Saturday, June 23, 2018

Erica Miner talks about her new novel, Death by Opera

INTERVIEW with novelist Erica Miner


LA Opus contributor Erica Miner posted her first article for this journal in December of 2013. It was a remembrance of her years as a violinist in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and especially her work with America's most famous classical musician, Leonard Bernstein. Miner later made a transition from performance to writing about music, as both reviewer and novelist. She has by now published two novels in a genre one could describe as "opera murder whodunits." The setting of her first, 2010’s Murder in the Pit, was New York's Metropolitan Opera. This spring her second one, Death by Opera, takes place in Santa Fe. LA Opus Publisher Rodney Punt talks to Miner about her life and her latest murder mystery.

Punt: Let’s open the discussion with your earlier career as a violinist. What led you to gravitate to opera orchestras, and how did you end up at the most famous pit orchestra in the world, that of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra?

Miner: Opera has always been a part of my life. When I was a kid, my mom used to listen to the Met radio broadcasts every Saturday. I was more interested in violin solo and orchestral music at the time, but the opera definitely filtered in. After graduating from university, I moved to New York with my then-husband who was an opera conductor. We were doing a production of Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia with Bel Canto Opera, a small ensemble in the city. Steuart Bedford, who was conducting Britten’s Death in Venice at the Met, came to one of our performances. He was impressed with my playing of a super difficult violin solo in the Britten, and invited me to audition for the Met with its concertmaster, Raymond Gniewek. I sight-read the prelude to Act 3 of Wagner's Siegfried, to his great satisfaction. That’s how it all began.

Punt: Tell us something of your professional and friend relationship with the late Leonard Bernstein, whom the world is celebrating in his centennial year of 2018. 

Miner: Like many other kids who grew up in the latter half of the 20th Century, I was glued to Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts on TV, but I never dreamed I’d actually someday work with him. That opportunity came when he took over as head of the Berkshire Music Center (now the Tanglewood Music Center), the celebrated training program for young musicians that was started by Bernstein’s mentor, Serge Koussevitsky, in the 1940s. I had the great fortune that summer to be sitting right at the front of the first violin section in the student orchestra, where I could see Lenny’s every gesture, mannerism and raise of the eyebrow. Learning and performing Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9 with Bernstein was unforgettable, a life changing experience. But because my then-husband was one of Lenny’s conducting students, I also got to hang out with the maestro and other students  outside of the concert hall. He would give us rides around the Tanglewood grounds in his big boat of a car, often along with his kids Jamie, Alex and Nina. He gave parties for his students as well -- he was so committed to his teaching, so inspiring in every way. Later, when I was at the Met, he came to conduct, and I was able to spend some time with him. On those occasions, and in other encounters, he always remembered me, always knew details about my life, my family. He had an astonishing memory. He just loved people.

Punt: Why and how did you make the transition from playing violin at the Met Opera to writing opera mysteries, music reviews, and interviews?

Miner: I had always written, since I was a kid. I actually started writing in elementary school, even before I played the violin, when I was placed in an afterschool program for creative writing. I found that I loved writing; it became a lifelong passion. When I started playing at the Met I kept writing and took writing classes whenever I could fit them into my schedule. A car accident -- in which I injured my hands -- spelled the end of my professional music career. I then went back to my love of writing as a creative outlet. I began by writing screenplays, then progressed to novels. It occurred to me that with the usual rumors of goings-on at the opera house, some true, some fictitious, I could write a knockout of a mystery novel. In the world of fiction, one can do away people who make life miserable. After that first novel, Murder in the Pit, was published, I started getting offers to write music reviews and interviews online. Since then, I’ve been blessed to meet and chat with some of the music world’s luminaries. I try to strike a balance between fiction and non-fiction writing; but no matter what kind of writing I do, it’s always about music in some way or another.

Punt: Tell us about your latest novel, Death by Opera. Is it a sequel to Murder in the Pit? What was your inspiration for writing it? And why the Santa Fe setting?

Miner: Death by Opera is the first sequel to Murder in the Pit. There are others in the planning stages. I was inspired by requests of the readers of the first novel. One of them thought the protagonists -- a young Met Opera violinist and her cohort, an NYPD detective -- were great, and that I should send them off on a new adventure. But I honestly didn’t know where to send them, until another fan, who was eagerly awaiting a sequel, suggested I set it at the Santa Fe Opera. It made perfect sense, for a number of reasons. First, over the years many Met Opera musicians have gone to Santa Fe to play at the opera there for the summers. Second, the setting and atmosphere in Santa Fe, as I discovered last summer when I went there to research the book, are unique. There’s an air of mystery there -- in its mysticism, spirituality, rich history and many ghost stories handed down over the generations. And most of all the opera house itself is a spectacular outdoor venue, with glorious sunsets and sudden thunderstorms adding their own operatic effect. I couldn’t ask for a more fantastic setting.

Punt: Is this latest novel of interest mainly to opera lovers and musicians, or can general audiences also identify with it?

Miner: As I’ve discovered in the book signings so far, this book is of interest to everyone: opera lovers and musicians, of course; but anyone who loves a good mystery will enjoy the read, as will just general readers of fiction. There’s a lot to love about opera. It’s wonderful. It’s fun. It can also ..... kill you. But that’s another matter entirely. You’ll have to read the books to find out more about that! 


Note: Erica Miner's new novel, Death by Opera, is available on all formats at She will be also reviewing some of the Santa Fe Opera productions next month for LA Opus.

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