ARIANA by Edward Stewart


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La Trashiata: part tacky roman … clef about Maria Callas (and others), part standard soap-and-sleaze, this tedious opera-world novel has neither the authenticity nor the sharp-edged humor that helped to make Stewart's Ballerina (1979) a bitchily engaging diversion. In the first section, set in the late 1940s, N.Y.-born Ariana Kavalaris passionately pursues her opera-star ambitions--studying with super-diva Ricarda DiScelta, supporting herself by waitressing, making a very unlikely last-minute debut at Covent Garden; meanwhile, however, she falls madly in mutual love with well-born Mark Rutherford, a divinity student; and, after trying hard to deal with all their problems (mismatched backgrounds, conflicting ambitions), the lovers split forever--with Mark nobly bowing out so that Ariana can pursue her stardom single-mindedly. Then the narrative jumps to 1966, following Ariana (now a star) through her last 13 years: she's reasonably happy in a sexless marriage to gay conductor/mentor Boyd Kinsolving; thanks to the machinations of megatycoon Nikos Stratiotis, however, Boyd leaves Ariana for a homosexual lover; Nikos, a sexual superman, now easily seduces and enraptures Ariana; but cruel Nikos, despite promises of marriage, weds a Princess instead--while lovesick Ariana deteriorates artistically, physically, and financially (conned by new companion Giorgio, an impotent, has-been tenor). . . with pathetic demise in 1979. And the novel's final, anticlimactic section focuses on Ariana's young student Vanessa: she just happens to fall in love with writer Ames Rutherford, the son of Ariana's bygone passion; she's also wooed by the aging yet virile Nikos; and, while reliving Ariana's love/career miseries, non-character Vanessa is also tormented by the ghost of Ariana's voice--leading to a nervous breakdown before the sappy-happy ending. Stewart fills out this creaky scenario with lackluster sex scenes, unconvincing opera-biz details, dull plot-summaries of every opera Ariana sings, and feeble mini-lectures from Opera Appreciation 101; opera buffs will hear false notes on virtually every page. (And they'll probably just be irritated by Stewart's cutesy in-joke here: several moments in Ariana's life resemble famous scenes from opera--especially La Traviata.) So readers who want an authentic, stylish opera-world novel should stick with Brown Meggs' vastly superior Aria (1978)--while those who want a Callas soap can't do better than Arianna Stassinopoulos' bestselling biography.

Pub Date: April 19th, 1985
Publisher: Crown