old_met_box_officeLa Cieca is delighted to throw out the first ball or lift her baton or whatever it is one does to launch a discussion, which in this case is on the topic of that most quintessential of all opera novels, Mawrdew Czgowchwz—though she does insist on prefacing anything she says with the caveat that she’s never presided over a book club before, so she asks your indulgence as she continues so as not to disappoint her public. 

Your doyenne recalls that when she first picked up this novel all those years ago in the Synthetic Seventies, she was more than a little disoriented by the simultaneously discursive and elliptical style adopted by James McCourt in relating his yarn.  In particular she found daunting the plethora of characters, whose chatter is very much in the foreground, and the relatively scant attention given over to plot.

Of course, this choice of emphasis is very much organic to the meaning of the work, La Cieca has come to realize over the decades, but in the meantime she thought it might be helpful to the first-time reader to single out certain milestone events in the Czgowchwz saga.

Spoilers lie ahead, so if you’re still in mid-read and desirous of being surprised, you might want to skip over this next section.

Mawrdew Czgowchwz unfolds between March 1955 and September 1956, set almost completely in “Gotham as it was, when it was truly fabulous.”

In Chapter 1 (March 17, 1955) diva Mawrdew Czgowchwz returns to the Metropolitan Opera after the resolution of some unspecified disagreement with the company’s new general manager. So devoted were her fans that they staged a hunger strike and chained themselves to the outside walls of the Old Met in protest of her unjust firing. On this crucial night Czgowchwz will sing her role debut in La Traviata, marking a change of fach from mezzo-soprano to “Oltrano,” a protean vocal category spanning over three octaves in working range. In a flashback to 1948, we learn of the diva’s “discovery” by the fan Ralph and the other members of the Secret Seven, her defection from Czechoslovakia to the West and her meteoric ascent at the Met following a controversial debut as Amneris opposite established diva Morgana Neri. The performance of Traviata surpasses all expectations on both sides of the footlights, and the reign of Czgowchwz as absolute diva commences.

Chapter 2:  Having sung 40 prima donna roles in celebration of her approaching 40th birthday, Czgowchwz has announced her first Isolde in a new production at the Met, opposite the Brangaene of her protégée, the Falcon soprano and erstwhile standee Laverne Zuckerman.  The oltrano’s conquest of the soprano repertoire has forced La Neri to announce her farewell for Christmas Eve, 1955, as Norma.

Chapter 3:  On December 21, the faithful gather at the Upper East Side townhouse of Countess Madge for dinner, Winter Solstice rites, and opera-themed tomfoolery climaxing in the reading of Ralph’s mock-epic poem “The Nericon.”

Chapter 4: As news of Ralph’s scurrilous opus spreads beyond the standing room line, Czgowchwz faithfuls prepare for the evening’s performance of  Tristan und Isolde. Meanwhile, a Neri fanatic, half-mad Old Mary Cedrioli, steals a lock of hair from Czgowchwz and casts a hex on the diva.  Poet Jameson O’Maurigan, overwhelmed by the first act, leaves the opera house with a casual pickup. During the third act, Czgowchwz, “as if possessed” bolts onstage and delivers an “oracular” performance of the “Liebestod” – in Gaelic – before collapsing into a coma.

Chapter 5:  The winter of 1956. The amnesiac diva’s friends determine that restoring her to health will require expert psychoanalysis and delving into the “missing” years before her fateful flight to Paris. Sleuthing in Dublin and Prague reveals the truth:

Chapter 6: Czgowchwz is the love child of martyred Irish patriot Maeve Cohalen and Czech poet/activist Jan Motivyk. Her memory restored, the diva makes a first public reappearance at the 1956 St. Patrick’s Day parade, then announces a return to the stage on April 30.  Once more she surpasses herself by performing a matinee at the Met of Pelléas et Mélisande, followed by a marathon song recital that evening at Carnegie Hall.

Chapter 7:  Czgowchwz finds both professional and personal happiness. She meets and falls in love with her male equivalent, countertenor (later oltrano) Jacob Beltane. They headline an esoteric music festival including the world premiere of an avant-garde opera by genius composer Merovig Creplaczx. After a celebratory gala in Central Park on the last day of summer 1956, Mawrdew and Jabob sail away to Europe and new adventures.

And now, cher public, your impressions?