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1894, Manhattan: il grande tenore Mario Alfieri è appena arrivato a New York per la sua prima esibizione al Metropolitan. Per sfuggire al soffocante abbraccio della buona società americana del tempo, Alfieri decide di affittare una casa a Gramercy Park, un elegante appartamento di proprietà di un certo Henry Ogden Slade, deceduto da poco. Tra le mura della casa si aggira un’affascinante diciannovenne: Clara Adler, già protetta del signor Slade e ora sola e abbandonata. Chi è la seducente ragazza? Perché Slade l’ha presa in casa con sé per poi lasciarla senza un soldo dopo la sua morte? Perché Clara si aggira pallida come un fantasma per la casa deserta? Quali tragedie ha visto e quali orrori ha dovuto sopportare?
Smart, tender, witty and titillatingly libidinous, Cohen's debut fiction is a credit to the genre of the historical novel. Set in 1894 in the eponymous Manhattan enclave at a time when Mrs. Astor ruled New York society, the novel boasts vivid characters, both sublime and nasty, and a sly and absorbing plot embroidered with period details. Mario Alfieri, the great tenor recently arrived in America for his Metropolitan Opera debut, meets "the little Jewess," 19-year-old Clara Adler, recently bereft of the rich guardian in whose home she has been mysteriously cloistered for years, and deprived of his $30-million estate. Instantly smitten with the haunted, emotionally damaged Clara, Mario dedicates himself to her well-being and never wavers in his ardor. A strength of the plot is that Clara may doubt his loyalty, but the reader never does; there are no phony tensions here. Threat lies outside their made-in-heaven marriage: Mario and Clara have implacable enemies, the Dickensian duo of Thaddeus Chadwick and Lucy Pratt, vicious connivers with knowledge of secrets in Clara's past who would rather die than see the newlyweds happy. Cohen manages to convey the wrenching beauty of Mario's voice, in part by pitching the novel as Puccini might have. Clara doesn't sing, but she is the essence of soprano; Chadwick is the pompous baritone and Lucy Pratt the sluttish alto. While somewhat operatic in formula, the narrative succeeds as suspenseful drama.