This month, the Sarasota cultural scene re-awakens with orchestra, opera, theater and choral performances. Not as many as in the new year, but what I’d call a mini-season. Earlier this week, we had the treat of a session on the costumes for the musical, Evita, being presented by our favorite Asolo Repertory Theater. This costume brunch featured a Skye conversation with the show’s costume designer along with commentary from the head of the costume design shop and a key member of his team. Not only are Eva’s gowns and dresses lovely, they are flawlessly constructed so that quick costume changes can be carried off on stage by other members of the cast! Very ingenious use of clips and magnets and the like! Now, I doubly can’t wait to see it all.
We also went to see and hear the Sarasota Opera’s production of La Traviata. The local maestro is a big fan of Verdi’s works, having presented all of them over the past 28 years, and this was a lovely evening. The sets were gorgeous and the singing most enjoyable. We thought that this Violetta was very good and the Alfredo, exceptionally so. I like this opera because it has fewer characters than some and one main plot line. And we saw a performance by the San Francisco Opera a few years ago which meant I was familiar with it.
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. Novels about young women during the two World Wars are plentiful these days and practically a genre in themselves. This new novel, like so many others, has parallel story lines, but takes up the topic of female spies during WWI. It’s 1947 and Charlie St. Clair, English, is unmarried and pregnant and under the influence of her mother who has her own plans for this unplanned pregnancy. Charlie, with ideas of her own, is on a quest to find her cousin Rose who has not been heard from in three years. A cryptic note takes her to London where she meets Eve, a ravaged and emotionally damaged former spy.
Charlie ends up traveling with Eve and Finn, Eve’s aide-de camp and general factotum, in her search for Rose. The Alice Network of the title refers to a group of real female spies who worked for Britain under the direction of a young Scotsman. The novel unfolds in alternating chapters between Charlie in 1947 and Eve in 1915.
It becomes a somewhat harrowing tale of danger and torture as Eve shares her experiences during both world wars, and you, the reader, come to understand why she drinks to oblivion and what she has suffered. While Charlie yearns to find her cousin, Eve is out for revenge, and over time, the two quests become intertwined in ways neither could have imagined.
Eve is a brilliantly drawn character with her stammer and her insignificant appearance. I enjoyed this novel, but, in some ways, found it more of a vehicle for relating the history of the Alice Network. The characters Alice, Violette, and Uncle Edward are based on real spies while the other three, Charlie, Eve, and Finn are the author’s creation. To me, the pairing of Charlie and Finn was not a convincing one for the long haul. (~JW Farrington)