Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Diva"

One would not likely expect an homage to The Phantom of the Opera from The Wild Wild West, much less that it would be one of the best episodes of the series, but it turns out to be so on both counts. When I earlier labeled the fourth season as wonderfully weird, “The Night of the Diva” was one of the episodes foremost in my thoughts.

On his return trip from Washington, Artie is asked by Ulysses S. Grant to escort Rosa Montebello, a famous opera singer and the daughter of the Italian ambassador, to her performance in New Orleans. Artie receives an invitation to a better gig, so Jim offers to escort her instead. Good thing, too, as he is able to foil her kidnapping by a group called the Club of Lucia.

Unbeknownst to our heroes, two other opera divas who have performed as Lucia in New Orleans have disappeared in recent times. That certainly would have been helpful to know beforehand, no? The two agents assume Montebello is still in danger of being kidnapped, so they pursue the secret members of the Club of Lucia.

Their investigation leads them to the Crenshaw brothers. One is active in the business side of opera. The other is a recluse who wears a Greek theater mask to hide his identity. Both are tied to a fire in the opera house years before which killed the great opera diva, Caroline Mason.

Or did it? In one of my favorite twists, the masked Crenshaw is the real Mason. Her vocal cords were damaged in the fire, giving her a male voice, thereby ruining her singing career. She has been kidnapping singers who attempt to perform as Lucia, her favorite role, hoping to recapture her past glory. Mason keeps the singers in giant bird cages in her basement (this is The Wild Wild West, after all.) while forcing them to perform Lucia until they get it right. Which is never, of course.

“The Night of the Diva” is completely demented. I love every minute of it even though I know next to nothing about opera. It is one of the few episodes where the twist comes as a real surprise. It is definitely one of the best episodes of the series.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

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