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  • Opera played a vital part in Chanson’s life. Chanson Boheme, his Gaydar handle was, of course from Carmen. He was completely chaotic and disorganised on the outside – where actions, responsibilities and care were concerned – but inside, his mind was an incredible source of information.
    Now, I am a music fan and I have been listening to classical music since I was a teen. But, Sir Thomas Beecham’s words about the English could apply to me somewhat. “[they] don’t like music. But they like the sound it makes.” I'm being harsh.
    Chanson may have been no music theorist, but he knew his composers and his operas. And, more importantly, he knew the catalogue. Which opera was performed where and which singers – particularly sopranos – had taken which roles. He swapped pirated undercover recordings of operas with fans on forums. He - a 20-year-old spent hours on YouTube tracking down and logging different performances of arias by sopranos through the ages.
    But his first love was Maria Callas. He loved – and he is not alone – her tragedy - being called ugly, losing weight and becoming one of the 1950’s most glamorous women but, in the process (arguably) losing her voice. He relished the story of her terrible love matches and her affair with, and marriage to, shipping magnate, Aristotle Onasis. And she died young.
    Later when I found out that his mother was not, in fact, the bastard daughter of the King of Greece - found out for certain! - it all clicked. The Greek thing (Callas) the falsetto singing - he and his mother and everything lived in the character of the tragic soprano. It was all part of a grand fantasy.
    One of the things I am most thankful for him was introducing me to this singer. While I will never obsessively hunt for lost recordings of the famous “Lisbon Traviata,” (all other recorded performances of one of her signature roles are notably lacklustre), there is no doubt in my mind that her voice is one of the wonders of the age. The precision, the musicianship, the extraordinary “covered” quality… it is something other than everything else. It’s exciting going to an opera and hearing a new performance of, say, Traviata – as I will do in NYC next month – but it will never be Callas.
    Not everyone agreed. A good 60 years since Callas and a lyric soprano called Renata Tebaldi had a massive spat on a tour of South America about Tebaldi taking two encores, a certain type of opera fan continues the fight, each arguing for the superiority of their lady’s tone. Chanson was a standard-bearer in the battle although I never heard the details.
    He also took me to operas at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Somehow getting tickets costing £150 for free. I never quite worked out why but being in the pink, velvet womb of “Covent Garden,” sitting in the best seats, looking at the little shade-hatted candles jutting out of the galleries like shitake mushrooms – not to mention seeing operas from Richard Strauss’ Ariadne, to Verdi’s Don Carlos and Thom Ades Tempest was, of course, very special. Too special. I’ve never been able to queue up for hours to stand behind a pillar in the gods since then.
    Our life together was anything but operatic. Chanson was not willing or able to love or be loved, although he thought he was (who wouldn’t.) It was made worse by the prostitution – where he was alive and acting for his clients.
    One night I lay in our smaller bedroom listening to him entertain someone in the main room. A terrible sad anger was rushing through me as I imagined him and this man in ecstasy and me all alone. Suddenly, there was a shout and a general kerfuffle, which I was incapable of doing anything about. A scarf that Chanson had draped over a lamp had started smouldering and he had dropped poppers all down himself. The terrible thing is that I was mostly relieved because the time the two had had together was not fun.
    Yet we would stay together another several years.

    photo: the euskadi 11 from Flickr
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