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Mawrdew Czgowchwz. (Books: opera soap: author James McCourt enjoys the encore publication of the zany opera novel he wrote two decades ago).



"It's not unpronounceable," insists James McCourt of the title of his 1975 opera satire Mawrdew Czgowchwz. "It sounds like gorgeous, `maw-do gorgeous.' I had to make my soprano Czech because Polish jokes were tired, even then." McCourt's opera diva heroine is poised for her' comeback now that his novel has been republished by the New York Review Press, with an adoring new introduction by gay pundit Wayne Koestenbaum.

Susan Sontag and culture warrior Harold Bloom championed Mawrdew Czgowchwz when it was first published. (Sontag actually directed McCourt and his manuscript to her own publisher.) In the 26 years it has been out of print, the book with the tongue-twisting name has achieved cult. status--copies sell on the Internet for up to $100. The novel chronicles the fictional soprano's brilliant career in 1950s New York, the gossip, her devoted fans, and their battles with other divas' fans. Like opera itself, the novel is outsized and outrageous, with evil curses, nervous breakdowns, and overwhelming arias.

"The timing is great," says McCourt of the republication, speaking from his book-lined study in New York City. "It is a campy book, but it is not only for the gay population. It is for opera lovers." The 61-year-old McCourt is a sophisticated storyteller with a shock of red hair. Whether recounting an interview he did with Bette Davis ("She said, `Stick around, we'll just dish'") or the flamboyant opera fans he knew in his youth, McCourt has a razor-sharp wit.

Much of Mawrdew Czgowchwz comes from McCourt's experiences as a teenager waiting "on the line" for standing-room tickets at the old Metropolitan Opera. "There were a couple of hundred people every night of the week," he says. "Some were these mad opera queens that picked up their [metaphorical] skirts and jewels and left Havana when Castro came to power. The Cubans were always swearing and carrying on. Even people who had tickets hung out to get the gossip--mainly, who was shtupping who."

McCourt was introduced to opera by his mother. As a 15-year-old he caught Maria Callas's New York debut in 1956. "For the young listeners hearing Callas, a sense of danger and urgency entered our lives," says McCourt. Later he would sneak away from his Catholic college in the Bronx to go to the opera. "We would do our homework during intermission," he remembers. "But we were conflicted--we wanted to hear the gossip too."

Besides opera, McCourt discovered other personal passions by exploring New York's West Village, where he came face-to-face with such homo-seductive figures as Beat writer Jack Kerouac. "I was not a stalker," McCourt laughingly protests, "I was a sighter."

Having written three other works of fiction, McCourt has a new stow collection, Wayfaring at Waverly in Silver Lake, coming out in July from Knopf. He splits his time between New York, Washington, D.C., and Ireland with novelist and photo editor Vincent Virga, his partner of 38 years. Virga is known for writing Gaywyck, the first gay gothic romance, in 1980.

The standing-room line still exists at the new Metropolitan Opera, but McCourt's time "on the line" ended in the 1960s when he befriended an usher, who got him in for flee. Though he pays for his tickets now, McCourt has some of the passions he had when he wrote Mawrdew Czgowchwz: "I still go down during intermission for the gossip."

Foley reviews books for The Denver Post.
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Author:Foley, Dylan
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 5, 2002
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