What a pleasure to return to a detective series whose previous episodes have never disappointed! My first few weeks of 2012 were spent (fictitiously) in Vienna in 1903 together with psychiatrist Dr. Liebermann and his friend Detective Inspector Rheinhardt. I could hardly leave them aside.
This time, it’s the Opera house who provides the victim, in the person of successful diva Ida Rosenkrantz, found dead in her villa, apparently by an overdose of laudanum. It gives Tallis a great opportunity to create meetings between his two fictitious characters and famous (real) director Gustav Mahler. Mahler, composer and director of the Opera house, was acclaimed, but also challenged, partly because he was Jewish, and because he imposed to the musicians a very strict discipline contrary to previous customs (apparently it was customary before the 20th century for opera singers to pay a professional “claque”, a group of people whose job was to cheer and applause every time the singer would appear, even if it disrupted the show).
Music is also an important subplot when Liebermann investigates, through psychoanalysis and more conventional means, a possible murder between two (fictitious) composers a generation before. It was a relief to my appetite that Tallis should choose love of music above love of Viennese pastries in this mystery. He’d had quite a sweet tooth in the previous episodes, although this time Mahler gets to share his favorite desert: Marillenknödel, apricot dumpling, and Lieberman ad-libs in a very Freudian fashion about its suggestive presentation (see here photo and recipe in English!).
As always the particular atmosphere of 1900s Vienna is very richly painted (there are notes from Tallis about his historical sources), and I find it rather nice that antisemitism, which was prevalent at the time, is part of the scenery, part of usual life without being yet another ominous sign of events to come decades later.
After my recent visit to Vienna and the movie A Dangerous Method about Jung and Freud (Litlove’s take on it here), the universe seems to put me on the track to some Freudian readings for this year. But I’m not usually one to follow straight directions, so who knows?