Few events in life are more apt to be lathered in melodrama than those surrounding a diva in decline, but veteran gay writer Mordden (Some Men Are Lookers, 1997, etc.) offers both more and less by coupling opera with the good life in Venice as seen by an innocent young American on the cusp of his sexual awakening. In 1961, Mark Trigger has been sent to Venice by his publisher to assist the tempestuous Adriana Grafanas, renowned as much for her cancellations as for her voice, in writing her autobiography. He becomes a member of her household, sharing in the intimate details of his beloved Adriana's present while struggling to understand her past, and as the months go by he's drawn in by her Venetian neighbors as well--especially the aging professor and his irrepressible ""nephew"" Vieri, who prevail upon Mark to teach Vieri English. Mark gets a lesson or two of a different kind in return, but his advances on this front aren't matched in his writing, as he becomes obsessed with a particular early performance of Adriana's for which no known recording, public or private, seems to exist. The diva, meanwhile, has been flattered by one of Italy's foremost film directors into agreeing to a cinematic debut as Clytemnestra, but when her handsome actor husband strays to a beautiful princess, and her mother, whom she loathes, sickens and dies, she collapses--though not before having an ugly scene with Mark over his sexual preferences that sends him off in a huff. Richly detailed, with extravagant emotions cascading like starbursts through the colorful tapestry of Italian life. But all of this only serves to underline Mark's own lack of color or life: He fails in his mission in more ways than one, proving a too-pallid narrator for an otherwise gaudy tale.