An American opera singer travels to Naples and becomes embroiled in his strangest role yet
Michael Ruane is an obscure American opera singer who arrives in Naples to play a small part in an important production of Tosca and star in his own staging of a little-known Benjamin Britten opera. The work comes at a particularly trying time, when he’s still raw with grief after his New York lover’s death from AIDS. As the productions get under way, Ruane is offered an unusual part: that of the “uncle from Rome” at a local wedding. According to tradition, the presence of the uncle from Rome at important events confers prestige on the family. However, Ruane is soon enmeshed in a drama that surpasses any role he has played on the stage.
The Uncle from Rome is a brilliant and colorfully imagined novel filled with theatrics of operatic proportions.
Michael Ruane, an undistinguished opera singer from Indiana, has come to Naples to play a minor role in an important production of Tosca and an important role in a minor production of Curlew River . As this shrewd and splendid novel begins, the diva starring in Tosca asks Michael to play yet a third role. It is, she tells him, an old Neapolitan custom to pay a distinguished-looking man to attend family functions and pose as the ``uncle from Rome,'' his presence suggesting the host's prestige and social standing, and she wants Michael to appear at the wedding of local friends in the guise of the groom's uncle. Michael agrees, entangling himself in a complex drama that rivals the two operas in its passion and surpasses them in its capacity for perpetual surprise. Caldwell ( Under the Dog Star ) balances the theatrics of his plot with an understated narration, and weights his themes--the interplay of life and art--with careful, colorful observations. (Of laundry hung out to dry, for example, he writes: ``The bold emblems or the tattered banners sent out their jubilant or melancholy news, and one could tell at a glance who was favored and who was scorned by the local gods.'') The finale is nothing short of extraordinary.