Novels with scenes set at performances?
August 4, 2016 8:48 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for prose fiction that has important scenes set at theaters/performances.

A couple of examples:
  • In Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, Archer first sees the Countess Olenska in a box at the opera.
  • In Robertson Davies's The Manticore, the protagonist start yelling from the audience at a brass head used in a magician's performance.
The novel/novella doesn't need to be primarily about performer characters; it just has to have scenes that take place during performances.
posted by HeroZero to Media & Arts (37 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
One of my favorite scenes ever is in The Plague by Albert Camus, where the actors on stage are actually dying during the death scenes.
posted by witchen at 8:50 AM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Station Eleven, By Emily St. John Mandel - the apocalypse begins for a number of the main characters during a performance
posted by slide at 8:54 AM on August 4, 2016 [8 favorites]

Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita has an important scene where Woland (who is actually the devil) puts on a "magic show" in a theater.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:55 AM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Gladys Mitchell's Death at the Opera is a murder mystery in which the attack happens between acts in the Mikado.
posted by winna at 9:06 AM on August 4, 2016

In E.M. Forster's Howards End, the character Helen attends a Beethoven concert which is the catalyst for an important relationship later on.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:09 AM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Robertson Davies's The Lyre of Orpheus has a chapter that takes place at a doctoral thesis performance of an opera...
posted by BillMcMurdo at 9:10 AM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

There's a great scene in Author Author by David Lodge where Henry James is attending a performance of a play he wrote and it does not, shall we say, go very well.
posted by holborne at 9:11 AM on August 4, 2016

Both Portrait of a Lady and The Ambassadors have scenes set in theaters, the latter particularly significant.

There are also theater scenes in Proust--they tend to blend together after a while but I believe it's Within a Budding Grove and The Guermantes Way.

There's a very painful scene at the opera in Anna Karenina.
posted by praemunire at 9:20 AM on August 4, 2016

War and Peace, Natasha goes to the opera.
posted by betweenthebars at 9:20 AM on August 4, 2016

Also: there are one or two brief scenes (more like vignettes, really) in Ian McEwen's On Chesil Beach that takes place at London's Wigmore Hall.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:21 AM on August 4, 2016

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon includes a couple of characters attending the performance of a fictional play called The Courier's Tragedy.
posted by fuse theorem at 9:34 AM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Jo Walton's Ha'Penny is about an actress, and a major scene takes place during the play.

The Eyre Affair has a great scene where a performance of Richard III is treated like Rocky Horror, with full audience participation and callbacks.

Midnight Riot (UK title Rivers of London, I believe) has a key scene that takes place in a theater.

There's a theater scene in The Picture of Dorian Gray.
posted by gideonfrog at 9:47 AM on August 4, 2016

Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies has several scenes in the theater.
posted by LKWorking at 9:59 AM on August 4, 2016

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
posted by threetwentytwo at 10:09 AM on August 4, 2016

'Trilby' by George du Maurier
'Zuleika Dobson' by Max Beerbohm
'Theatre' by Somerset Maugham
posted by mdrew at 10:18 AM on August 4, 2016

Discworld: Wyrd Sisters and Maskerade, off the top of my head.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:36 AM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Uncoupling, by Meg Wolitzer, is focused around a school production of Lysistrata while the characters are experiencing a similar phenomenon (i.e., the women lose all interest in sex).
posted by DrGail at 10:52 AM on August 4, 2016

Pamela Dean's take on the Tam Lin ballad has a few theater productions that are important, particularly The Dutchess of Malfi, Hamlet, and The Lady's Not For Burning.
posted by PussKillian at 11:00 AM on August 4, 2016

Murder onstage is sort of a trope in mysteries: Hamlet, Revenge! by Michael Innes revolves around a performance of Hamlet at a private house; and a number of Ngaio Marsh's books have theater settings & scenes.

(Also, Hamlet itself has this, but not prose fiction.)

Science fiction: Karen Lord's Best of All Possible Worlds

I thought of Mansfield Park, but I suppose they never actually perform the play.
posted by yarrow at 11:01 AM on August 4, 2016

I guess not prose but The Seagull.
posted by Pearl928 at 11:18 AM on August 4, 2016

The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard
posted by gemutlichkeit at 12:14 PM on August 4, 2016

Jane Austen's Mansfield Park doesn't feature a performance, but only because [spoiler] the father comes in and interrupts the dress rehearsal. Otherwise the theater and theatrical performance is crucial to the plot.
posted by Mchelly at 12:24 PM on August 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Agatha Christie's Sleeping Murder has a scene at a performance of Duchess of Malfi.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:35 PM on August 4, 2016

Carter Beats the Devil

Warren G. Harding!
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:49 PM on August 4, 2016

Wilkie Collins's No Name memorably commences with a family visit to the theatre and escalates from there.
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:26 PM on August 4, 2016

Oh, there are several (I believe) performances and one dramatically thwarted performance in Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus (which is about a composer).
posted by praemunire at 1:35 PM on August 4, 2016

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett has a scene at an opera.
posted by Hypatia at 2:16 PM on August 4, 2016

Oh Ann Patchett's Bel Canto -- the opera scene is essential to the entire plot!
posted by EtTuHealy at 2:35 PM on August 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

Jane Austen's Persuasion has a pretty significant scene set at a concert. The two main characters have fallen back in love with each other, but don't know it yet. There is a misunderstanding, and the heroine grows to understand that she is also being pursued by a most unsuitable man. The concert occupies the whole of Chapter 20.
posted by muddgirl at 2:54 PM on August 4, 2016

Lois Bujold's Diplomatic Immunity has a zero-g ballet performed by quaddies.
posted by Bruce H. at 3:22 PM on August 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

John Barth's Giles Goat-Boy has a scene with a performance of a play (parodying Oedipus Rex), entire script included.

Kirsten Bakis's Lives of the Monster Dogs has a (pretty good) opera libretto in it. I forget if it's complete.
posted by dfan at 6:02 PM on August 4, 2016

Ooh, a category I love:

Tipsily off the top of my head

The Magic Toyshop-
-Angela Carter
The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith--Peter Carey
Station Eleven--Emily St John Mandel
Nicholas Nickleby--Charles Dickens

Also, you're catching me after more than a few cocktails, but this pings Henry James, Edith Wharton, Tolstoy and (yes) Thomas Pynchon for me. And "Hamlet" obviously, but I'm sure you're there already.
posted by thivaia at 9:21 PM on August 4, 2016

Thanks all!

Yes, definitely looking for books/stories, not plays.

Thivaia, if you're more sober now, are there any specific Whartons you'd recommend for this, apart from The Age of Innocence?
posted by HeroZero at 7:41 AM on August 5, 2016

'Venetia' by Georgette Heyer has a fairly crucial scene featuring the main character spotting her estranged mother at the theatre. In fact, a lot of Georgette Heyer's novels feature visits to the theatre/opera.
posted by h00py at 8:20 AM on August 5, 2016

From my partner: Villette by Charlotte Brontë – there is an important passage set at the theatre, when Lucy Snowe and Dr John go to see the celebrated actress, Vashti. There is a fire at the theatre, during which Dr John meets the grown up Polly, whom he eventually marries.

Some of the (detective) novels of Ngaio Marsh have a theatre setting, e.g. Enter a Murderer, Vintage Murder, Opening Night and Light Thickens
posted by Chairboy at 2:29 PM on August 5, 2016

In addition to the theater scenes in Proust, some of the most important scenes take place while listening to chamber music in private salons.
posted by Jasper Fnorde at 10:58 AM on August 6, 2016

Not sure if it counts as an important scene (mostly since the book is so damn long), but there is a lengthy scene at an opera dress rehearsal in Fanny Burney's Cecilia.
posted by Mchelly at 8:16 PM on August 6, 2016

« Older Does therapy make you a better person or just...   |   How can I help keep my delusional, elderly parent... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.