Dreams of a couch soprano: In bed with Ira Siff

Susan de Muth
Tuesday 12 April 1994 23:02

Ira Siff, 48, is the artistic director and prima donna of La Gran Scena Opera Company, which he founded in 1981. The company of 'men in dresses' performs opera classics in falsetto. Ira lives in New York.

THIS should be called 'In Couch With Ira Siff' because I don't actually have a bed any more. Hundreds of dresses, wigs and feather boas now inhabit what was once my bedroom and when I'm at home I simply have to throw myself down on the living-room couch at night and drag a duvet over me.

My piano is within arm's reach of the couch and often, when I'm trying to go to sleep, I will suddenly be tortured by the idea that I can't reach a certain high note any more . . . maybe one I didn't do so well that evening if there's been a performance. I plonk the note with a finger and test my voice.

If I go out at night, it's usually to the opera. I used to go to clubs - I was once a bartender at a cabaret - but I really burnt out on the smoke, the noise and the way people act when they're drunk. I kind of feel too old for that now and it's all so bad for the voice.

Of course it's a strain on a male voice to sing soprano for two and half hours. I try not to use it too much when I'm not working, but I have this New York habit of talking on the telephone late into the night. I lie in couch, call someone up and chat for hours. I have sometimes dozed off and woken up to find my friend still talking on the other end.

Sleep is the best healer if your voice is in tatters and I always try to get a lot of it. Unfortunately, I live in East Village, which has been totally taken over by rich student brats and I am constantly subjected to rap music from their car speakers. They think it's really hip to act like that because they come from the suburbs where they'd never dare.

I like being alone at night to wind down and think - I get all my greatest ideas then, like staging Der Rosenkavalier in a shopping mall. But I also have to see my lover, Christopher, so at least three times a week I stay over at his apartment. We've been together for 18 years and have a typically New York situation in that both of us have rent-controlled homes that are too precious to give up.

We have a dog called Sidney who's a bit like the child in our relationship. He was Christopher's idea and lives with him. Christopher has a fantastic bed in a proper bedroom, but the irony is that I often end up on his couch nowadays. Christopher lets Sidney sleep in the bed and he slowly edges me out. It's the final humiliation. I do complain, but I think Christopher is partial to the dog.

I love being Vera Galupe-Borszkh, though it's a great burden, of course, being an international opera diva. I do not wear dresses habitually and actually found it quite traumatic the first time - panty-hose are a form of torture. The dresses heighten the comedy and drama but we're not trying to act like women - I think that's really misogynistic.

Though I need to take a blowtorch to my face to get the make-up off after a performance, I have no trouble leaving Vera behind me as soon as I walk off stage. I never confuse my identity and in my dreams I am always Ira Siff.

I get a lot of anxiety dreams which I find hilarious. I'm always going on stage and realising I haven't learnt my part. I see my notes highlighted in yellow on the score - which is absolutely no use to me because I can't sight-read - and wake myself up laughing. Unfortunately, not all my dreams are that funny. I've lost a lot of friends to Aids and often meet them in dreams. I find that deeply upsetting.

La Gran Scena Opera Company is at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London, until Saturday, 071-388 8822.

(Photograph omitted)

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