The classic work of fiction based on the world of opera is Song of the Lark by Willa Cather. The novel is based on the life of soprano Olive Fremstad (1871-1951).
Fremstad was born in Sweden and adopted by an American couple from Minnesota. Her name at birth was Anna Olivia Rundquist.
She had a sensational career. Her performance of Richard Strauss’s Salome shut down the opera house. It was said Mme Fremstad went to the New York City police morgue to learn how to handle a human head.
How to eat playing with a human head in a morgue?
There are other novels about opera, none more celebrated than Mardew Czgowchwz by James McCourt. The book is popularly known as Mardew Gorgeous. The tile character is a gender-ambivalent artiste neither soprano nor baritone, known as an oltrano.
Mardew Gorgeous will ring true to anyone who has bought a cd or stood in a standing room line. McCourt skewers not people but the world of opera and classical music as it was and probably still is on and off the stage. Just look at the cast of characters.
Halcyon Q. Paranoy, the paramount Gotham arbiter; The Countess Madge O’Meager Gautier, the first fierce friend in New York; Achille Plonque, a heroic tenor; Laverne Zuckerman, protegé of Mardew Czgowchwz; Dom Gesualdo Svelato, O.M.F. confessor, Trixie Gilhooley, show girl with a heart; and Lois, the switchboard girl at the Old Met.
I don’t think Mardew actually sings in this book, but we go on for 200 pages where she has just sung or is about to hold forth to the anticipated ecstasy of an international crowd of prelates, popes, hangers-on and switchboard girls.
The world needs a laugh right now. I don’t care if you’re tone deaf or addicted to pin ball. Find this book and roar.
Happy New Year!