It’s probably odd for most of Susan Larson‘s fans to hear that she’s written a mystery, though the subject – Mozart – would make sense to them. After all, Susan was an opera singer before she turned to fiction. But I edited Susan’s writing before I ever heard her sing. Thanks to her expertise and her way with the written word, she worked as a stringer – a freelance classical music critic – during my tenure at the Boston Globe. That’s why I know her debut mystery, The Murder of Figaro, will be a success, and why I am happy to introduce her to you here.

How does a book start for you?

My first book started as a short story about a child’s love affair with an animal. I sold it, the magazine decided not to print, so I expanded it into a family story with the horse (my horse) as a figure of constant love, patience and loyalty.

The Murder of Figarostarted after I read a particularly awful historical murder mystery, and commented to my husband that I could write a better one. “So do it,” he said. I started right then. I picked one of my favorite humans as the protagonist and tried to turn him into a sleuth. He was not very happy about it.

Who in your latest book has surprised you most – and why?

That would be Constanze, Mrs. Mozart. She has always gotten a bad rap – she was dumb, she was avaricious, she was a woman, and a bad woman exhausted the great genius’s creative juices, etc. In the book, she evolved into a witty, talented and charming young matron, with a instinct for who ferreting facts and building a case for who dunnit and who didn’t.

When and/or where is your latest book set and is there a story behind that?

The Murder of Figarotakes place in Vienna, 1786, during production week for the world premiere of Mozart’s brilliant and controversial new opera “The Marriage of Figaro.” Anybody who was been through a production week knows that nobody has any time time to do anything else, except, perhaps, eating and sleeping. By adding a mysterious death into production week, I knew I would be pushing the protagonists, cast, crew, indeed all of musical Vienna, to the limits of their sanity. As far as they are concerned, the dead body, the reversal of verdict from suicide to murder, the sudden illness of one of the sopranos, are just getting in the way of the production. Until that body and verdict insist on taking center stage, forcing the young composer and his wife to solve the crime before the curtain goes up. 

Larson as Donna Anna in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”

I have always loved Mozart and sang everything of his that I was physically able to sing. I had the feeling he was talking to me through his music. We have the same naughty sense of humor too. I always wished I could sit in a coffeehouse with Mozart and have a good gab about music, politics, dirty jokes, anything. Hence. I made up such coffee klatches and pretended to be everybody. 

What are you working on now?

I write the occasional essay on my WordPress page. I am working on a Figaro WordPress page now.  Also short political rants on Facebook. I do some  puff pieces for Emmanuel Music and Guerilla opera, as needed. The current political situation in my beloved country and worldwide has gobsmacked me and given me a major case of anxiety.  So nothing major is incubating right now. 

Which question didn’t I ask you that I should have

The Murder of Figarois a book that loosely parallels the Mozart/Da Ponte operas. “Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro),” is the central opus, of course.  You can read this without having ever heard this opera, but for heaven sakes, it’s the best opera ever written, and it is worth the listen. If you want to see the author, me, performing in this piece, you can get the Sellars video out of the library or look for it on YouTube.  Knowing Mozart operas makes reading the book more fun, and your life more meaningful. Trust me. 

The Mozart character in the book is not like the guy in “Amadeus.” This Mozart (as revealed in his many surviving letters) is much more sophisticated; he knows how to behave himself at court, not matter what goofy pranks he pulled with his friends. He is very ambitious, quite political, and also capable of being something of a shit. 

References to Mesmerism, funeral conventions in Vienna, stage moms, the American and the upcoming French Revolutions, and Mozart’s collegial relationship with the much-maligned Salieri, pop up in the course of this book. 

Spoiler alert: Salieri didn’t do it.  

Susan Larson has been an opera star, an actress, a music teacher, a journalist, a novelist, and an easel painter. 

She was born in White Plains, New York, and made her singing debut at the age of ten. She grew up performing in church choirs, school choruses, the marching band, and, of course, the high school musical.

Larson attended Indiana University and sang lead roles at the famed Opera Theater, earning a Bachelor of Music degree.  She earned her Master’s at The New England Conservatory, and became a freelance musician based in Boston. She was a charter member of Emmanuel Music (Craig Smith, music director) and sang opera produced and directed by the distinguished auteur Peter Sellars.

Her opera videos with Sellars can be found on London Records.  They frequently pop up on YouTube.

After incurring a vocal injury, Larson worked as a music writer for the Boston Globe and other publications.

She has written one previous novel, Sam (a pastoral),about a problem kid growing up loving her horse. 

Larson lives in the leafy suburbs of Boston with her beloved biologist-humanist husband, and near her brilliant daughters and her four superior grandchildren.