When I was telling my friend tim about the plot of this book, the title of which I did not mention, she said, “Oh hey! It sounds like The Makropoulis Case,” which evidently is an opera by a Czech composer I’ve never heard of because I am very, very ignorant of all things opera-related. I went and read the Wikipedia article on the opera in question, and the moral of the story is that if you are going to read a book that is an homage to an opera, you should (a) know going in that it is an homage to the opera and (b) be moderately familiar with the plot of the opera. Otherwise you may end up feeling stupid about having complained that the ending of the book was idiotically improbable, when in fact it was operatically improbable and taken straight from the opera to which the book is an homage. That’s a really specific moral, I know. But I’m sure it has broader applications than just this book. I will let you know when I work out what they are.
The Metropolis Case has, more or less, four central characters: a nineteenth-century opera singer called Lucian, a weird orphan from 1970s Pittsburgh, Maria, who loves nothing but music; a 1960s singer called Anna who loves Tristan and Isolde (they all love Tristan and Isolde); and a Manhattan lawyer called Martin searching for meaning after 9/11. They are all interconnected, if you can hang in there long enough to find out how.
I don’t suppose you have to like opera to enjoy The Metropolis Case, but I expect it helps. As I said, I am very, very ignorant of all things opera-related. It damaged my reading experience. When I say the book is operatically improbable, I mean it’s improbable in the way that opera plots are improbable. You know how when you spend a year reading Virgil, you develop a soft spot for extended metaphors even though in normal life you wouldn’t necessarily care for them? I think if opera triggered any sparkly snuggle hearts in my mind, I would have connected with this book more.
Less vaguely, it would have helped if I had been familiar with The Makroupolis Case. As it was, I couldn’t imagine what the author’s endgame was, I wasn’t always wild about the writing (a little overwrought), and my reading experience lacked momentum. This phenomenon, which nearly spoiled Revolutionary Road for me (but didn’t!), is yet another reason it’s a good idea to read the end before you read the middle.
On the up side, I liked Lucian a lot and kept reading to find out what was going to happen to him and his father. And although, as I say, I didn’t connect with the opera-love that fulminates throughout the novel, I did start to feel that I was missing out by not knowing about opera. Perhaps now is the time that I will stop not caring about opera and decide to care about it after all. I mean if Vivian the Hooker can fall in love with it, surely I can. Right?
Any opera recommendations, bloggy friends? Any assurances that opera is far more accessible than I have been led to believe? Thoughts on reading the subtitles vs. not reading the subtitles?
Let me know if I missed yours!