European Vacation

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Pride-hopping, theater, shopping, and a wedding

My friends, Bill Bolter and Julian Hussey, were getting married in Bath, England, so what better excuse to plan a major Euro-jaunt? Iceland Air offers flights with a stop-off in Reykjavik, where I spent four days looking for Bjork, lost sleep because of the never-setting sun, and celebrated Iceland Independence Day on June 17—an excuse to get drunk and carouse on the main drag, and throw friends’ shoes into passing cars.

There’s a small, vibrant gay scene there, with an annual Pride Day that attracts thousands of Icelanders, gay and straight, in search of a good time. Thanks to Veturlidi Gudnason of the leathery MSC Club, I attended an elegant all-male banquet at Reykjavik’s Deco National Theatre Restaurant—charmingly studded with photos of Brigitte Helm from “Metropolis”—as well as Room with a View, the hot little bar he operates. The town’s gay center is has an immaculate bar and wonderfully stocked library.

I toured nearby Westman Island and saw thousands of adorable puffins nesting on seaside rocks, but refrained from enjoying the “Puffin Feast” offered at local restaurants. The famed Blue Lagoon was anything but—more milk-hued than anything—but the exfoliating mud made me feel, if not look, years younger.

London was a theatre feast. “Evita” opened, with Argentine Elena Roger lending authentic flavor, dazzling dance skills, and serious acting chops to the title role. This charming unknown had submitted her audition tape to Andrew Lloyd Webber and became an overnight star. “Sunday in the Park with George” was also revived, in a cannily reductive production that made brilliant use of the video projections, and Jenna Russell was an impressively affecting, comic Dot. Seemingly, no detail of the novel was left out of the epic adaptation of “Jane Eyre,” but I tired of the gambit of having the lunatic first Mrs. Rochester ever-present onstage—something director/adapter Polly Teale also employed in her superior “After Mrs. Rochester”—while Monica Dolan as Jane gave a manically busy performance that made Meryl Streep seem a minimalist. The great Juliet Stevenson gave the best interpretation of Mme. Arkadina I’ve ever seen in Katie Mitchell‘s occasionally brilliant, but more often maddening post-modern adaptation of Chekhov’s “The Seagull” at the National.

The English National Opera offered Purcell’s “King Arthur,” directed by Mark Morris, who suffused this unapologetically jingoistic work, composed for King Charles II’s 1691 silver jubilee, with a panoply of John Bull clichés—Britannia imagery, maypoles, etc. There were cutesy touches—including gay Baritone Andrew Foster-Williams, being trapped in a refrigerator (the favorite prop of opera stagers nowadays), and Isaac Mizrahi’s costumes, which looked like they were purchased on 14th Street. Morris’ wondrously varied dancers were fluidly integrated with the powerful, gorgeously-dictioned singers.

The la-dee-da factor intensified at “L’Elisir D’Amore,” given at Grange Park, one of the earliest Greek Revival houses in the Hampshire countryside. I spoke with its patron, Lady Ashburton, who expressed delight with the production, ironically set in grey, post-war Northern England, c. 1950. Although hearing Donizetti’s chorus croon about sunny Mediterranean skies here was disconcerting, the design and lighting charmed, even if both Martin Constantine‘s direction and Mark Shanahan’s conducting seemed lax. As Adina, soprano Victoria Joyce emerged a true star. Possessed of a stunning coloratura and delicious histrionic poise, she has a lovely porcelain face and top model figure. She met me at the interval, near her dressing room, in the graveled driveway of The Grange, wearing a dressing gown and brushing her teeth.

A genuine scandal erupted at the Paris Opera the following week, at “Iphigénie en Tauride,” when the audience, sickened by the resolutely Eurotrash interpretation of Gluck’s gloriously beautiful work, set in an insane asylum, roundly booed it, interrupting the performance for a small eternity and causing Maestro Marc Minkowski in the pit to turn around and berate these non-believers before raising his baton again. The production had frontal male nudity in a dream scene in which Orestes kills Clytemnestra, doddering old ladies eat cake, and, what triggered the nasty audience response, a line of lunatics dance in a conga line led by one waving the French flag. But nothing could mar the triumph of Susan Graham, done up in a Bettie Page wig and cocktail dresses as Iphigénie, who sang thrillingly and was rewarded with endless ovations, even if her dress fell apart during the curtain calls.

At the Musée D’Orsay, I encountered the work of Danish artist Jens Ferdinand Willumsen (1863-1958), who lived a long life marked by incessant creativity and personal passion. His work spanned from Naturalist and Symbolist through to Expressionism, with a palette as vivid as Van Gogh’s and a unique personal/spiritual vision expressed in ceramics and photography, as well as painting. One monumental canvas, “Children Bathing on the Beach of Skagen” (1909), with its joyous imagery of nude boys frolicking in the sun, forever captured the rapture of youth and summer.

The store sales officially started on June 28 and it was wild to see all of Paris storming the boutiques. I indulged myself at terminally hip Colette, and felt somewhat justified when, at Dior, I saw Elton John and David Furnish (with Houston socialite Lynn Wyatt) pawing through the discount racks. It was very hot weather, but Elton was smothered in a black jacket and shopping ‘til dropping, even in a store whose maximum size is a typical Parisian 2. I wanted to thank the Furnish-Johns for their conspicuous consumption, which provided me with my spring wardrobe at their Rockefeller Center sale, but the boyfriend said I should have told them, “We stayed through the second act of ‘Lestat.’ Those two people in the audience were us.”

As for my pals’ wedding a.k.a. civil ceremony, it happened on a ridiculously lovely, sunny day, as 250 gay-lovin’ guests took over the Bath Assembly Rooms, where the Museum of Costume was coincidentally showing the collected drag of Rudolf Nureyev. To hear both grooms speak of the unconditional love shown them by their families and friends, truly instilled a sense of pride, miles away from the more raucous celebration that was this year’s EuroPride in London. Jane Austen, who used to hang out in the Assembly Rooms, must have been smiling, rather than spinning, and, as one old retainer there hilariously told me, “We had another one of these weddings earlier this week. They were no trouble.”

Contact David Noh at

Contact David Noh at