Davis's second novel is as lyrically intense as Labrador (1988) and is also set in a cold, remote landscape--heightening the operatic passions of this dense, fabulistic invention. A magical evocation of Hawthorne, Dinesen, and Stephen Millhauser, this imaginary biography of a Danish lesbian composer has all the intrigue of a New England gothic romance. Helle Ten Brix--born at the turn of the century and famous for her unusual life and art--ends up living in upstate New York, where she becomes an integral part of the narrator's life. Frances Thorn is a waitress with twin daughters conceived in rape, who was on this account disowned by her wealthy parents. She weaves her own tale of rural adultery into her reconstructed story of Helle, which is based on the old woman's fanciful memory. Though Helle leaves most of her estate to Frances's daughters, she leaves to Frances, a former Juilliard student, her last unfinished opera--``the capstone to a brilliant, if enigmatic, career.'' Like the opera from which the novel takes its title, most of Helle's life and work derives from Scandinavian folk tales. She imagines herself a child of the bogs in Jutland, where she claims to have been abandoned one night by her mother, an unfaithful romantic who died young from TB. When Helle later tries to poison her cruel stepmother, her father kicks her out, and Helle begins her career at the conservatory disguised as a man, supporting herself by teaching piano. As her operas begin to make her famous during the Twenties, she begins an ill-fated romance with an Irish signer, Maeve Merro, who disappears during the Nazi occupation. Eventually, Helle makes her way to upstate New York, and there her life and work find their parallels in Frances's hapless story--as ``the complicated mess of human affairs finally transformed into celestial music.'' Artifice and reality clash, then merge, in this strange and visionary novel.