Giacomo Puccini has always been a flirt. When he isn’t writing the most popular operas the world has ever known, he has an eye for the ladies, and he doesn’t care if his wife, Elvira, knows it. But after the composer participates in a harmless bit of chitchat with a servant girl, Elvira explodes with jealousy, driving the girl from the house and spreading lies so terrible that the innocent young woman takes her own life. Puccini is left shattered, driven nearly to suicide, and only Enrico Caruso can save him.
The legendary tenor lures Puccini to New York to premiere his new opera on the Metropolitan stage. At first, all goes well. But when a member of the Metropolitan family is found murdered, all signs point to Puccini as the killer. To avert a real-life tragedy, the great Caruso takes on the most challenging role of his career: detective.
A Cadenza for Caruso is the 1st book in the Opera Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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A Cadenza for Caruso
An Opera Mystery
By Barbara Paul
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1984 Barbara Paul
All rights reserved.
The acoustics were not good. The sight-lines were terrible. The stage was cavernous and hard to light, the dressing rooms were windowless and none too clean, the backstage area was cramped and inadequate.
Enrico Caruso sighed in contentment. Beautiful, simply beautiful.
He swaggered out to center stage and struck a heroic pose for the empty auditorium. Before long that famous Diamond Horseshoe would be ablaze with light, packed with New Yorkers eager to hear him sing again. Caruso always felt at home in the Metropolitan Opera House. Covent Garden was more glamorous, La Scala had the blessings of tradition behind it — but the Metropolitan was his kingdom. A man can be forgiven for strutting a little in his own kingdom.
A discreet cough from the wings ended the moment. "What is it, Ugo?" Caruso called out.
"There is no running water backstage," his valet answered. "How can I make the dressing room clean when there is no running water backstage?"
"Of course there is running water backstage. There has been running water here for years and years." Two years.
"It is not running now, Rico," Ugo said glumly. "Everywhere is dirt and dust and no water."
The tenor waved his arms in the air. "Then find the running-water expert! Take care of this terrible problem!" The valet muttered something under his breath and disappeared. Martino would know what to do, Caruso thought in exasperation. But Martino was back at the hotel.
"Ah, Enrico! You are here, you are here!" A familiar voice floated out of the dark auditorium as its owner came down the aisle toward the stage. Giulio Gatti-Casazza, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, had met Caruso's ship a few days earlier; but now, on the stage of the Met, they greeted each other as if after a ten-year separation.
"Mr. Gatti!" Caruso said affectionately. He liked working with Gatti-Casazza. The previous manager had had no real understanding of opera or, even worse, of opera singers. But Mr. Gatti knew what terrible hardships singers had to face. Mr. Gatti knew everything.
"The new opera — it progresses, yes?" Gatti-Casazza wanted to know.
"It is all in here," Caruso said solemnly, tapping his forehead. "It is here," grasping his throat dramatically, "that the trouble lies."
Gatti-Casazza's eyes grew wide. "The voice ...?"
"An annoyingly persistent sore throat," the tenor said worriedly. "Everything irritates it — smoke, dust ..." Then he remembered. "Ugo says there is no running water backstage. Dust everywhere —"
"Ah yes, a small problem with the plumbing," the general manager said soothingly. "Soon to be remedied, I am assured. If your man can wait a little while ...? Good. But tell me, Enrico, what are you doing for your throat?"
"My special spray, gargles, I wear amber beads around my neck —"
"You are smoking those strong Egyptian cigarettes still?"
Caruso grinned sheepishly. "I use a holder."
Gatti-Casazza waved a finger at him admonishingly. "That is the cause of your sore throat, Enrico! Put the cigarettes aside, at least until after the première. You owe that much to Puccini." His face darkened. "We must do all we can to ease his burden."
Caruso nodded in sober agreement. The composer was coming to New York to supervise the world première of his new opera — an occasion for joy and celebration under normal circumstances. But Puccini would be arriving under a cloud, still suffering the effects of a shocking scandal that at one point had driven him close to suicide. Puccini had said that working on the new opera was all that kept him sane.
"I will undertake to cheer him up," Caruso announced expansively. "I am very good at cheering people up."
"That you are, Enrico," the other man laughed, "that you are. Puccini's ship arrives early tomorrow morning, by the way. You will have a few days before we begin work in earnest."
"I work every day," Caruso proclaimed. "Even on Sundays."
The general manager was plucking at his beard — a familiar signal that something was bothering him. "Enrico — no tricks this time. No little surprises for the other singers. I want your word. No practical jokes at all."
Caruso was hurt. "You think I play jokes when we prepare a new opera?"
"No filling the other singers' hats with flour. No nailing of oranges to the table."
"There are no oranges in the new opera."
"Whatever. I want you to promise me you will play no pranks at all."
"Such a promise is not necessary," the tenor said with offended dignity, "but I give it just the same."
Gatti-Casazza's smile of relief was so dazzling that Caruso forgave him on the spot. "I believe you, Enrico. We will have good rehearsals — and a great performance, yes?"
The tenor decided to leave poor Ugo to cope with the dirty dressing room as best he could; he himself would walk back to the Hotel Knickerbocker — only two short blocks away, overlooking Times Square, the "crossroads of the world." Caruso liked being in the center of things. No lover of exercise, Caruso nevertheless enjoyed strolling the streets of New York. It was a crisp, bright day in November, the year was 1910, and all was right with the world.
He hadn't gone a full block before some stranger was pounding him on the back and calling him primo tenore. He was, of course, primo — but it was always gratifying to hear someone say so. Caruso talked to the man in Italian, delighted as always with the polyglot nature of New York's citizenry. He himself slipped in an English sentence now and then; he always did, when talking in Italian — good practice. The back-thumping stranger had been born in Milan and had on more than one occasion heard Caruso sing at La Scala. He didn't ask for money, so Caruso didn't offer any; they parted on friendly terms.
But in the lobby of the Hotel Knickerbocker a supplicant did lie in wait. Another stranger and another Italian, but this one was shabby and defeated-looking. Caruso listened sympathetically to the man's hard-luck story, and then with a grandiose gesture handed him a moderate sum of money. He basked momentarily in the outpouring of gratitude that followed; when the supplicant had left, Caruso pulled out a small notebook and carefully wrote down the amount he had given away. Keeping accounts was important.
Caruso pushed open the door to his hotel apartment. "Martino! Mario! Barthélemy!" The three other members of his entourage (beside Ugo) came running. "Mario, my throat spray. Martino, a hot bath and clean clothes. Use the jasmine scent." To Barthélemy: "After the bath, we work."
Barthélemy smiled. "We work on the end of the first act?"
"Yes, yes, we work on the end of the first act," Caruso flapped a hand at him. "And Martino — arrange with the management for a small dinner party tomorrow night. The great Puccini should not spend his first evening in New York alone. Let's see — we ask Amato, Scotti, Crispano ..." He counted on his fingers. "Eight people."
"I will take care of it, Rico," Martino said. Caruso put the matter out of his mind; once Martino knew about it, the dinner party was as good as arranged. Martino had been with him longer than anybody else and was in charge of the other valets. In fact, he was in charge of almost everything.
Young Mario came hurrying in with the throat spray. Ah, that felt good. Caruso tried a high note, sprayed some more. "Let us have slightly more glycerine in the next batch, Mario."
The young man's mournful eyes peered out beneath his mop of thick dark hair. "I will mix it up this very day, signore." Polite boy, Mario — he couldn't quite bring himself to say Rico as the others did. A little too solemn for one so young, but very polite.
Caruso luxuriated in his scented bath for almost an hour, eating ice cream and smoking the strong cigarettes Gatti-Casazza had warned him about. He dressed in his second outfit of the day and would probably change one more time: a singer had to be careful of infection.
Time to work. First the breathing exercises. Then the scales, for warm-up. Then the music.
Five years earlier Giacomo Puccini had seen a play in New York called The Girl of the Golden West and had been impressed by it. So impressed, in fact, that he'd made it the basis of his new opera — La Fanciulla del West. To Caruso this was one of the most exotic operas he'd ever appeared in. A rowdy saloon scene, a card game with life-or-death stakes, a manhunt, a lynching party, live horses on stage, California gold miners, cowboys and Indians, outlaws, vigilantes — everything about the Gold Rush and America's Old West that was so exciting! Caruso was singing the role of the dashing bandit Ramerrez, and Gatti-Casazza had promised him he would indeed be packing a six-shooter.
Barthélemy was seated at the gold-and-white Empire-style piano. "The end of the first act," he announced firmly.
Caruso shrugged acquiescence. Barthélemy was more than just an accompanist; he was an excellent musician in his own right. And if Barthélemy felt that the end of the first act needed work, then the end of the first act needed work. Caruso knew when to listen.
He sang, half-voice, repeating phrases over and over until he and Barthélemy both were satisfied. The music was something of a departure for Puccini. Gatti-Casazza was excited about the score; he'd said it was more mature and more dramatic than Puccini's earlier work. It's certainly harder to sing, Caruso thought. More augmented intervals, more dissonance. The tenor liked it.
This was the music Puccini had labored over to keep himself from committing suicide. An opera that grew out of such pain could not be the same sweetly romantic kind of melody the Italian lyric theatre had loved for so many years. Melody there was aplenty in La Fanciulla del West, but there was also dissonance.
Dissonance, Elvira — how quickly one word called up the other! It was Elvira Puccini who'd caused all the trouble.
"Rico," Barthélemy said reprovingly, "you're not concentrating."
Caruso announced a small intermission and called to Mario for his throat spray.
It was Elvira's jealousy of her famous and handsome husband that had brought about the tragedy. Of course, one could say Puccini had given her plenty of cause — but not this time, not really. Puccini had been carrying on a mild flirtation with a young servant girl named Doria, right there in his own home in the village Torre del Lago. Elvira had accused the two of having an affair and drove the girl out of the house.
For weeks Elvira spread rumors about the girl, taunting her publicly in the streets of Torre del Lago, calling her names a respectable married woman wasn't supposed to know. Aware of Puccini's reputation with the ladies, many of the villagers believed Elivra's accusations. Even Doria's family began to doubt her.
At last young Doria — hardly more than a child — could bear no more ... and took a lethal dose of poison. Elvira had literally hounded the girl to death. A life had ended, all because of a flirtation that meant nothing to Puccini.
"Shall we resume?" Barthélemy asked.
But it hadn't ended there. Doria's family had ordered an autopsy, and the examination proved the girl had died a virgin — whereupon the family brought charges of persecution and defamation of character against Elvira Puccini. Elvira was tried and convicted; but before the sentence was carried out, the composer had been able to buy Doria's family off, bribing them into withdrawing the charges. Only in that way had he been able to prevent his wife's going to prison.
Despair over this tragic sequence of events had driven Puccini to the brink of taking his own life. His music had saved him; he'd buried himself in work, orchestrating his private anguish into the new opera — including that achingly beautiful aria in the last act.
Caruso turned to Barthélemy. "Ch' ella mi creda," he ordered.
Barthélemy gave him a lopsided smile. "Rico, you already sing that one perfectly. In your sleep, you can sing it perfectly."
"So, I will sing it perfectly now. Play!"
The accompanist sighed in resignation, found the place in the score, and began to play.
Ch' ella mi creda libero e lontano. Let her believe I am free and far away. Caruso sang full voice, holding back nothing — treating his neighbors in the Hotel Knickerbocker to a free concert. A short aria, but a touching one.
Applause greeted the conclusion: Martino was standing in the doorway, his face one big smile. "Bravo, Rico, bravo!"
The tenor bowed.
"A letter has arrived for you by messenger," Martino said. "A letter with the most delicious scent of violets arising from it!"
"An answer to my invitation!" Caruso beamed. "Where is it?"
Martino handed him an envelope, addressed in a delicate spidery handwriting in lavender ink.
Dear Mr. Caruso,
I want to thank you for the lovely American beauty roses you sent; they are my favorites. How did you know? Frankly, I am surprised you remembered me from last year; we barely had a chance to speak on that occasion. And yes, I would be most pleased to have dinner with you. If you care to call for me at seven this evening, I shall be waiting.
"Ah, Ca-ro-lee-a, bellissima!" Caruso kissed the note and waved it in the air. "Martino! My dinner clothes — the blue!"
Just then Ugo walked in, covered with dust from head to foot. "Your dressing room is clean, Rico," he grumbled. "Why do I always get the dirty jobs?" Martino hustled him out while Mario quickly sprayed the room with perfume.
But Ugo's unsanitary presence couldn't dim Caruso's anticipation of the evening. Nowhere was he so happy as in New York. He was surrounded by friends. Strangers came up to him on the street, full of praise and extravagant compliments. Charming young ladies wrote him notes saying yes. His career was at its peak, and his voice had darkened to the point where he could now sing heroic roles as well as lyric ones. The great Puccini had survived his ordeal and the result was a new opera in which he, Enrico Caruso himself, would create the lead tenor role, in the opera house he preferred to all others in the world.
No clouds on the horizon anywhere. Caruso was rich, famous, and loved. Not bad for a poor boy from the slums of Naples.
The next day Caruso dressed carefully for his visit to Puccini. After consulting with Martino, he'd attired his portly self in a fawn-colored suit, bright green checked waistcoat, curly-brimmed hat, gold-headed cane, and yellow gloves. There. That should do it.
He was a little nervous. The tenor hadn't seen Puccini for a while, not since the scandal of Doria's death had made every newspaper in Italy. But Caruso hadn't been completely comfortable with the composer even before that.
Puccini was a hard man to please. He'd withheld permission for Caruso to sing his Bohème for an insultingly long time. And he never hesitated to criticize a singer's performance — any singer, any performance. But when he was pleased — ah, when he was pleased, then he was most generous with his praise. He'd said some wonderfully ego-building things to Caruso on occasion. The trouble was, one never knew what to expect from him. The tenor would have liked to have the composer as a friend, but there had always been a distance between them.
The last Caruso had heard, Puccini was more or less reconciled with his wife; but the tenor didn't know whether Elvira had come with her husband to New York or not. A touchy situation. What was the proper behavior in such circumstances? Should he offer his condolences for the young servant girl's death, or his congratulations that Elvira did not have to go to prison? It didn't occur to Caruso not to bring the subject up at all.
"I am ready," he announced to Martino.
The head valet looked him over carefully. "Yes, you are ready."
Puccini's hotel, the Buckingham, was ten blocks away, too much for Caruso. Ugo was waiting on the street with one of the new taximetre motor cabs; Caruso rather enjoyed riding the horse trolleys and the electric streetcars, but automobiles were even more fun. He examined the one in front of him critically. "Ugo, do you think you could learn to drive a motor car?"
Excerpted from A Cadenza for Caruso by Barbara Paul. Copyright © 1984 Barbara Paul. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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