The Haunted Opera

Published in 2013; author Sarah Masters Buckey; illustrator Sergio Giovine


Marie-Grace has a week off from school, and will spend it with her aunt Océane, who has been asked to fill in for a visiting opera company (the singer she's replacing became ill on her journey across the Atlantic and is recuperating in Cuba with her sister, who was also the understudy; Dr. Gardner is busy treating other sick passengers). The company is there to perform an opera called The Crown Diamonds. Another company was supposed to do the same opera about ten years ago but something bad happened. Marie-Grace can't figure out what it was. She's happy that Cécile will be able to come over after her lessons are done. Maybe they can uncover the past together. 

The girls' first day starts inauspiciously--when they see Océane in her costume, they convince her to try on the crown that the star of the show wears, just to see how it looks. Of course, the star of the show, Miss Bell, arrives just in time to see what looks like the replacement singer trying to steal her spot. Océane reassures the girls that no harm is done, but they still feel guilty. They take some things to the sewing room, where they meet a girl a little older than they are, a servant who is traveling with the company. She fills them in on the background of the opera: when it was supposed to be performed a decade ago, the star died just before opening night, and is buried in the cemetery across the street. A few years later, a French opera company set sail for New Orleans to perform The Crown Diamonds, and a storm sank the ship, killing everyone aboard. The girl, Janie, says her older sister (also a servant traveling with the company) saw a ghost the previous night. They're both sure the production is doomed. That night, Marie-Grace overhears a bit of conversation between her aunt and Ida, a seamstress who made some costumes. Ida is leaving and trusting Océane with some secret.

The next day more odd things happen, like an alley cat in Miss Bell's dressing room. And the crown disappears. Marie-Grace knows that some people suspect her aunt, and is pleased to hear that Janie doesn't. But Janie is convinced the ghost stole it. While Marie-Grace helps Janie look for the crown, they discover some unpaid bills in the director's office--he's pretty deeply in debt. But he later announces that opening night is sold out, so maybe things will turn around for him, even taking into account the expense of having a new crown made on short notice. His announcement is confusing in retrospect, though: just a short time later, Marie-Grace sees a sign in the ticket office advertising that a few tickets are left for opening night. 

When Cécile arrives that afternoon, she and Marie-Grace try to work things out. They realize that Ida knew where the key was that unlocked where the crown was being held, but didn't hear that the diamonds on it are fake. They don't want to suspect her, but she seems a reasonable culprit. And she's walking to the cemetery across the street right now! She must be the "ghost." The girls follow her and find a note she's left on a tombstone. It promises the person it's intended for that Ida will bring money. And the tombstone is marking the grave of the opera singer who died ten years ago. Sadly, the girls tell Océane about the note and their suspicions. She corrects them that Ida would never steal, and explains that Ida's been acting strangely because she recently found out that her younger sister is a slave on a plantation nearby, and is trying to secure her freedom. The girls contritely apologize to Ida. They also ask her why she's using the grave of the opera singer. Ida hadn't picked it because of whose grave it was, just because it has a large sculpture that's easy for whoever is delivering her notes to find (understandably, she won't disclose who is taking the notes to and from her sister). That night, Ida leaves for her sister as soon as she's put the finishing touches on the costumes.

The next day is dress rehearsal. Very little seems to go right--the orchestra is out of tune, the male lead is forgetting his lines, and someone tries to destroy the costumes that Ida worked so hard on by staining them with stubborn blue dye. Thinking quickly, Marie-Grace fetches the tin of pralines that Cécile's housekeeper Mathilde made. She offers them around to the cast, who all remove their gloves to avoid getting the sticky candy on them. She spies blue dye on the male lead's wrist--it's him! Once outed, he quickly confesses. Marie-Grace guesses why, too: he's having trouble hearing, having come down with a weaker version of whatever sickened the opera singer recovering in Cuba. He capitalized on the ghost story to force the company to wait to perform until they got to their tour stop, by which time he reasoned he'd be healed. The director fires him on the spot, and gives his role to his understudy. The now former male lead apologizes sincerely, and Marie-Grace, feeling some pity for the man who thought his whole career was over, kindly suggests he see a doctor.

Opening night goes well, with no more bad luck. Océane performs beautifully (sadly, her husband isn't there to see as his ship is sailing). The next week at singing lessons, she tells Marie-Grace and Cécile that Ida and her sister are safely in a free state up north--and that she and Uncle Luc are moving too. But not as far as Ida. They're moving to Marie-Grace's neighborhood, and both girls will have a standing invitation to visit often. 

Looking Back

The historical section is about the popularity of opera in the1800s. Especially in New Orleans, they were very well attended. They were also segregated; free people of color sat in the upper sections, which also had space reserved for slaves who had permission to attend. Considering that slaves were hardly allowed to travel beyond their masters' homes, I'm surprised they could go to operas. I bet a lot were there with their masters to drive the coach or carry bags or something.


This book is dedicated to Chrissie.

In this book and some of her others, Marie-Grace uses the exclamation "gracious sakes!" I've never heard it before but it somehow fits for her.

Cécile's paternal grandfather was a slave when he was younger.

Opening night of the opera is a Thursday.

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