Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Phantom at the Opera? The Haunted Opera (A Marie-Grace Mystery) by Sarah Masters Buckey

"None of us had crossed the Atlantic before, and we were all quite excited about our American debut!" said Miss Bell.
But, she continued, during the trip Henrietta, one of the major singers, had come down with a fever. Mr. Foxcroft had canceled their performance and arranged for her to recover in Cuba.
Now the company need a local singer to replace Henrietta, and Marie-Grace's Aunt Oceane had been chosen.  She would also be Miss Bell's understudy.
Miss Bell pursed her lips.  "I've heard that there were--er--some problems the last time The Crown Diamonds was performed in New Orleans...  but I'm sure nothing will go wrong this time." She gave a little nervous laugh.
Marie-Grace and Cecile exchanged a glance. Marie-Grace wondered, "What did happen last time?"

It is 1843 in New Orleans, and the town is abuzz with talk about the British opera company, with a famous soprano and dashing leading man, soon to open at the St. Charles Theatre.

Marie-Claire and Cecile look forward to their Saturday voice lessons with Mdme. Oceane Rosseau at the opera house.  They both love singing, and the friends are delighted to get to visit with each other over tea and cookies afterward.  But with the short time before the opera's grand opening, Aunt Oceane must begin rehearsals and instead offers the two girls a chance to be her assistants during the week of preparation for the big opening.  Thrilled, Marie-Claire and Cecile decide to try to sneak a peak of the rehearsals from backstage. But the two are spotted peeping through the curtains by Mr. Foxcroft.  With a quick whispered "Allons-y," they duck down the back stairs and make their escape for the moment and decide to stay far away from the cranky director if they can.

But bad luck does seem to have followed this ill-fated opera to New Orleans again.  The girls hear the whispered story of the earlier aborted performance, when the prima donna soprano, Angelique Beaupre' died suddenly just before the opening, and some of the costume crew tell stories of sightings by her ghost from the graveyard across the street. Mr. Foxcroft rails at the chorus, the orchestra, and even leading man, Roberto DiCarlo, and the costume mistress Ida hurriedly finishes the sumptuous gowns for the leading ladies and leaves mysteriously. Gossip and rivalries break out among the anxious troupe. And the day before the opening, the two leading ladies' costumes are found soaking a vat of blue dye, ruined.

And then the costume coronet which Miss Bell has always worn disappears from Aunt Oceane's wardrobe chest. Some of the players seem to believe Oceane has hidden it in hopes that Miss Bell will be too upset to perform, and that she will be able to assume the starring role. Marie-Grace and Cecile see that they must discover the real thief or The Crown Diamonds may never open.

In Sarah Masters Buckey's The Haunted Opera: A Marie-Grace Mystery (American Girl Mysteries (Quality)) (American Girl Books, 2013), the author takes her two young friends backstage and even into the twilight graveyard as they follow a ghostly figure to solve the mystery of the missing crown.

Pre-Civil War New Orleans provides a colorful setting for this story, the home of the premier opera company in the country, the historic St. Charles Theatre as its backdrop, and the curious mixture of whites, Creoles, and slaves who mixed and mingled in the day-to-day life of the city. The two unlikely friends--Marie-Grace a white doctor's daughter, and Cecile, the pampered daughter of a prominent Creole family--are unusual girl sleuths, thrilled to have the chance to spend so much time together and caught up in an adventurous detective story with a surprising conclusion.

As always, the author appends a historical section, "Looking Back: A Peep into the Past" and a short pronouncing glossary of the French words which she uses to add spice to her narrative.

Fantastique, mes petites filles!

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