As even the perfect Wagnerite knows, it's not easy to tell a compelling story while providing great music, and atmosphere prevails over mystery-mongering in most of these 15 stories (1947-93) chosen by Manson and Halligan (Murder Intercontinental, 1996). Six involve the opera, but except for James Yaffe's sprightly armchair matriarch (""Mom Sings an Aria""), the stories are more successful when they get down and dirty (Doug Allyn's ""The Sultans of Soul"" and John Lutz's ""The Right to Sing the Blues"") or hit the road (Lynne Barrett's droll trio of Elvis impersonators). For sheer ingenuity, Lillian de is Torre's ""The Viotti Stradivarius,"" a Dr. Sam Johnson adventure from 1950 (1783, says Boswell) wins in a walk. The supporting cast--Agatha Christie, Linda Haldeman, Seymour Shubin, Cornell Woolrich, L.A. Taylor, George Baxt, Michael Underwood, Edward D. Hoch, Charlotte Hinger, William Bankier--provides a whole spectrum of emotional highs and lows, but no other standouts. Unlike a recording of opera excerpts, this collection doesn't provide enough highlights from artists who've mostly done their far better work elsewhere.