A delightfully irreverent opera tale that should especially appeal to Mozart fans.

THE MURDER OF FIGARO

A MUSICAL MYSTERY

Murder and mayhem threaten to derail the premiere of The Marriage of Figaro in this mystery.

It is April 21, 1786, and the first stage rehearsal of Mozart’s Figaro is about to begin in Vienna’s Court Theater. The opera is based on Beaumarchais’ anti-royalist play written in 1778 and banned but widely read in Vienna. The room vibrates with excitement and more than a little salacious gossip. The melodramatic cast chatters away while assorted Viennese court luminaries indulge in contemptuous snickering. The composer, nervous but resplendently attired and meticulously coiffed, gives the signal to raise the curtain. A piercing scream rings out as a dangling body descends, entwined in the rigging. Herr von Haegelin, “the Imperial theatrical censor,” has evidently committed suicide—or was he murdered? So begins Larson’s (Sam, 2012) ribald, clever romp, a narrative brimming with lust, rivalry, deception, scandalous liaisons, and palace intrigue. The novel is written in the form of an opera, divided into Overtures, Acts, Scenes, and a concluding Stretto rather than chapters. Mozart’s friend and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, “Court Poet to the Italian theater,” is arrested on trumped-up charges and eventually accused of killing von Haegelin. Mozart is distraught, obsessively concerned with the premiere of his opera on the Viennese stage. He passionately bemoans his fate to his wife, Constanze, saying of Da Ponte: “I need him desperately to do the mise-en-scène and general diva pacification and crowd control! Some devilish plot is being worked to spoil my play!” Together, they strive to uncover the truth behind von Haegelin’s death. It is not necessary to be well versed in opera to enjoy Larson’s scathing portrait of demanding divas, pompous tenors, and an emotionally overwrought, albeit genius, composer. But some familiarity helps. The frequent use of genre-specific terminology and untranslated pieces of dialogue in Italian and French are likely to frustrate many readers. Nonetheless, there is plenty to like in this rollicking, madcap story: historical details about the rebellious political forces sweeping the continent, vivid depictions of 18th-century styles and prejudices, and a naughty sense of humor.

A delightfully irreverent opera tale that should especially appeal to Mozart fans.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-939113-33-7

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Savvy Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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