A plane crash kills the lead actor of the Leander Theatre’s production of The Marriage of Figaro, in the middle of their rehearsals. The crew, based on the outskirts of London, is shaken. Luckily—or not—owner Jimmy Clash has found a replacement in world-class baritone Marc Chatrier, a notorious womanizer, liar, and all-around cad.
Chatrier’s presence immediately causes tensions to rise dramatically among a close-knit opera “family,” especially when he starts paying too much attention to Jimmy’s star-struck teenage daughter. Then, without warning, the despised singer drops dead in the middle of a performance.
That’s the cue for audience member Detective Inspector Musgrave to make his grand entrance. But the able police investigator is unprepared for the complex drama awaiting him backstage, and a tragically twisted plot that includes dark secrets, jealousies, old grudges, and murder most foul.
As always, the Edgar, Agatha, and Gold Dagger Award–winning author of the Brother Cadfael Mysteries “writes with undiminished skill” (The Times, London).
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About the Author
Ellis Peters is a pseudonym of Edith Mary Pargeter (1913–1995), a British author whose Chronicles of Brother Cadfael are credited with popularizing the historical mystery. Cadfael, a Welsh Benedictine monk living at Shrewsbury Abbey in the first half of the twelfth century, has been described as combining the curious mind of a scientist with the bravery of a knight-errant. The character has been adapted for television, and the books drew international attention to Shrewsbury and its history.
Pargeter won an Edgar Award in 1963 for Death and the Joyful Woman, and in 1993 she won the Cartier Diamond Dagger, an annual award given by the Crime Writers’ Association of Great Britain. She was appointed officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1994, and in 1999 the British Crime Writers’ Association established the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger award, later called the Ellis Peters Historical Award.
Read an Excerpt
Funeral of Figaro
By Ellis Peters, Karl Kotas
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1962 Edith Pargeter
All rights reserved.
It was curiously appropriate that he should arrive just in the middle of 'Deh vieni non tardar,' at the precise spot in the fourth act when he was later to make his exit. The purposeful chaos of a piano rehearsal disguised the significance of the moment, and dulled the impact of his coming into a mere natural quiver of interest and awareness; but afterwards they remembered it as if with a quickened vision, and even believed they had had premonitions of disaster.
Slumped on his back in the front row of the stalls, with his crossed feet on the balustrade of the orchestra pit, Johnny listened with delight to Tonda, and kept his eyes closed to avoid seeing her. It wasn't that she was ugly; far from it, she was thought by some sound critics to be rather like her celebrated countrywoman Gina Lollobrigida. In Susanna's bell skirts and tightly-laced bodices she looked enchanting, but she was rising forty, and she really ought not to come to rehearsals in black ballet tights and thick mohair sweaters. She hadn't acquired the nickname of Tonda for nothing, and the impression of a ball of angora knitting wool transfixed by black plastic needles was overwhelming. But she sounded wonderful, worth every lavish pound he was paying for her three roles in the season's repertoire.
Some Susannas made 'Deh vieni' too arch, some too ethereal, the utterance of a disembodied spirit. Tonda knew better. Her Susanna was a flesh and blood woman and her voice took up the deliberate, maliciously seductive invitation to love with all the vengeful subtlety of which the female is capable, tormenting her listening lover with the certainty that she was not addressing him, and then gradually in the middle of her teasing she forgot her grudge, forgot the very face of the Count, and was indeed singing to Figaro, pouring out to him all the rapture and excitement of her wedding night in soft, thrilling, aching cries of passion. And still the fool didn't realise!
That was what Tonda could do with her voice, make you believe in the profundities of human love even at rehearsal, and turn back the convoluted leaves of comedy one by one to delve into the deepest places of the heart after Mozart. Provided you didn't look at her there was no limit to the marvellous potentialities she could suggest. Johnny kept his eyes closed, even when by the faint stirring of the air and the fragrance of muguet he knew that Gisela had slipped round to take the seat beside him. He turned his face towards her and smiled blindly, and she touched his hand with ome finger, and they listened together.
Count Almaviva, in grey slacks and a sports shirt, stood with folded arms in the wings, listening attentively. Cherubino, in toreador pants and one of Johnny's old sweaters – seemingly sweaters were just the right size these days if you could get into 'em twice over – copied his attitude and his gravity, her fair head tilted, her grey eyes fixed respectfully upon the singer.
Across the stage from them the Countess, tall and stately and immaculate in a closely-tailored suit that made her Scandinavian legs look even longer and more delectable than usual, divided her critical attention between Tonda and the Count.
He was young for the rôle, a rising star out of Austria, not yet used to being famous. What he had in voice and natural ability he still lacked in experience, and it was no small honour for him to be asked to sing so important a rôle opposite Inga Iversen. She had been at pains to be gracious to him. It was necessary that someone should take him in hand, or the predatory Italian woman would ruin him. And that would be a pity, for he had a fine voice and some acting ability. And such eyes! Blue as gentians, and of a heart-rending innocence. Also he was that marvel, a partner tall enough for her. Inga had suffered untold embarrassments at the hands of short, tubby Counts.
In the most remote corner of the orchestra pit Doctor Bartolo and Don Basilio sat cheek by jowl, shirt-sleeved and comfortable, their backs propped solidly against the wooden barrier, their cynical elderly eyes swivelling knowingly from Tonda's rapt face and heaving bosom to Inga's aristocratic calm, behind which the feline claws flexed themselves thoughtfully in secret.
Doctor Bartolo was lean and cadaverous and dignified, and as English as a wet summer, and his name was Max Forrester. Don Basilio was short and rosy, pepper-and-salt haired, and with the Welshman's bold, strongly-marked bones and tough, weathered flesh. He had sung Don Basilio so often in his thirty years on the stage that he sometimes had difficulty in remembering that his name was Ralph Howell. Tenor character parts of any quality are comparatively few and far between, he had taken some pains to corner the best of them as soon as he became resigned to being forty years old. They were conducting a laconic conversation in an almost soundless, almost motionless style that would have done credit to two old lags under the warder's eye.
'What did I tell you?' said Don Basilio, digging an elbow into his friend's lean ribs. 'You're on a loser, boy. Tonda's got him dazzled.'
'They're only warming up yet,' returned Doctor Bartolo confidently. 'Wait until Inga gets to him with the great forgiveness phrase at the end.'
'Ah, a couple of bars, man, what's that after a brainwashing like this? Look at him! Ravished to the soul, poor lad! You might as well pay up now, you've said good-bye to that fiver.'
'I'll still put my shirt on Inga. Want to raise the stake?'
'Double it,' offered Don Basilio promptly, surveying the ample charms of the lady who carried his money, and dwelling with professional pleasure on the melting ease with which she turned the lovely high phrase and sank in a series of soft falls, like a dove descending. Backstage half a dozen of Johnny's ship's company were listening to it no less appreciatively, straightening and stilling among the surrealist detail of their half-assembled sets. Perhaps the greatest love song ever written for a woman sank to its close in triumphant stillness, like a folding of wings.
'Mate,' said Stoker Bates, scratching thoughtfully at the back of his grizzled neck, 'that's a bit of all right, that is. You can have all your Traviatas and your "Oh, my beloved daddies" for one drop o' Mozart.'
The dove settled and nestled, soft as down.
'"Ti vo la fronte incoronar – incoronar di rose."'
Old Franz Hassilt at the piano echoed the rounded cadence and drew breath to croak the indignant comment of the missing Figaro, for whom he delighted to do duty; but the interjection was taken clean from his lips by a great voice that spat the 'Perfiaa!' over their startled heads from the doorway on the right of the stalls.
'"Traitress! So all the time she meant to betray me!"'
Cherubino flashed round open-mouthed, forgetting the trill she had been about to launch after Figaro's line. Johnny opened his eyes abruptly and came leaping to his feet, Franz whirled on the piano stool, and every head turned expectantly to examine the Leander Theatre's new bass-baritone.
His fame had come before him, and they were curious and wary, for they had to measure their powers side by side with his from now on. It was only by luck Johnny's agent had been able to sign him up at all; after the loss of Raimondo Gatti in the plane crash at Vienna they might well have had to make do with a minor artist and be thankful, but fate in the shape of an army cabal in Latin America had effectively cancelled a prior engagement, and presented them with the chance of a lifetime to get Marc Chatrier, and Jimmy Clash had jumped at it. Johnny could stand the racket; grand opera was the one undertaking on which Johnny had ever managed to lose money, and he needed it to ease his tax position, so he said. One of the biggest sums even he had ever paid out was very well spent on the greatest living Figaro.
And there he was, just within the doorway, looking them over with calm, quizzical eyes and visibly selecting Johnny from among them as the man to be reckoned with. Johnny came bounding like a Saint Bernard dog, shoving out a brown fist and beaming.
'Mr Chatrier, this is wonderful! We didn't expect you to show up this morning, after your journey. I'm sorry I couldn't meet you myself at the airport last night, but I hope Mr Clash looked after you properly.'
Jimmy always looked faintly bewildered when he was referred to as Mr Clash. He was so used to being Number One or Jimmy the One that the rare occasions when he got his proper name, for the benefit of newcomers who couldn't yet be expected to understand the peculiarities of the Leander Theatre, jolted him like being suddenly confronted with a distorting mirror. He beamed back happily at his employer and friend, proud of his errand and of the acquisition he had brought them.
'Are you comfortable at the Grand Eden? It's a longish drive out here, but there'll be a car at your disposal for the season.'
'All your arrangements worked admirably,' said Marc Chatrier in his black velvet voice, 'and the hotel seems excellent.'
They were much of an age, and matched each other in vigour and glow so evenly that the meeting of their hands should have started a flurry of sparks. Johnny was brown and bright, with thick russet hair greying at the temples, and an uneven, mobile, responsive face. Chatrier was black-haired and black-eyed and self-contained, with the quirk of a slightly quizzical smile never far from his lip. The experienced face was a little lined, the dark eyes a little world-weary, but he knew how to wear even these ominous signs as added graces.
'What's the betting,' murmured Ralph Howell, eyeing this formidable new competition, 'the girls don't switch their attentions?'
Doctor Bartolo considered the possibility thoughtfully for a moment, and shook his head resolutely. 'No. Youth has it. They'll stick to the coming lad. This one's been. He's on his way back.'
'Come and meet everyone.' Johnny had an arm lightly about his new Figaro's shoulders, and a hand outstretched for Franz Hassilt. 'You must know our musical director – everyone knows Franz. Without him we could never have made our reputation in such a short time. Without me, of course, he'd have managed it in half the time. We fight a lot, but he always wins.'
The old man, wonderful hair erected like a blazing silver aureole, gaudy shirt a dazzle of greens and reds, peered narrowly from the intelligent eyes that could be so gentle and so fierce, and said sharply: 'Johnny is a humbug. He treats opera like a toy, but Johnny loves his toys. Nobody crosses Johnny in his play.' He blinked up at the tall man whose hand he held, and said with satisfaction: 'Mr Chatrier, at last I get a Figaro who menaces instead of blustering. Now we show them a production as it should be.'
'We can at least try,' agreed Marc Chatrier gravely.
'And here's our Countess, Miss Iversen. Miss Gennoni, your Susanna. And Cherubino – my daughter Hero.'
'Enchanted!' said Marc Chatrier, dividing the small gallantries of glance and smile and caressing voice between the three of them. Not quite evenly.
A brittle Norwegian icicle whom he already knew, a plump Italian kitten, and a boy-girl in trousers and sweater. Honey-fair, grey-eyed. The girl held his eyes longest. So millionaire Johnny Truscott had a daughter, had he? Could she really sing, or was the impresario only a fond and foolish father who thought she could? Well, he could afford to pay for both their fancies.
Hero said: 'Hallo!' airily, like a blunt but assured boy, the approximate blend of gaucherie and self-confidence turned out by the English public school.
'You can see she's well into the skin of the part,' said Johnny, grinning. 'Dress her up in a party frock now and take her out, and you're liable to get run in. She swaggers about as if she had riding-boots on under her skirt – like Octavian in the third act of Rosenkavalier.'
'It's your own fault,' said Hero, grinning back. 'You shouldn't have given me such a silly name if you didn't want me to get complexes. I'm going to sing all the transvestist parts, Mr Chatrier. Ending up with Octavian.'
'I imagine the process will take a few years,' he said, and smiled fully for the first time.
'I imagine it will. But Cherubino's a good beginning.'
'And here's Max Forrester,' said Johnny, 'our Bartolo. And Ralph Howell, who sings Basilio.'
The alert black eyes assessed, pondered, discarded. Forrester was a good second-rate artist of the kind England bred in considerable numbers, Howell one of the perennial Welsh tenors who end up entertaining at smoking concerts.
'And the Count – you haven't met Hans Selverer?' Johnny was proud of him. 'Believe me, he's going to make the critics sit up when we open with this production.'
The young man wasn't yet used to being famous, he blushed when he was praised. At first glance a big, good-looking simpleton; at second glance a stubborn, detached intelligence standing off the newcomer and measuring him as exactly as he was himself being measured.
'Selverer!' Chatrier was smiling; the quality of the smile was still ambivalent, perhaps it always would be. 'I recall that name.' Several eyebrows rose at that; the past year had seen a great deal of newsprint lavished on the boy's achievements. 'No, no,' said Chatrier easily, 'I mean from some years ago, when you can have been no more than a child. Was your father also a musician?'
'A conductor,' said Hans, a little grave and constrained as always when too much attention began to concentrate at close quarters on his person or his affairs.
'Yes – that's it! I believe I met him once in Vienna, just before the war.'
'It could be so,' said the young man, but without volunteering more.
'I lost sight of him after that. Is he still conducting?'
'He is dead. He died during the war.'
'Ah, I'm sorry! A great pity!'
'And Marcellina – you must meet our Marcellina,' said Johnny, delicately snapping off this tightening thread of conversation before it could stretch too cruelly thin. 'Where is Gisela? She was with me only a few minutes ago.'
'I'm here,' said Gisela's serene voice, and she came out of the shadows under the circle stalls. So that was what she'd been up to, restoring her make-up for the occasion. A new, firm bow to her mouth, and every hair in place. A faint, astonished sting of jealousy pricked Johnny's heart. Since when had she gone to the trouble to put on a new face for any man? She never bothered for him.
'Marc Chatrier – Gisela Salberg. Gisela is our Marcellina, and much more than that. I don't know what we should do without her.'
She stepped into the light, and he saw her fully. A slender woman of middle height, with a great sheaf of black hair coiled on her neck, and the pale oval face that went with such hair, magnolia-skinned and still, only the large dark eyes and the mobile lips quick with suggestions of humour and feeling. Forty-five, perhaps. Very elegant. She looked up at him steadily, the social smile just curving her lips. A nerve quivered in her cheek. Marc Chatrier smiled at her from under half-lowered lids, hooding the smile from the light and the onlookers, but not from her.
'We're very fortunate to have so notable a Figaro,' said Gisela in her dear, cool voice. 'I hope we shall be able to work well together, Mr Chatrier.'
God, thought Johnny, he must have made an impression. When did she ever go so far upstage for me?
'I'm sure we shall, Miss Salberg, I'm sure we shall. After such a charming welcome,' said Chatrier, smiling at her, his voice heavy and smooth as cream, 'I feel that you and I are old friends already.'
'But the crew don't like him,' said Johnny, raking with worried fingers through his erected hair, and slamming a drawer of his desk shut on the rest of the cares of the day.
'Who says they don't?' objected Gisela mildly from her perch on the end of the desk.
'No one says, they don't have to say. I know that gang too well to need any telling. You'd think they had an instinct about him. And yet he took them in his stride, you saw that, never batted an eyelid. And you must admit they can be disconcerting on first acquaintance. And he's all right at rehearsals, isn't he?' Chatrier had been working with the cast for ten days now, if there was anything to be discovered against him it should have begun to show at the rubbed edges. 'Franz seems to be thoroughly happy about him.'
Excerpted from Funeral of Figaro by Ellis Peters, Karl Kotas. Copyright © 1962 Edith Pargeter. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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