For episode 23, Elizabeth and Ben are joined by teacher, opera singer and Dungeon Master Myf Coghill on a trip to Ankh-Morpork’s opera house in 1994’s Discworld novel of witches, phantoms and experimental cookery: Maskerade!
Nanny Ogg finds herself in a coven with Granny Weatherwax and…no-one. She decides young Agnes Nitt – last seen dabbling in the craft while wearing black lace and calling herself “Perdita” – is just the person to fill the position – but Agnes has run off to Ankh-Morpork to join the opera, where all is not well. A mysterious “Opera Ghost” watches over every performance, and while he used to be seen as a good luck charm, he’s become demanding, dangerous and possibly deranged. “Perdita” has gotten herself mixed up in it all, thanks to her friendship with the ingenue Christine. Can she find out the identity of the Opera Ghost before the bodies start stacking up – and before Granny and Nanny stick their noses in and do it for her?
Pratchett delves into a world hitherto unknown to him and takes Granny and Nanny to the big city for their penultimate book, heavily influenced by The Phantom of the Opera, and about much more earthly matters than their previous adventures. We learn a lot about opera, Andrew Lloyd Webber and the world of publishing, and delve into Pratchett’s treatment of Agnes, a beloved character whose unflattering portrayal was the subject of many questions and comments. Did Maskerade bring out the opera fan in you? Do you think Agnes deserved better? And despite being a bit of a downer, is this one of the best Discworld books we’ve discussed so far? Use the hashtag #Pratchat23 on social media to join the conversation and let us know what you think!
We’re staying in Ankh-Morpork for Feet of Clay in October before heading back in time to explore the origins of Granny Weatherwax in November with Equal Rites. Plus our subscriber-only bonus podcast, Ook Club, has launched! You can subscribe for as little as $2 a month to check it out. You’ll find all the details on our Support Us page.
Show Notes and Errata:
- You can find Myfanwy Coghill on Twitter at @_merlenoir_.
- The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is a series of ten fantasy novels written by American author Stephen R. Donaldson between 1977 and 2013. Covenant is an author from our world who loses two fingers before being diagnosed with leprosy, shortly before his wife divorces him. When he is knocked unconscious he is transported to “the Land”, a fantasy world where he is a hero of prophecy in the conflict against the evil Lord Foul, though Thomas thinks that the Land is a delusion. The series has had a mixed critical response. If you’re going to look into them, please note our content warning: the first book contains an act of rape and this is referred to many times throughout the first trilogy.
- The English sit-com Keeping Up Appearances was a farce created by Roy Clarke (of Open All Hours and Last of the Summer Wine fame) which ran on BBC One from 1990 to 1995. It starred Patricia Routledge as Hyacinth Bucket, a woman who aspires to move among the upper class, and is desperately ashamed of her lower class family. A running gag is that she tries to have everyone pronounce her family name “bouquet”, despite the fact that her middle class husband Richard – played by Clive Swift – has always pronounced it “bucket”.
- Avengers: Endgame (2019) was the final film in the Avengers series, part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It brought together characters from the previous twenty-one Marvel films in a massive crossover, and became the highest-grossing film of all time.
- Deadpool and its sequel Deadpool 2 are films from 20th Century Fox about the titular superhero character, a mutant mercenary with rapid healing powers. While technically part of the X-Men film franchise, the films are made on a lower budget and Deadpool – who often breaks the fourth wall in the comics and is aware he is in a movie – comments on the lack of cameos from more famous actors and characters, especially Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.
- Dolores Umbridge is appointed as the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, and thus major villain, at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. She is loyal to the Ministry of Magic, even when its infiltration and corruption by Voldemort’s Death Eater followers is apparent, and conducts a Macarthy-esque witch hunt (if you’ll excuse the term in this context) to find traitors – including torturing poor Harry.
- OP is short for “Original Post” or “Original Poster” and is used in online discussion forums to refer back to the first post in a thread and its author. (OP is also used in games jargon as shorthand for “overpowered”, a description of a card, item, ability or other element in a game which is considered too powerful because it gives a player or character who possesses it an unfair edge.)
- Tuvan throat singing, also known as hooliin chor, is practiced by the Tuva people of Siberia; its most popular style, khoomei, is also found in Mongolia. It is a form of overtone singing, in which the singer manipulates their mouth, larynx and pharynx to create a second “overtone” over the top of a droning, fundamental tone, a bit like the drone of a bagpipe. This TEDx talk from Baltimore in 2016 features the Tuvan band Alash providing a traditional example.
- Permeate is actually a generic term meaning a substance that has passed through a porous or permeable membrane, as in the process of osmosis. In dairy farming, it is used to refer to the parts of milk that are not retained in the ultrafiltration process used to collect and add additional milk proteins to raw milk for making cheese. Traditionally this kind of permeate was added back to milk to increase the yield and to help standardise it – a process intended to make sure milk has consistent levels of fat, proteins, sugars and so on. This was basically all unknown outside the dairy industry until 2012, when Australian company Dairy Farmers launched a marketing campaign labelling their milk as “permeate-free“. Despite their web-site clarifying that milk permeate isn’t dangerous or unhealthy, the labelling – and a story on the current affairs program A Current Affair – gave them a short-lived edge in the market until all the other milk companies in Australia followed suit, despite the fact that smaller dairies wouldn’t have been using permeate in the first place.
- Parabens, or parahydroxybenzoates, are a group of chemicals used as preservatives in cosmetics and sometimes food thanks to their antibacterial and fungicidal properties. There’s little to no evidence that they pose any serious health risks, but they can cause (usually mild) allergic reactions in a small percentage of people. While they’re synthetically produced for commercial use, parabens do occur naturally and many synthetic parabens are identical to natural ones.
- The song “Smelly Cat” was written and performed by the character Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow) on the sit-com Friends, initially in the second season episode “The One with the Baby on the Bus”. It was popular with fans and revisited many times over the life of the show, often with celebrity musical guests – including Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders, who co-wrote the song. It’s been covered many times; Lisa Kudrow even sang it on stage with Taylor Swift in 2015.
- La Traviata (“the fallen woman”) is an 1853 opera written by Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, with a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave based on the French 1848 novel and 1852 play La Dame aux camélias, known in English as Camille, by Alexandre Dumas fils (son of the author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo). The opera follows the story of Violetta, a courtesan whose love for the young bourgeois Alfredo is thwarted by prejudice against her past.
- “Nevertheless, she persisted” has become a rallying cry and a popular meme for women showing resiliency in the face of patriarchy. The phrase became popular after US Senator Elizabeth Warren was interrupted by Mitch McConnell and other Senators while trying to read a letter sent to the Senate in 1986 by Coretta Scott King criticising Senator Jeff Sessions for limiting the voting rights of black Americans, as part of her objections to Sessions being appointed US Attorney General. The Senate voted to silence Warren on the grounds that she was breaking a Senate rule against maligning other Senators; afterwards McConnell said: “Senator Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
- Sieglinde is a major mortal character in Wagner’s opera Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), the second work in his cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring Cycle). She is based on Signy from the Norse Völsunga saga, one of the main sources for the opera. In Die Walküre, Sieglinde was separated from her brother Siegmund at birth, and they fall in love before discovering they are twins, though this doesn’t dissuade their love. Siegmund dies in a fight with Sieglinde’s husband, a king she was forced to marry, and Sieglinde wishes to die rather than live without him until the Valkyrie Brunhilde convinces her to stay alive and give birth to their son, Siegfried, who goes on to be the hero of the final two operas in the cycle, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods).
- The O.C. was an American teen television drama set in Orange County, California which ran from 2003 to 2007. We joke about not talking about it because it starred the other, more famous Ben McKenzie as Ryan Atwood, a poor, abused teen thrown out of home by his mother. Ryan is adopted by his public defender, and his struggle to fit in amongst the affluent O.C. kids was a major driver of the show’s first two seasons, though it was also very much about tempestuous relationships and love affairs and all that good high school drama stuff.
- The excerpt from La Traviata is from a 1958 performance by Maria Callas; you can find the full performance on YouTube.
- Antonio Salieri was an Italian classical composer and, famously, a contemporary and “rival” of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Though they competed for the same positions, it seems unlikely the rivalry went very far, and that they instead had mutual respect for each other. In Peter Shaffer’s 1979 play Amadeus he is the main character, presented as bitter and jealous of Mozart’s seemingly God-given talent, and he claims to have poisoned Mozart with arsenic. Rumours like this did plague the real Salieri, but historians don’t take them seriously, and the play and subsequent film have revived interest in his work. The role was originated in the West End Paul Schofield opposite Simon Callow as Mozart; in the original broadway production he was played by Ian McKellan, opposite Tim Curry. In the 1984 film version he is played by F. Murray Abraham, who won an Oscar for the role.
- Singin’ in the Rain is a 1952 American film directed and choreographed by Gene Kelly, who also stars as Don Lockwood, a humble silent film star in the 1920s during the introduction of “talkies”. Don’s insufferable leading lady, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), has a terrible voice, and has to be dubbed over by Don’s love interest, chorus girl Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds). Despite this plot point, in one scene where she is being dubbed, Jean Hagen performs both Lina’s annoying voice and Kathy’s replacement!
- The Dunning-Kruger effect is the psychological phenomenon where someone who is not good at something is likely to overestimate how good they are, while those who are good at something are likely to underestimate their ability. This is because the same knowledge and skills are required to do something and judge the results.
- Terry’s first publisher was Colin Smythe Limited, named for its founder and based in Gerrard’s Cross, Buckinghamshire. After publishing his first four books – including the first two Discworld novels – Colin became Terry’s agent in 1987, co-publishing with Victor Gollancz in the UK and representing him to larger publishers all over the world. Colin also handled all rights to Terry’s intellectual property until the founding of Narrativia, Pratchett’s own production company, now run by Rob Wilkins and Rhianna Pratchett. Colin Smythe Limited still publishes books; you can find out more about the company at colinsmythe.co.uk. The Terry Pratchett section of the site contains details of every edition of every one of Terry’s books; we’ve found it useful on a few occasions now!
- Così fan tutte, ossia La scuola degli amanti is a 1790 comic opera composed by Mozart, with a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte, of Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) and Don Giovanni fame. As Myf points out, the tutte of the title is feminine, and so rather than “so do they all” means “so do all women” – the argument of the character Don Alfonso, who believes that all women are unfaithful. (Another common translation of the full title is All Women Do It, or The School for Lovers.) Alfonso makes a bet against two military officers, who swear their fiancées, who are sisters, will be faithful to them. To prove it, the officers pretend to have been sent away to fight, then return disguised as “Albanians” to try and seduce each others’ fiancées. Alfonso bribes the sisters’ maid to help him win his bet, and the two women do eventually succumb, though they endure a false wedding to the “Albanians” and mock outrage from their fiancées before all is forgiven. In Australia, Così fan tutte is most well known from Louis Nowra’s 1992 play Cosi, in which the residents of a psychiatric hospital try to stage the opera.
- As we may have mentioned before, the character known only as Janitor in the NBC/ABC medical sit-com Scrubs was originally intended to be a figment of main character JD’s imagination. During the first season of the show he never speaks or interacts with any other characters, but the idea was scrapped.
- 21 Jump Street was a US police drama produced from 1987 to 1991 about a group of young police officers who use their ability to pass as teenagers to go undercover in high schools and colleges.
- In the sci-fi sit-com Red Dwarf, one of the main characters is the hologram Arnold Rimmer, a computer simulation of a dead man based on recordings of his memories and personality. Rimmer is famously a coward, but in the episode “Dimension Jump” the crew encounter “Ace” Rimmer, a heroic version of Arnold from an alternate universe. Before leaving on a dangerous test flight, he utters his now-famous catchphrase: “Smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast.”
- The Somebody’s Else’s Problem field originates in Douglas Adams’ third Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy book, Life, the Universe and Everything. Its basic premise is that while making something invisible is impossible, its very easy to boost peoples’ natural tendency to ignore things they find hard to accept. Thus a device that generates an SEP field can run indefinitely on a 9 volt battery.
- Die Fledermaus is a 1874 German operetta composed by Johann Strauss II, with a libretto by Karl Haffner and Richard Genée. It’s based on the German farce Das Gefängnis (The Prison) by Julius Roderich Benedix. We previously mentioned it in episode 12, as Nanny mentions “die flabberghast” when they seemingly wander into the pages of Dracula.
- Sailor Moon is the lead character in Bishōjo Senshi Sērā Mūn (Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon), a manga and anime series from Japan that debuted in 1991. Usagi Tsukino is a school girl who uses a “sailor crystal” to magically transform into Sailor Moon, one of several “sailor scouts” who use their magical powers to protect the Earth from the forces of evil. Tuxedo Mask is a man wearing…er…a domino mask and a tuxedo. He initially appears mysteriously to help the Sailor Scouts, who don’t know that he’s Usagi’s school friend and love interest Mamoru Chiba, who also has a sailor crystal.
- “Four Yorkshiremen” is a classic British comedy sketch originally written and performed for At Last the 1948 Show by Tim Brooke-Taylor, John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Marty Feldman, and was later made more famous when performed in live shows by members of Monty Python, including a performance for The Secret Policeman’s Ball featuring Rowan Atkinson. In the sketch, four wealthy Yorkshiremen compete to tell the most extreme stories of the poverty they experienced growing up.
- “NPCs” are, in the parlance of roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons, “non-player characters”: antagonist or suppoting characters played by the Dungeon Master. The name derives from “player characters” or “PCs”, meaning the characters controlled by the other players – who are usually the protagonists of the game.
- The Sydney Opera House, built on the Gadigal land of Bennelong Point in Darling Harbour, was designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, who won an international competition held by the New South Wales government in 1957. He quit the project in 1966, six years before the completed building was officially opened by the Queen in 1973. The official web site tells the story of the Opera House’s construction in depth.
- Tripod vs the Dragon was a comedy musical written and performed by Australian trio Tripod, which began life in the US as Dungeons & Dragons: the Musical. The final version debuted at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2010.
- Call Me by Your Name (2017) is a multi-award-winning film directed by Luca Guadagnino and written by James Ivory, based on a 2007 novel by André Aciman. It’s set in northern Italy in 1983, and is the coming-of-age story of teenager Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), who meets and falls in love with Oliver (Armie Hammer), a graduate-student assisting Elio’s father.
- Only wine made in the Champagne region of France is allowed to be marketed as Champagne; Australian winemakers have to do with the term “sparkling white”. At the time of recording, Australia was considering a European trade agreement which would impose similar restrictions on many other foodstuffs, include feta cheese.
- The leader of the Magi in The Mummy – the action film starring Brendan Fraser which we’ve mentioned many, many times in previous episodes – is Ardeth Bay, played by Israeli actor Oded Fehr.
- Joseph Jason Namakaeha Momoa is best known for playing Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones, but was also Ronon Dex in Stargate: Atlantis, had a go at being Conan the Barbarian, and most recently played Aquaman on the big screen. He plays the character of Duncan Idaho in Denis Villeneuve’s new film version of Dune, due in 2020.
- The character of Billy, introduced in the second season of Netflix’s hit series Stranger Things, is played by Dacre Montgomery. He has a poetry podcast called DKMH.
- We’ll hopefully get to Carpe Jugulum in 2020.
- Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is the modern term for what used to be called multiple personality disorder (MPD). The change seeks to clarify that a patient has distinct “personality states” rather than truly separate personalities, and it is far more common in films and other media than in real life. The way it is portrayed in film is seen as highly misleading and harmful by many mental health professionals, not least because most characters with DID are shown to have at least one personality which is sadistic, violent and dangerous.
- The smaller Melbourne-based opera companies mentioned are Cordelia’s Potted Operas (Facebook), GBD Productions and BK Opera.
- Norma is a 1831 Italian opera composed by Vincenzo Bellini, with a libretto by Felice Romani based on the play Norma, ou L’infanticide (Norma, or The Infanticide) by Alexandre Soumet. It’s a tragedy about Norma, a druidic priestess in Gaul during the Roman occupation (aka Asterix times), who is caught up in a love triangle with a Roman officer and her friend, another priestess. Melbourne Opera’s production opens on September 17, 2019.
- You can read all about Victorian Opera’s under 30s program on their web site.
- Amahl and the Night Visitors is a 1951 English opera in one act composed by Gian Carlo Menotti, who also wrote the libretto, originally for NBC’s Hallmark Hall of Fame program. It was the first opera written for US television, and an Australian version was broadcast in 1957. Amahl is a disabled boy whose family are visited by the three Magi, Kaspar, Melchior and Balthazar, who are seeking a place to rest on their long journey to bestow gifts on the newly born Jesus Christ.
- Lorelei is a 2018 Australian operatic cabaret composed by Julian Langdon, with a libretto by Casey Bennetto and Gillian Cosgriff. It features the Lorelei, three sirens who begin to wonder if the men they lure to their deaths really all deserve to die. It was originally staged by Victorian Opera; an Opera Queensland season opens in March 2020.