An Operatic Fiasco à Trois
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Published in: May-June 2023 issue.


by Ann Wadsworth
Wheatmark. 356 pages, $36.95


THE WORD “OPERA” comes from the root op, meaning to work or to produce in abundance, as in “operation” or “cornucopia.” A profusion of dramatic plots in the context of a collapsing operatic production forms the backbone of this complex and engaging novel set in Italy, where opera began. Ann Wadsworth’s Libretto is the story of two women and a man with pressing work and relationship issues that they need to resolve together. If serendipity figures in their finding each other, intention takes over, and while significant loss occurs, so does heightened connection.

            Libretto takes place in the ancient hilltop city of Perugia, capital of the Umbria region of central Italy, while the author’s first novel, Light, Coming Back, took place in her hometown of Boston. However disparate the two locales, both become the setting for major transformations. Libretto’s keenly observed details describe Perugia’s steep streets, blustery weather, cheek-by-jowl stone buildings, narrow passageways, and ubiquitous cafés. The action is said to have happened “some years ago,” but it’s hard to pinpoint precisely when. A reasonable guess might be the 1990s, as people are using computers and leaving messages on their phones (“telefoninos”), but they pull out paper address books and don’t exchange emails or search the Internet.

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Rosemary Booth is a writer and photographer living in Cambridge, MA.