Note to readers: “A Second Glance” is an opportunity, between major essays, for us to periodically go into even more detail about characters, themes, and minutiae from the Holmes canon, and also share music, film clips, artwork, and other media to enhance your Holmes reading experience.
As discussed in our essay on “A Scandal in Bohemia,” the character of Irene Adler has captured the imaginations of Holmes fans and scholars alike. Adler is described in Holmes’s biographical index as being born in New Jersey in 1858, and first coming to public attention as a talented contralto, performing in La Scala, in Milan, Italy before moving on to be prima donna at the (fictional) Imperial Opera of Warsaw. Many scholars have pointed to real life counterparts to “Scandal,” including many models for Adler, including Lola Montez, a dancer who became the lover of Ludwig I of Bavaria, Lillie Langtry, the lover of Edward, the Prince of Wales and the singer Ludmilla Hubel, alleged lover of Archduke John Salvator of Austria. In 2000, the noted Sherlockians Joanna and Catharina Polatynska explored the historical precedents Adler’s Polish exploits in an essay delivered to The Sherlock Holmes Society of Charleston, West Virginia.
In re-reading the story, we were captivated by the description of Adler, and wanted to provide our readers with an example of the type of opera Adler would have performed. There were several notable operas premiered at La Scala during the time in which Adler would have started her performing career. Above is a clip from one of them we thought was especially appropriate. Amilcare Ponchielli’s La Gioconda was first performed at La Scala on April, 8 1876, when one might imagine an 18-year old Adler would be an understudy. The recording is of the Coro e Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala, Antonino Votto conducting, and features the marvelous vocal talents of Maria Callas in the soprano role.