In Gale’s humorous backstage novel, a small-town opera company stages Don Giovanni.
With revenues declining, putting on an opera anywhere these days is a difficult task—especially so in the fading Rust Belt town of Hankey, Pa. Although the opera’s new artistic director collapsed with a heart attack during his job interview, he teams up with the opera guild—led by energetic divorcee Deanna Lundquist—to ambitiously plan a production of Don Giovanni, technical challenges and all. Things start looking up when they snag rising star Leandro Vasquez for the lead. Discovered singing to his cattle, he’s a lusty, smoldering-hot Argentinian gaucho—someone sexy enough to bring a whole new audience to the opera. Unfortunately, he might lose himself in the role. Guild members include a retired dermatologist, a lovesick ingénue, a manic-depressive heiress to a condiment empire and an event planner who speaks to the dead. And then there are the ghosts. Packed with comic misadventures, mystery, intrigue and opera lore, the book rollicks along to a satisfying conclusion. In trying to give each point of view its due, Pushcart Prize–nominee Martin sometimes has difficulty wrangling her large cast, making it hard for readers to keep track of all the intersecting, overlapping agendas. A carefully staged farce in the lothario Leandro’s dressing room, for example, fizzles; there’s too much going on for too little payoff. One character, Jeannie Jacobs, overcomplicates things to little effect, and the book would be stronger without her. But the interplay among the cast is amusing; Vivian, the ketchup heiress, gets some especially good scenes. Though everyone’s easy acceptance of the supernatural can strain belief—one character levitates during a séance, exciting no comment—the generally operatic setting helps it all go down better. The details involved in putting on an important opera are fascinating and true, particularly the technical discussions about staging.
Cognoscenti will especially appreciate the musical references, but readers need not be opera buffs to enjoy this novel.