I have a singing voice so pleasant and mellifluous it’s regularly mistaken for a strangled kitten. Similarly, my dancing talents are as graceful as those of a lethargic hippopotamus. It’s safe to assess my occasional interest in novels about prima ballerinas and opera divas as a case of “opposites attract.”
Whether or not you have perfect pitch and poise, you can escape into an opulent world of opera and ballet and nobody will know the difference. Here are four novels as elegant, dramatic and intriguing as the dancers and singers who grace these pages.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Attendees of a lavish party in an unnamed South American country are taken hostage. Several key figures are held captive for months. These include Mr. Hosokawa, a powerful Japanese businessman and opera lover, and Roxane Coss, a famous American soprano. Despite language and cultural gaps, deep relationships and bonds are formed over the many months of captivity between hostages and even with the captors.
The Doctor and the Diva by Adrienne McDonnell
Erika is an opera singer trapped between her career and her marriage at the turn of the 20th century. Erika’s husband desperately wants a child. Despite Erika’s own ambivalence toward motherhood, the couple consults Dr. Ravell, a fertility expert. Mesmerized by Erika’s beauty and talent, Ravell vows to do anything—honest or deceitful—to help the couple conceive. Meanwhile, Erika secretly makes plans to leave her husband and pursue her career in Italy.
The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer
Andras Levi, a Hungarian Jew, travels to Paris to study architecture in the late 1930s. There he meets and falls in love with Klara, an older Hungarian ballet instructor with a troubled past. World War II and the Holocaust loom large, but themes of romance, art, architecture, theater and dance provide a hopeful balance against some of the inevitable devastation.
Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay
Nina Revkaya, a retired star of the Bolshoi Ballet now living in Boston, decides to auction her jewelry collection. The process evokes powerful memories of her life and work in Stalinist Russia and an act of betrayal that caused her to flee. Drew Brooks, an auction house employee, and Grigori Solodin, a Russian professor, explore the mysterious provenance of Nina’s jewels, along with a love letter, a poem and unanswered questions about themselves.