[a young opera singer wants to go out, but is stuck in her dressing-room]
Her eyes had begun to dance as soon as she saw her way to a victory. She scrambled back into Cherubino’s embroidered coat, smoothed on the powdered with its neat black ribbon queue, and shot her ruffles with a swagger in the mirror. Gleaming pale-blue satin breeches, white silk stockings, black buckled shoes, full shirt-sleeves knotted with black ribbon billowing in the wide cuffs of the sky-blue coat, and pearl-grey waistcoat stiff with silver thread. Nothing could possibly be more respectable.
She twisted the full skirts of her coat before the mirror a last time, clapped the silver-braided tricorne on top of her wig [and said] “West End, here I come!”
comments: Hero Truscott is playing the page Cherubino in Mozart’s opera Marriage of Figaro – a part always (?) ** played by a young woman, a mezzo, and known as a trouser role. Hero’s costume goes down very nicely amongst the gawping public on her trip to London, though her date does not go well.
Her father owns and runs an opera house somewhere just outside London. The phrase ‘the poor man’s Glyndebourne’ comes up in the book, just when you are thinking it sounds like Glyndebourne. The theatre is full of Johnny Truscott’s connections from his days as a wild man during World War 2, an intricate network of former military comrades and friends, and people who need a safe berth. They are staging The Marriage of Figaro, and have to unexpectedly bring in a new singer for the title role: his name is Marc Chatrier, and he is a very good singer, but his history and bad behaviour quickly unspool. It turns out a lot of people might have reason to want him out of the way, though he also seems to be no loss. And then someone dies on stage during the complex final act of Figaro – very important to track exactly where everyone was, and luckily there is an opera-loving policeman, Inspector Musgrave, in the audience. He (hilariously) is forever critiquing the staging, the choices, the management of the house – all in rather a grumpy way, and not really connected to the murder.
In last year’s entry on Mick Herron’s Joe Country I said one section of that book was ‘like the last act of Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro, only worse weather and harder to sort out’**. The scenes in the opera are set in a garden at night, full of people hiding, impersonating each other, pretending they do or don’t know who another person is, being threatening, or else flirting with and charming the right person and the wrong one. So ideal for a murder…
Pretty much everyone agrees that Chatrier is no loss, but everyone is – as in all these books – terribly worried about each other, and covering up and ready to go a long way to save each other. But who actually did it?
It is short, sharp and very entertaining, particularly for the opera fans among us, who indeed know that Marcellina always wears black lace gloves. (Not a spoiler, just one of many facts).
Ellis Peters was a very distinguished crime writer, famous for the Cadfael books, but also the author of many contemporary books. I looked to see what else I had featured by her, and there was The Will and the Deed, which also had an opera theme – Rosenkavalier in that case. (I also featured some rather splendid Barbie knitting patterns in a post on the book.) Rosenkavalier is not a well-beloved opera for me, for reasons I explain in this post on a Somerset Maugham book.
But another Strauss opera, Elektra, is a great favourite, and in this post on Colm Toibin’s House of Names I explain why, if only I had any talent, I would particularly like to have appeared in it. I feel I could have given quite the performance.
In fact there are a lot of posts on the blog featuring opera, one way or another, I was quite surprised when I checked at how often I had managed to smuggle it in. I particularly recommend James Yaffe’s My Mother the Detective (‘She’s no Renata Tebaldi’) and the sublime Terry Pratchett, with the witches going to see Lohenshaak and La Triviata.
**almost always a woman– but watch out for the legendary Kimchilia aka Kangmin Justin Kim, a counter-tenor who performed it at the Royal Opera House in London last year: I saw his performance just before writing about the Mick Herron book, as mentioned above, and hence the comparison.
Aged photo from the NYPL.
Headshot from an opera book of 1916, via Internet Book Images.
The colour picture is the wonderful Angelika Kirchschlager playing the role of Cherubino.