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DIVA DELVES INTO SKULLDUGGERY

HELEN TRAUBEL WAS MORE than a Metropolitan Opera soprano specializing in Wagnerian roles. She was a baseball fan, part owner of her hometown St. Louis Browns. She mixed with the likes of Groucho Marx and Jimmy Durante in TV, nightclub, and film. She contracted with President Harry S Truman as an advisor to his daughter Margaret’s singing career. And Helen was the author of two mystery stories, both centered on murders at the opera.

In sorting through my books, what do I uncover but a copy of Helen Traubel’s The Metropolitan Opera Murder. Here are tidbits about this book and its author.

The Metropolitan Opera Murders, by Helen Traubel, Simon and Schuster, 1951.

Not Your Typical Diva. The book’s cover blurb cited praise for Helen Traubel: “The Associated Press, in its poll of member newspapers, unanimously selected her ‘the woman of the year in music’ two years in succession, the first such event in history.”

The blurb continues, “But this does not wholly explain the hold she has on the public imagination. Her simplicity, her unconventionality, her utter lack of the professional snobbism and temperament that so often affect great artists—it is these qualities that have made her one of the best-known figures of our times and one of the best loved.” 

Helen Francesca Traubel, 1899–1972, American opera and concert soprano, best known for her Wagnerian roles of Brünnilde and Isolde. Author of The Ptomaine Canary and The Metropolitan Opera Murders. Image from the latter’s dust cover, 1951. 

The Ptomaine Canary. As reported in Time magazine, April 24, 1950,  “The story, called The Ptomaine Canary, tells how a strapping Met soprano with ambitions as a detective-story writer tries to speed her literary success by drugging such established literary rivals as Erie Stanley Gardner, John Dickson Carr, Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler: She lures them into accepting dope-soaked birdseed held out to them by her trained canary, Galli-Curci. The soprano gets in trouble when one of her less celebrated victims unexpectedly dies. Despite its over-cute plot and slapdash style, the tale could count on plenty of readers, since its author was a Met soprano herself, strapping Wagnerian Star Helen Traubel.”

Helen Traubel appeared on an earlier Time cover, November 11, 1946. 

Time continued, “Soprano Traubel had written her 5,500-word, six-installment mystery in dressing rooms and train compartments while on tour last fall. Unlike her heroine, Soprano Traubel had to drug nobody to get her story before the public. The Associated Press heard about it, snapped it up for distribution to the 200-odd papers which regularly use its serial-story service. With The Ptomaine Canary scheduled to appear in papers as far apart as Amsterdam and Tokyo, writer Traubel was dickering with Simon & Schuster for publishing rights to a second mystery, to be called (when written) Murder at the Met. Who was going to be done in this time the author declined to say.”

The Metropolitan Opera Murders. Apparently Traubel and the publisher came to good terms, because her second mystery appeared in 1951—and has been selected in 2022 as one of the Library of Congress Crime Classics. 

The Metropolitan Opera Murders (Library of Congress Crime Classics), by Helen Traubel, Poisoned Pen Press, 2022

From the indiebound.org website: “When the prompter falls dead during the second act of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre during a matinee performance at the Metropolitan Opera, as one can imagine, it causes quite a stir, especially when it is discovered that the deceased, a one time world famous Heldentenor, has been poisoned.”

The website continues, “The detective assigned to the case, Lt. Quentin, finds himself immersed in the back stage drama of professional opera. His task is made more difficult when he decides that it had really been the star soprano who had been the intended victim, and not the prompter. Will he be able to solve the case before there is another Metropolitan Opera Murder?”

Fortunately, Lt. Quentin will have the help of that star soprano Elsa Vaughn. I must reread Helen Traubel’s The Metropolitan Opera Murders to recall how the diva delves into this skullduggery. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022

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