Life imitates art imitating life in a celebrated librettist’s second detective assignment.
Don Giovanni has been a hit in Prague, but Lorenzo Da Ponte, poet of Vienna’s Court Theater, and composer Wolfgang Mozart want to revise the opera for the more sophisticated audience of the imperial capital. Even though Emperor Joseph II is off fighting a war against the Turks, he’s ordered a performance of the opera, and Da Ponte feels he has no time to waste. But the murder of retired priest Alois Bayer, a friend of Da Ponte's, warrants the librettist’s attention not only because it’s a personal loss, but also because it’s eerily similar to the recent murder of an elderly general. The general’s daughter, Christiane, demands that her fiance, Count Benda, avenge her father’s death, and the Ministry of Police orders Da Ponte to help Benda find the killer. A more agreeable distraction is Marta Cavalli, who’s come to Vienna to find the man she believes is her husband, the handsome womanizer Baron von Gerl. When the baron rejects her, she begs comfort from Da Ponte, who can’t help falling in love with her even though the minor orders of priesthood he took as a young man prevent him from marrying her. Da Ponte’s friend Casanova, on a visit from Da Ponte’s native Venice, urges him to follow his heart. No such luck. Two more murders that suggest the killer is alluding to the seven deadly sins before punishing each of his victims with death and mutilation awaken Da Ponte to the folly of his romantic dreams. When the librettist gets notice that he’s next on the list, he becomes reluctant bait in a trap he has little hope of surviving.
This sequel to The Figaro Murders (2015) continues to supply counterparts for Da Ponte’s operatic characters. Although the device seems a little more contrived a second time out, it adds extra zest to this 18th-century whodunit.