My friend and fellow music critic Fred Kirshnit gave me a novel called The Roar of the Butterflies. It’s a detective novel by Reginald Hill, an Englishman who lived from 1936 to 2012. Butterflies is part of his Joe Sixsmith series (that is, Joe Sixsmith is the detective). It was published in 2008. Fred gave it to me because it has a lot of golf in it, and I like golf.

I would like to quote a passage to you, one that relates to music:

. . . as he made his way towards the desk a small but perfectly formed young woman with a smile which could have lit up a prison cell on a cold winter’s morning intercepted him and said, ‘It’s Mr Sixsmith, isn’t it? Hi, I’m Mimi.’

He took her offered hand. It was far from frozen, but if he’d been a young romantic tenor he might have burst into song. From a middling aged, middling bald, middling middled baritone it would just be embarrassing. Anyway, she’d probably had to endure the joke a thousand times before.

He said, ‘Pleased to meet you. Sorry, I’m a bit early.’

I have met people with unusual names, names that also belong to opera characters. When I mention this to them, the information is new to them—they had no idea.

I was very, very surprised to read this. How many people know about La bohème, the opera by Puccini? How many people know that the main female character is named Mimì? How many people know that Rodolfo sings an aria to her that begins “Che gelida manina,” i.e., “What a cold little hand”?

I have met people with unusual names, names that also belong to opera characters. When I mention this to them, the information is new to them—they had no idea.

Years ago, I met a young woman named Anitra, as in “Anitra’s Dance,” as in Peer Gynt. She had no idea. She had no idea about Ibsen, Grieg, or any of it. I thought, “How could the world have kept that from her for so long?”

Anyway, The Roar of the Butterflies is a wonderful read—I ate it like candy—and here is Puccini’s aria, sung by Giuseppe di Stefano, an idol of Pavarotti, Carreras, and many more.