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But mostly I was Gwyneth!

The very first diva I became aware of was Saluna of the kids' TV show Villa Alegre. She was definitely the most soignée resident of that imaginary Mexican village. I can picture her rendition of the song Saluna's Habitat , which she sang dreamily as she slunk around her softly-lit, breezy apartment finally settling herself into a wicker chair, fanning her neck slowly. I'll never forget it. I must have been about 4 years old. Am I the only one who remembers her?

But we are talking about Opera Divas here. If you count television, there was that 1986 Gala of Stars from the Wiener Staatsoper. The dreary proceedings were really schlepping until Bubbles introduced Gwyneth Jones ("Whoops, I mean DAME Gwyneth," Sills giggled) The Dame moved out on stage to sing "In questa reggia." It was big, it was forbidding, it was like a great ship sailing off to war. Only it was womanly and artistic too. I was a goner over that voice and the story it told. But things only got better after the music ended. The audience hollered and Gwyneth curtsied to the floor. The house lights came up. Jimmy kissed one of her hands, and she let the other hand droop to the concertmaster who rose to take it in his own. The tableau culminated in a shot from behind of Gwyneth slowly raising both arms out to the audience. You know I spent a lot of time reliving the whole thing in front of a mirror. Sometimes I was Levine, sometimes the concertmaster, sometimes the audience. But mostly I was Gwyneth.

(That telecast is not to be compared with her Levine Gayla appearance: Gwyneth cannot be assumed to be consistent over the course of 10 days, let alone 10 seasons. She indeed has her off days, and that goes for her wardrobe as well as her voice. I have it from the highest possible authority that she had to fend for herself that night without any assistance from Gay Friends .)

-- Yenta Hollander


I've been an opera queen since age eight, when I discovered a copy of the 1935 edition of The Victor Book of the Opera in my aunt's bookcase. It was the plots and the theatricality that hooked me at first; not until late adolescence did I really begin to fully appreciate the musical and vocal aspects of the art.

There were plenty of divas whose recordings I enjoyed: Tebaldi, Price, de los Angeles. But when I moved from opera-starved LA to New York at the age of 24, I was able to experience opera performances, staged and in concert, on a regular basis. And it was then, at the 1978 Carnegie Hall performance of Strauss's Die Aegyptische Helena , that I discovered Gwyneth Jones .

Call me mad. It was Dame Gwyneth who revealed to me that night that the ridiculous and the sublime could coexist and create catharsis. This glamorous, regal-looking woman, attired like a true Grecian heroine , sang some of Strauss's wildest music in a voice that was even wilder. Unfurling her legendary wobble like a banner flapping in the breeze, struggling to hit a pitch -- any pitch -- and just hang on, throwing herself into her character as if her very life depended on it: this was drama beyond all imagining. I fell in love with her from that night on, and the love affair has only grown as each passing year has brought her voice a whole new cornucopia of defects. For me, nothing matches the delirious, absurd pleasure I receive in hearing Dame Gwyneth wobble away with that enormous sound while she gives some of the most grippingly-acted operatic performances I can ever hope to see.

I know of only one or two other opera queens who share my all-embracing affection for Dame Gwyneth. I'm frankly amazed that all of you Callas queens can adore La Divina at her most defective and still not "get" Gwyneth. It's your loss, guys, and I'll bet you that one of these days you'll find yourselves missing her. Or do you really think you're going to get a valid theatrical experience out of Sharon Sweet?

-- Eric Myers

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