The heart of farce is the fear of discovery, so the bigger the secret, the bigger the laugh. And the secrets in Laury A. Egan’s latest novel, Fabulous! An Opera Buffa produce some pretty large fun. Drag, artifice, chicanery, revenge, betrayal and well-intentioned motives collide on multiple stages in various parts of town. It’s not quite the novel equivalent of Noises Off! but it has the same spirit, energy, and pace.
Opera singer Gilbert Eugene Rose desperately wants to be a famous diva, and to that end pursues and wins a tenor role as the Duke in Rigoletto as well as the soprano role of Fiordiligi in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte. At a different theatre. Across town. You’d think Gil would be pretty busy with dual rehearsals and the occasional gig as Kiri De Uwana at the Purple Plum for a few bucks, but circumstances also force him into a job singing Handel for a distaff mobster who is sworn enemies with the producer of one of Gil’s two operas. But with her, each performance is by command. And dangerous to miss. In fact, she insists he ruin the Rigoletto to settle that old score of hers. Can Gil survive his own career, not to mention a gender-bending twist during Rigoletto? You won’t know until the finale.
Totally different than Jenny Kidd, Egan’s story of art forgery and murder from 2012, Fabulous! handles not only the change in subject but the change in tone like a champ. You’d think Egan had been writing madcap farce most of her life. One of the drawbacks of this type of comedy is the sheer number of cast members usually required to drive it, but Egan has no problem coming up with those characters and moving them with precision. Among my favorites are LaDonna, the female mobster, and her assistant, Gal. The relationship between the two women is interesting and well-grounded, but when Gil runs afoul of LaDonna, the comedy goes out the window. She turns dark and mean, bringing a different dimension to the last third of the book.
That darkening of the plot and tone is truly admirable, as it elevates this from simple farce into something farcical with interesting textures. This also differs from some farces I’ve seen in that it’s not contrived. The choices driving the action come from characters rather than the author. And Egan’s facility and familiarity with opera is evident. She knows her arias. But she never gets too obscure or explains too much. No matter how much or how little you know about the subject, however, once you start this ride, you’ll be on it until the car stops. Egan hits the ground running and doesn’t waste a moment. In that respect, it’s one of the most economic novels I’ve read in some time. It never lags or sags.
Fabulous! is on the beat and perfectly pitched. I hope you’ll be singing its praises as well.
© 2018 Jerry L. Wheeler