At the Opera House

I guess it was 1991 or 1992. Daren and I went to the Opera House for Stuart Challender’s memorial concert. Challender had been the principal conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra; he was also a gay man who had died of AIDS some months before.

The SSO were to play Mozart’s Requiem in his memory; before the performance a eulogy was given, listing the dead conductor’s many achievements and lamenting his loss at a young age. The eulogist (his name is lost to obscurity, perhaps fittingly) managed with some dexterity to give a long and detailed account of this life without ever mentioning either Challender’s sexual orientation or the cause of his death. We were not impressed; we felt like we were witnessing a tragic revision of this life which had been lost to AIDS and a dishonouring of this man’s death. Although Challender had never made a big deal about being gay, he had been honest before he died about the cause of his illness and, while neither of us had known him, we felt sorry that this extraordinary concert hall could not properly contain the truth of who who he was.

The concert began. The orchestra and choir delivered the requiem with great feeling and passion. As I listened, I imagined each of the people on stage remembering their fallen comrade and, with each note, making the best tribute to his life they could.

From our seats in the balcony we could see the audience: well-dressed men and women sitting silently through Mozart’s great choral work, undoubtedly enjoying the performance but (I thought) probably giving scant thought to the man they were here to honour.

I held Daren’s hand throughout. At the end of the concert, as the rest of the audience filed out, we said a private farewell to this man we never knew by holding each other and kissing for a little while.

We were in the front of the balcony, and the house lights were up, so our embrace was fairly public; as I held my lover in my arms and tasted his lips I hoped we were honouring, in a small way, the part of this man’s life that had been deemed too irrelevant, or too embarrassing, to mention at his memorial.

We left the Concert Hall and walked out over the Opera House forecourt into the cool night air, Daren’s hand in mine. As we walked away from the light and noise of the foyer, I heard someone behind us. "Excuse me," he called after us. "Excuse me." We turned to see a man in a suit.

"I saw what you two were doing in there."

"Well," Daren explained, "we were pretty disappointed that they gave this long speech about this guy’s life, but they never even mentioned that he was queer or that he died of AIDS."

"Yes, I know. And that’s why I wanted to say thank you. Thank you for that."