Tag Archives: Kennedy Center

murder at the opera?

a novel by Margaret Truman

Only on the page, I’m afraid.  

Though at least one opera singer in the US was believed to be murdered in the past year (according to one news story I read), real murder at the opera is merely the stuff of fiction. In fact, it’s a Capital Crimes Mystery by author Margaret Truman, set in Washington D.C., at the Kennedy Center, home to the Washington National Opera.  

Like Bel Canto, this opera-based novel is written by a North American. It also takes place in the capital of the United States.  

I found Murder at the Opera while searching for contemporary fiction that used opera or an opera house as a backdrop. Actually, the pickings were pretty slim, and, as a result, Truman’s Murder at the Opera surfaced quickly.  

After flipping through the book, I liked the amount and frequency of dialogue as a model for my own opera-based book. Also, almost from the opening line, the author Margaret Truman exhibits a gentle sense of humor about opera that makes the story more accessible. After discovering the book included scenes with members of the Washington National Opera’s volunteer guild, it jumped to the top of my list.  

Here’s the book’s premise: A rising star from Canada enrolled in the Washington National Opera’s Young Artist  Program is stabbed in the heart during rehearsals for a production of Tosca, the most famous opera for fatal stabbings. An opera guild volunteer and her professor-husband, once a defense attorney, set about trying to solve the murder on behalf of the WNO, alongside the Metro Police. Together working with a retired detective who is an opera buff and a supernumerary for Tosca, that set out to unmask a killer. The case quickly becomes more complex as the crime-fighting couple learns the deceased soprano had connections with international terrorists.  

Pretty scary–a scenario that includes a member of the company’s young artist program. After all, young people come from all over the world to participate in these accelerated opera training academies, trusting they will learn a profession, and not lose their life for their ambition.   

As the daughter of a president, Margaret Truman is very interested and skilled at showcasing Washington, D.C., and knows the area, Washington society and Washington restaurants well. She shows a formidable knowledge and appreciation of opera without pounding her knowhow into readers.  

I liked her dialogue attribution and her dialogue as  well. She worked back story in seamlessly. Right away, she introduces a sympathetic character in one of her main characters as we learn early on that his first wife and child were killed. His new wife is pretty, smart, cultured and very loving and easy for the reader to like.  

Truman has an economical but not sparing writing style which serves her genre well, occasionally lingering over a description here and there. She writes with confidence. She has a gentle sense of humor. She’s more hip than I ever imagined she would be from her name and her picture in which she looks ninety years old.  

I liked the first two-thirds of the book a great deal. Since mystery is a genre dependent on plot, I didn’t think the last third delivered the necessary punch. It became a little convoluted and the outcomes were disappointing.  

To set your mind at ease, unless you are talking about the butchery of a score or killing a production, an actual murder at the opera remains the stuff of imagination only. Let’s hope it stays that way. 

 

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a ‘Butterfly’ wing . . .

Circumstances–namely a full day’s work and a luncheon engagement,  followed by church choir practice–have prevented me from writing a review of the splendid Butterfly I saw at the Kennedy Center yesterday presented by the Washington National Opera (WNO) today. Instead, I’ll offer a piece of information on a tidbit from the opera program that intrigued me mainly because of its incongruity.

According to the program notes in the playbill, Madama Butterfly was not well received when it premiered in Milan, Italy, in February of 1904. Not well received? Really? In fact, it is said to have flopped.

What a surprise to learn this about the premiere of this opera, especially since Butterfly followed two great successes for Puccini in La bohème and Tosca. I consulted several of my favorites sources as to why this would have been so.

No one is quite sure why it was a resounding failure. Paul England suggests the following reasons:

  • the Italians didn’t like Japan as a stage setting–too unfamiliar;
  • the original cast of singers was inadequate;
  • originally the opera was only in two acts;
  • Pinkerton’s role was too thin–eventually Puccini added an aria for him in Act II.

Only a few months later, a revised work, slightly shorter with Act II  now in two parts, was presented in Brescia, and was a resounding success, and would continue to be regarded as such ever after.

According to Opera AmericaMadama Butterfly is the most performed opera in North America today. With performances like the WNO’s yesterday at the Kennedy Center, it’s no wonder.

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Filed under 20th Century Opera, Classic Opera, Premieres