The Famed DIVA Totem Pole

Fanantics at Opera in the Park


I was just reminiscing with a friend about one my most fond demented personal operatic moments. In anticipation of SF Opera in the Park (1999), I wanted to come up with something to match the spirit of the lifesized cardboard Callas figure an opera queen had used to stake out his picnic site in a previous year (at right, from the EMI Unknown Recordings ad campaign). I thought…what might create some buzz, embody my fanaticism for my diva(s), and yet be practical enough to be carried down to Golden Gate Park?

My creation: the DIVA Totem Pole, which I fashioned from portraits of my top seven favorites. A friend or two were initially embarrased (especially during the morning walk into the park: a parade of shame?), but by the end of the day, I think they too fell under its irresitable spell. Once we reached Sharon Meadows, we marked our territory by posting it in the ground. We had a ball in the shadow of the totem: drinkin’, noshin’, ‘n hangin’.

The Interview


Thankfully, SF Chronicle Senior Writer Bob Graham was in attendance that day, and was also wooed by the totem’s magic. He did a casual on-site interview with me. The next morning, I rushed down to retrieve the newspaper from my mailbox, quickly opened the Datebook section, and was thrilled to see my local color included in his review of the day: Fresh Air and Free Arias in the Park. Best of all, it included the listing of the divaaaaahhhs, as well as my own hilarious self-billing: a “part-time professional countertenor now on sabbatical.”

The Divas


The totem features, from the bottom 7. Renée Fleming (with David Daniels inset), 6. Elisabeth Rethberg, 5. Christa Ludwig, 4. Montserrat Caballé, 3. Eleanor Steber, 2. Lisa Della Casa, 1. LEONTYNE PRICE. You can see, although I am also devoted to Kunst Divas, I do favor Stimm Divas, when push comes to shove. That’s right, no Callas, although I admire her art greatly!

Numbers 7 through 6 would be different now, BUT 5 though 1 would remain quite intact, and La Price would still reign supreme. I felt compelled to include a living/performing diva (and countertenor!), and was very into Renée (ie: her Eschenbach Four Last Songs recording) and Daniels at the time. Next to their portraits, it read “BONUS DIVAS: STILL ON STAGE”. Stemme, Melton, Borodina, or Baltsa would likely topple both of them now as the active divas, were I to revisit this adoration. And, Eileen Farrell would HAVE to make a climb up the totem too.

Next up…Diva Masks at SF Opera in the Park (2002)!

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1 comment so far

  1. dsenruskin on

    Your Diva Totem deserves its own licensing. (Lunchboxes, pendants, t-shirts, maybe perfume.) It is, indeed, magical–having, as it does, all the Soprano Shamans. One may quibble with placing Eleanor above Montse. But that is a small thing, and does not call for obsessing.

    Thank you for this!


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