Parterre Box began its life in 1993 as a photocopied punk-style zine distributed for free in the men's toilets of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Now that the internet has replaced the toilet as the place where men meet each other for anonymous sex, it is altogether fitting that Parterre Box is now distributed for free online.
I first became aware of Parterre at its peak in 1998, when it was still a photocopied punk-style zine, but now one that had subscribers around the world, and even more readers on its home-made website. The publication was always first and foremost about the unique and very large personality of its founder, James Jorden (a friend of mine who spent some time with him once quipped "it seems to me that every evening with James Jorden ends up turning into 'An Evening With James Jorden'..."). But what made it so exciting is because it seemed to speak for an entire community. It brought into the open a way of understanding and talking about opera that used to be confined to certain gay dinner parties and standing room chit-chat, a way of appreciating opera that requires extensive, encyclopedic knowledge and an eye for minute detail — the discourse of the opera queen.
Parterre in the 1990s was a enthralling mix of bitchy gossip about frocks, diva worship, borderline-offensive in-jokes, and some of the most in-depth, opinionated, intelligent opera reviews then available anywhere. But the content was as interesting as the readership it implicitly created. The old-school opera queen was imagined to look something like Uncle Monty in Withnail & I — privileged, effete, and miserable. Mr Jorden, with his shaved head and Callas-as-Medea tattoo (see pic) is... different. Parterre married the old-school queen to the unapologetic, militant queerness of the 1990s.
But the time the print version of Parterre Box was discontinued in 2001, everyone was more excited by the frequently updated opera gossip page on the website anyway. And so, while we mourn the loss of the zine in all its splendour, the bitchy anecdotes and shocking blind items continue. (The new blog format now allows comments, leading to frankly bizarre, unreadable exchanges between people who clearly should just get blogs of their own... but this is a quibble.) The gossip is rather New-York centric, but, if you can follow all the references, there's enough to keep readers on this side of the Atlantic interested. And Mr. Jorden's new podcasts are like manna from heaven.
Now that everyone in the whole world has a blog, gay opera blogs have sprung up like mushrooms after a rainstorm, ranging from the really quite good, to the somewhat irritating, to the wonderfully bizarre. Parterre remains granddaddy of them all. Long may she reign.
Update: The guy who writes An Unamplified Voice informs us that he is not gay. Sorry!