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oa Litnet Akademies : 'n Joernaal vir die Geesteswetenskappe, Natuurwetenskappe, Regte en Godsdienswetenskappe - Briewe aan 'n diva : die verswyging van gay-identiteit in Gordon Jephtas se briewe aan May Abrahamse : geesteswetenskappe

 

Abstract

As gevolg van die gebrek aan professionele geleenthede tydens die apartheidsjare vir bruin kunstenaars in die plaaslike operabedryf het Gordon Jephtas in 1965 na die buiteland vertrek, op soek na 'n loopbaan as répétiteur, koormeester en stemafrigter. Teen die middel van die 1980's was hy een van New York se mees gesogte répétiteurs, waar hy met operasterre soos Luciano Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland, Leontyne Price en Marilyn Horne gewerk het. Die ontdekking van sy briewe wat hy oor 'n periode van byna 30 jaar aan sy vertroueling in Suid-Afrika, die Eoan-sangeres May Abrahamse, geskryf het, bied vrugbare stof vir 'n ondersoek na die geskiedenis van opera in die Suid-Afrikaanse konteks. Die briewe raak 'n skakering van onderwerpe aan wat wissel van opera tot ballingskap tot bruin identiteit. Vir hierdie artikel het ek twee temas gekies wat aan die oppervlak van Jephtas se briewe lê en in gayliteratuur dikwels met mekaar verbind word: die verswyging van gayidentiteit teenoor die oorvloedige teenwoordigheid van divaverering. Ek voer aan dat Jephtas sy gay-identiteit met groot omsigtigheid vir bekendes in sy tuisland (Abrahamse inkluis) probeer verberg het, maar dat sy obsessie met vroulike operasterre, van wie Maria Callas en May Abrahamse die meeste aandag geniet het, 'n aanduiding, hetsy direk of indirek, van sy gay-identiteit was. Hierdie artikel ondersoek die konsepte van die geheimhouding van gayidentiteit, divaverering en die operaqueen. Laasgenoemde was gedurende die 1970's en 1980's in operakringe, veral in die VSA, 'n bekende verskynsel en 'n ontleding daarvan funksioneer as 'n insiggewende lens waardeur Jephtas se lewe waargeneem kan word. Die artikel illustreer verder hoe hierdie konsepte in Jephtas se briewe gestalte gekry het en betoog dat ten spyte van die feit dat Jephtas en Abrahamse die skyn van sy heteroseksualiteit gehandhaaf het, haar vriendskap van groot betekenis vir hom was. Jephtas is in 1992 aan vigs in New York oorlede.


Due to the lack of professional opportunities during the apartheid era for so-called coloured musicians in the local opera industry, Gordon Jephtas (1943-1992) left the country in 1965 in search of a career as répétiteur, vocal coach and choir master abroad. By the mid-1980s he was one of New York's most sought-after répétiteurs and worked with opera stars such as Luciano Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland, Leontyne Price and Marilyn Horne. More than 20 years after his death the discovery of his letters to his lifelong confidant back home, Eoan soprano May Abrahamse, constitutes an archival find that has much to offer towards the historiography of Western art music in South Africa. The letters encapsulate the aspirations, successes and failures of an exiled, gay and coloured classical music artist during the apartheid era. Apart from his work with a string of international operatic stars, many aspects of Jephtas's letters comment on salient issues of the human condition that go beyond the disciplinary boundaries of opera as a format in and for itself, or what may be deemed a "successful career" or a musician who "made it" abroad. Jephtas's letters reveal his obsession with opera and the soprano voice, his penchant for diva worship, the loneliness of his nomadic existence and the ups and downs of life behind the scenes of many an opera performance. They speak to the exile's never-ending longing for home, his racial identity as a "coloured" person and the way this played out in his profession in South African as well as abroad. Yet his letters also reveal a number of significant issues that remained resolutely undiscussed; the politics of apartheid and the way it influenced his life are never directly mentioned, and, central to this article, his gay identity and his illness that led to his death surface nowhere in the 30-year correspondence.
For this article I chose to explore two themes that lie on the surface of the correspondence and are often connected other in gay literature. I posit the question whether the overt presence of diva worship in his letters can be read as an expression of his gay identity which, as an issue in itself, is never alluded to. If so, could this be regarded as a veiled and therefore conscious expression of his sexuality, or should it rather be read as an unconscious manifestation? The article draws on the concepts of the closet, the opera queen and diva worship and uses these as interpretative tools to explore how these issues constellated in Jephtas's letters.

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/content/litnet/13/1/EJC189438
2016-01-01
2016-12-03
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