Operatic rivalry leads to death in Venice.
Venetians take their opera very seriously in 1745. Once, the castrato Tito Amato was their darling. Retired now, he is trying to help Maestro Torani, director of Teatro San Marco, win back audiences from a competing company. Tito hopes that an innovative opera, The False Duke, by Niccolo Rocatti, a former student of the late, great Vivaldi, will do the trick. Tito gets permission from patrician cultural adviser Signor Arcangelo Passoni to mount the opera on one condition: Young castrato Angeletto must sing the female lead. When Torani is murdered at a reception honoring Angeletto, Tito is devastated. Torani was closer to him than his own father. But the more he uncovers about the murder, the more puzzles arise: the defection of Torani’s mistress, a murky connection between Rocatti and the Signora Passoni, tarot cards that appear in unexpected places, and the riddle of whether Angeletto is a man or a woman. Although Tito is an unlikely hero—castrated as a child, forced to give up the stage when an accident cost him his voice, resigned to living in an unsanctioned marriage with his beloved pagan wife—he pursues his investigation to a satisfying conclusion.
Myers (Her Deadly Mischief, 2009, etc.) has perhaps too painstakingly recreated 18th-century Venice; the plot is very slow to start rolling, even with the help of a gondola chase. The fully realized hero, however, makes up for flaws in pace and plausibility.