Monday, January 18, 2016

Deborah Crombie and La Traviata

...from Berkeley

Happy MLK Day!

It's always such a pleasure when the arts mix, more specifically, when books that aren't regular old nonfiction or historical fiction about musicians drift into the world of opera and music-making (although those books are fun, too, of course). And it's an even greater pleasure when the author gets it right.


Of the many books that fit this description, my mind immediately goes Bel Canto, by the marvelous Ann Patchett (I'm an immense fan of her writing and gladly read everything she writes).   And then there's the sub-genre of books and specifically murder mysteries set in the opera house, such as Cat Melodia's delightful Ding Dong the Diva's Dead (such a lovely turn of alliteration in that title!).

Unfortunately, writers don't always get the details right...and yet, from my experience, this often isn't even the author's fault. Here I'm thinking specifically of a colleague who is a very fine writer--who shall remain nameless--and whose excellent books are set in the world of music and musicians as a backdrop to the very human drama within them.

This writer got the emotional details of what it's like to be a musician very right, so much so that I was disappointed when there was a tiny discrepancy (a symphony said to have been written by a composer whom I knew had never written one or something along similar lines of musical minutia).  When I asked my writer friend, the reply was that the publisher had thought that the type of music they were referring to was not well known enough for the general public and asked that it be changed to something better known. As it was completely incidental to the plot and characters, my colleague acquiesced, of course. Understandable, but very sad on a number of levels, not the least of which being the notion that the average American reader can only be counted on to recognize a handful of classical music forms, nor to be willing to learn a new music term.

Returning, though, to today's blog title--as in what does Deborah Crombie really have to do with La Traviata?--I've recently started enjoying Deborah Crombie's Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James mysteries, having been turned onto them from another colleague/book-friend's strong recommendation.  The third book in the series, Leave the Grave Green, is set in an operatic household, and Crombie gets the details right, down to the details about the origins of La Traviata.  Besides my telling you that one of the characters is a retired soprano and voice teacher who had sung quite a Violetta in her time--hence the connection with La Traviata--you won't get any spoilers here about whodunit in this highly enjoyable murder mystery, but if you like English murder mysteries with appealing detectives from Scotland yard and good local color, I'd suggest you read this one. You may well find yourself drawn into reading Crombie's whole series...I'm certainly hooked!

To come: more on La Traviata. For now, what books have you read that are set in the symphony hall or opera house, that aren't about musicians and music, per se? Comment if there's one you especially like.

Here's just a tiny plug for two of my performances this week: first Tuesday's Noontime Concert in SF with my contemporary chamber music group, Ensemble for These Times, of 20th century French rarities and masterworks (Tailleferre, Poulenc, Debussy, Delage, and the Boulangers)--tomorrow!-- and Sunday's performance of Handel's Tolomeo with The Handel Opera Project in Berkeley. I'm singing the role of Princess Elisa, scorned by the prince she yearns for and loved by the wrong prince.

What I'm listening to and working on: the above (surprised?)

What I'm reading: the next Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James mystery by Deborah Crombie

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