance, they applaud. If they consider a performance truly great, they belt a lusty “Bravo!” They have been known to toss flowers-a dying art. Mr. Handelman said he once hit a baritone in the head with a bouquet. “I threw it so hard … and I hit him in the face,” he recalled. “He must have thought I was pitching for the Yankees.”
On the flip side, if the performance is abysmal, they boo without remorse. “Unless the possibility of booing is there, applause means nothing,” Mr. Jorden declared. There had been no booing at Rinaldo , however; Mr. Handelman’s comments about Mr. Josey and the aria notwithstanding, the three men had generally enjoyed the performance.
But there was, as always, a desire for more. The men of parterre box are on a romantic quest for opera greatness, and like all romantic quests, it has made them a bit-well-mad. “You cannot be a real opera nut if you aren’t fucked up,” Mr. Handelman acknowledged. “You have to be obsessive, compulsive, fanatic. In your life, maybe that’s not so good. But that’s all right for opera.”
That Is All, People
For people still making the scene in Foghorn Leghorn chambray dress shirts, it was a tough blow: Last week, the newly merged media giant AOL Time Warner quietly announced that it would sell or close all of its 130 Warner Brothers Studio stores. Here in New York, the mammoth WBSS at 57th and Madison shut its doors on Saturday, Jan. 27. Stores in Soho and the World Trade Center could soon follow suit.
So goodbye , Warner Brothers Studio Store. Adiós , $18 Tweety Bird Country Paper Towel Holder. Au revoir , $20 Tasmanian Devil “Animal Magnetism” Golf Shirt. Sayonara , $45 Scooby-Doo Musical Cookie Jar. Ciao , $16 Superman “More Powerful Than a Locomotive” Men’s Boxer Shorts. Ta-ta , $20 Daffy Duck Hair Dryer. Do svidanya , $15 Tweety Bird Mini Tea Set. Hasta la vista , $15 Marvin the Martian Picture Frame. Adjö , $45 Catwoman Figurine. Shalom , $20 Lavender Powerpuff Girls Inflatable Chair. Auf Wiedersehen , $16 Ladies’ Tweety Bird “Wittle Bird With Wots of Personality” T-Shirt. Sbohem , $12 Wile E. Coyote Socks (pack of three). Tot ziens , $30 Yosemite Sam Car Mat. Salaam , $7 Bugs Bunny Statute of Liberty Doll. Arrivedérci , $70 Fossil Batman Forever Pocket Watch.
Farewell, Warner Brothers Studio Store. You will be missed.
Unlocking Your Hidden Dragon
When George Eid started taking kung fu classes at the USA Shaolin Temple in Noho a year and a half ago, there were 20, maybe 25 students in his Level 1 class. But ever since the hipster-friendly martial-arts film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon debuted late last year, the floor has been increasingly crowded with inspired wannabes hoping to get their post-Angelika kicks. “I mean, we just had a class with 85 students!” Mr. Eid said on a recent Saturday. “They saw the movie, and it was right after New Year’s, so now they have to do a resolution and they start kung fu.”
The USA Shaolin Temple was started six years ago by Sifu Shi Yan-Ming, a 34th-generation Shaolin Temple monk who simply goes by “Sifu.” The temple attracts everyone from Chinatown teenagers to do-rag-wearing rappers (Sifu is a close friend of RZA, the maestro behind the hip-hop ensemble Wu-Tang Clan) to thoughtful, sensitive types who come for the Saturday-afternoon Buddhist meditation. And now, with post-feminist superheroes Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi drop-kicking and wall-climbing their way through Crouching Tiger, the temple is attracting women. A lot of women.
“There’s been a big, big turnout this past month,” said Emerich Von Massenbach, who oversees the temple’s enrollment. “Especially females.”
As for Sifu himself, he said he is a fan of Crouching Tiger, which he saw at an advance screening. (Ms. Yeoh and Crouching director Ang Lee are longtime acquaintances of his, the handsome monk said.) But he cautioned people against signing up on the basis of the exhilarating film. “They see the movie and they think, ‘I want to do that!'” Sifu said. “Then they come and they realize: not that easy .”
And Playing the Part of Willy Loehmann …
N.Y.C. & Company, the city’s convention and visitors’ bureau, has decided to tell the world what it already knows: Manhattan is the greatest mall on earth. Cristyne Lategano-Nicholas, N.Y.C. & Company’s president and chief executive officer, is working with retailers such as Hermès, Tiffany and Lord & Taylor to create tourist-luring cross-promotional events. In the interest of $ynergy, may we suggest the following retail-themed productions:
Kiss Me, Kate Spade
Ann Taylor Get Your Gun
Burberry and the Beast
The Versace Monologues
Jesus Christ Superstore
The King and DKNY
My Ferré Lady
Gentlemen Prefer Blahniks
Prada & Prejudice