An emotionally numb American tenor, good enough only for opera's secondary roles, finds the grief he seeks over his male lover's death by entangling himself in the lives of overwrought Neapolitans. Like Caldwell's last two novels (Under the Dog Star, 1987, The Deer at the River, 1984), this book doesn't jell. Worse yet, the characters do not behave like recognizable human beings. Even the motives of the protagonist, Michael Ruane, are unclear despite his frequent interior monologues. Ruane arrives in Naples to sing the role of Spoletta in Tosca at San Carlo, and the role of the Madwoman in Benjamin Britten's Curlew River, a one-act opera that Ruane has translated into Italian and also directs. A request from a diva he can't refuse adds another role, but this one's offstage: ``the uncle from Rome,'' a fictitious character Neapolitans engage to lend status to weddings, Rome being the center of power. This embroils Ruane in the real-life affairs of the family of the groom, who raped the bride so she would have to marry him, according to local mores, instead of his brother. This dysfunctional family behaves with an absurdity that wouldn't be acceptable even in grand opera, where the music supplies at least some credence to the plot. Ruane further complicates his life by his attentions to a transvestite prostitute who is dying of AIDS, the disease that killed Ruane's lover back in New York. The story takes on its only conviction in a flashback to Ruane's desertion by his lover, who died without giving Ruane a chance to ease his final days, leaving Ruane bereft but with a torpid heart. Overheated yet strangely cold doings in present-day Naples with a sexually confused hero blundering among preposterous people.