A librettist-turned–reluctant detective sees the characters of his latest opera come to life and just as quickly die.
Although Lorenzo Da Ponte enjoys the goodwill of the Emperor Joseph II and has earned some fame in Vienna as the Court Theater poet, he lives in exile from his beloved Venice. Scraping by on commissions and counting every florin, he longs for enough success in his collaboration with Wolfgang Mozart on The Marriage of Figaro to be able to buy a decent dress suit. When his barber, Johann Vogel, asks for his help, the kindly poet agrees to visit the palais of Baron Gabler, Vogel’s former employer, to find out something about Vogel’s birth mother. Vogel is convinced that she was a noblewoman and that somehow the family connection will help him pay off his debt to Gabler’s coldhearted housekeeper so that he can be released from prison and marry Baroness Gabler’s pretty young maid. The situation becomes more complicated when the baron’s impudent page, Florian Auerstein, is pushed out a window and killed. Florian, the only son of a prince, was being groomed for an important diplomatic mission with the baron, and Emperor Joseph’s minister of police forces Da Ponte to pose as Baroness Gabler’s poetry instructor—on pain of being tried for Florian’s murder himself—to ferret out a spy within the household. At the same time Da Ponte is trying to finish the Figaro libretto, link a medallion to the mystery of Vogel’s birth, and make sense of a cryptic notebook of Florian’s, he falls in love with the lovely, unhappy wife of the womanizing baron. As secrets come to light, including one or two of Da Ponte’s, the librettist finds himself no closer to an answer but very much a target for a killer.
A brisk tempo, a sympathetic hero and a plot as complicated as the beloved opéra bouffe it parallels will make Lebow’s debut resonate with opera lovers and lay readers alike.