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Novel Magic: Explore Ghostly Operas with Author Erica Miner

Ghostly Operas are on tap for this Novel Magic post. Author Erica Miner–also a noted violinist–tells us all about the inspiration for her latest mystery–Prelude to Murder.

Opera in the Ghostliest City in the US: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

by Erica Miner

Opera stories are among the bloodiest, most violent ever written. An opera house is the perfect environment for mischief and mayhem. What takes place offstage can be even more dramatic than what occurs onstage.

At the Santa Fe Opera, where Prelude to Murder, the second in my Julia Kogan Opera Mystery series, takes place, all of the above is intensified by the fact that Santa Fe is notorious for having more ghosts than any other city in the US. Santa Fe even boasts a real estate agent who calls upon a “Ghost Clearer” to make sure there are no spirits present in a house before new residents move in.

Prelude to Murder finds protagonist Julia in a double dilemma: not only is she being pursued by the ruthless killer that has invaded the Santa Fe Opera house, but also by the spooks that haunt the theatre. One of them, according to legend, is that of the company’s founder, John Crosby, whose spirit is said to remain in the theatre named after him to make sure the place is run as he intended.

A “ghost light” is left illuminated in the middle of the stage during the night to appease him and other ghosts living in the theatre.

Crosby’s continuing afterlife presence is acknowledged by other company members, such as the musicians who visit his grave every summer, drink a toast, and “talk” to him about the old days. But Julia, who is known as an intuitive only to her closest companions, experiences a fearsome sighting of Crosby’s ghost on a hillside dotted with brush and chaparral in view of the opera house. And while staying at La Posada, the hotel in which the spirit of the wife of the man who built the place in the 19th century is a permanent resident, Julia freaks out when she discovers the ghost’s name is…Julia.

The sad history of Julia Staab, the mistress of the house, her untimely demise, and her spirit’s ostensible sporadic appearances to the hotel guests heighten Julia’s profound uneasiness. She wonders how such a beautiful place as La Posada could be haunted until she remembers—it’s in Santa Fe. Her apprehension escalates when the concierge points out that photos taken of the mirror above the mantel in a room with a marble fireplace embellished with a bizarre marble cross will show a blue light reflected in the mirror that’s not visible just looking at the mirror itself. Why? Because the blue light is Julia’s ghost, which only appears in photographic images. Julia’s disquiet continues unabated from that point on.

I experienced the above in my on-site research for Prelude to Murder at the Santa Fe Opera Theatre and throughout the city. The thought of being surrounded by specters of the past intrigued and enticed me.

Myriads of operas, both historical and fictional, are populated by mysterious ghosts. Macbeth (dare I say it?) comes to mind. What better way to show the dark side of the opera world than in an opera mystery? After all, the only thing better than a great mystery is a great mystery with music.

  • Red fire-like light on theatrical stage.
  • Young woman wearing late 1800s dress and brooch. Julia Staab.
  • image of gothic hotel
  • Vintage bedroom with ghostly woman
  • Staircase in vintage home where ghost of Julia Staab appeared

Having survived her entanglement in an investigation of her mentor’s murder on the podium and a subsequent violent, life-threatening attack of a ruthless killer, young Metropolitan Opera violinist Julia Kogan is called upon for a key musical leadership position at the Santa Fe Opera. But at the spectacular outdoor theatre in the shadows of the mysterious New Mexican Sangre de Cristo Mountains, she witnesses yet other operatic murders, both onstage and off.

Dark and painful secrets emerge as, ignoring warnings from her colleagues and from Larry, her significant other, Julia plunges into her own investigation of the killing. Ghostly apparitions combine with some of the most bloody and violent operas in the repertoire to make Julia question her own motives for searching for the killer.

But this time the threat to her life originates from a source she never would have imagined.

Meet Author Erica Miner

After 21 years as a violinist with the Metropolitan Opera, Erica Miner is now an award-winning author, screenwriter, arts journalist, and lecturer based in the Pacific Northwest. Her debut novel, Travels with My Lovers, won the Fiction Prize in the Direct from the Author Book Awards.

In her Julia Kogan Opera Mystery series, Erica’s fanciful plot fabrications reveal the dark side of the fascinating world of opera. Aria for Murder, published by Level Best Books in 2022, was a finalist in the 2023 Eric Hoffer Awards.

The second in the series, Prelude to Murder, published in 2023 and glowingly reviewed by Kirkus Reviews, finds the violinist in heaps of trouble in the desert at the Santa Fe Opera. The next murderous sequel takes place at the San Francisco Opera.

As a writer-lecturer, Erica has given workshops for Sisters in Crime, the Los Angeles Creative Writing Conference, EPIC Group Writers, Write on the Sound, Fields End Writer’s Community, Savvy Authors, and numerous libraries on the West Coast.

Smiling Modern woman with long hair--Author Erica Miner
Author Erica Miner

Want More? Check out these Spooktacular Resources


Julia Staab’s restless spirit lives on at La Posada


Please drop a note to Erica in the comments. Just say Howdy or tell us about your favorite opera–haunted or not!

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