The 18th Discworld novel, and the fourth or fifth in the 'witches' theme. Its purpose within the theme is to bridge Lords and Ladies and Carpe Jugulum, which it does by means of an extended parody of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical version of The Phantom of the Opera.With the loss of Magrat to her royal calling, Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax find themselves with a coven of two. Their eye falls on the expansive Agnes Nitt, who prefers calling herself Perdita X Dream (or, as the women of Lancre say, "that girl who calls herself Perditax"). Agnes, though, has no interest in witches, and wants to be an opera singer. Stealing away to Ankh-Morpork, she soon finds herself (and her amazing voice) as a vocal understudy to the skinnier but much dumber and less melodious Christine.As it turns out, opera is much less about singing and more about superstition, mysterious strangers coming out of mirrors, vicious murders, and catty sniping. Oh, and losing buckets of money, much to the chagrin of the opera's owner. As it just so happens, Nanny and Granny have their own business in Ankh-Morpork, and are not above giving young Agnes a hand, regardless of whether she wants it or not.Preceded by Interesting Times, followed by Feet of Clay. Preceded in the Witches series by Lords and Ladies, followed by Carpe Jugulum.
Alan Smithee: "Walter Plinge" is used as a pseudonym in the playbill for actors playing multiple parts in a show. The real-life Walter Plinge was said to be a pub owner in London who a group of actors honored by using his name in this manner.
Arbitrary Skepticism: Throughout the book, Granny criticizes people for not being this, assuming that she uses magic to block a sword when she may well have had a bit of metal in her palm. As it happens, she did use magic (though she only used magic to delay it; the sword still hurt her, but not at such a critical time, both practically and for appearances), but that's not the point. Another example is a man assuming she used magic to know it was him at the door (which in fact she had) when she had a window.
Arc Words: Granny asking people the question "If your house was on fire, what would you take out?" She finds out that Walter Plinge thinks in an unusual, but not evil, manner when he replies: "The fire!"
"Has anyone got an opener for a bottle of beer? ... Has anyone got something to drink a bottle of beer out of? ... Good. Now, has anyone got a bottle of beer?"
Awesome McCoolname: Perdita X. Dream, the name Agnes gives to herself. The "X" just stands for "Someone who has a cool and exciting middle initial", and the earthy folk of Lancre just don't get it, calling her "That girl who calls herself Perditax".
Balancing Death's Books: While the witches are staying with a farming family, both their son and one of their cows fall ill. Destiny says the child should die and the cow should live, but Granny plays Death at poker for the chance to make it the other way around.
Barehanded Blade Block: Granny pulls this at the very end when she blocks Salzella's sword, but it carries a price—she has to allow the hand to become injured afterward.
Batman Gambit: The scene where Granny Weatherwax decides to go to Ankh-Morpork (which involves, among other things, misdelivered letters, Granny berating Nanny Ogg, Nanny being cheated out of five thousand dollars, a humorous cookbook, Nanny being repentant and embarrassed for pretty much the entire conversation, and Granny being her usual take charge self) has its entire impact changed by the last line:
Beware the Nice Ones: Nanny Ogg, "a mind like a buzzsaw behind a face like an elderly apple". Sharp remarks from her are described like 'being bitten by a friendly dog'.
Unsurprisingly, Granny Weatherwax. She stitches up the injuries of the muggers who tried to attack her. What she needed was a sharp, fresh needle and some alcohol, but sadly, all she has is a rusty, blunt one and some ditchwater.
Granny(holding up the needle, while a mugger stares at it, whimpering): Now... let's do some good.
Bilingual Bonus: The swan's line from Lohenshaak's "Pedlar's Song" translates as "I'm cutting my own throat", which is both a Dibbler reference and an accurate description of what the swan does by singing it.
Henry Slugg, singing in the bathtub, segues between English and Italian versions of "Show Me The Way To Go Home".
Born in the Wrong Century: It's said that Agnes was born 20 years too late, rather than back when your voice mattered more than your looks and everyone had a build like her; indeed, every one of the greats had names that were puns for how fat they were.
To drive this home, there is more than one scene where characters who truly love the music lament that now a woman has to look like Christine to star in opera and the music has to be slipped in somehow.
Brick Joke: From four books ago. In preparation for his wedding to Magrat, Verence tried to get a book on "marital arts", but ended up with one on martial arts instead. Apparently he has since succeeded, since Nanny found such a book in the castle and spent a few minutes drawing mustaches on all the illustrations.
Chandelier Swing: When Greebo is chasing the Opera Ghost around the Opera House.
Chess with Death: As usual Death dislikes the traditional game, so Granny challenges him to a hand of poker instead for a boy's life. She wins, though it's implied that Death let her, because he's on our side. Death had four ones—an ace can either be counted as below the deuce or above the king. She also fixes his arm for him with her chiropractic know-how.
Although there is also the implication that he was simply scared of her. She admits that, if she had lost, the first thing she would have done would be to break his arm.
Continuity Nod: Obscure, but Mr. Bucket's remark about "a dreadful bend in the road" might be referring to Dead Man's Curve, where Susan's parents and Mr. Clete were killed in road accidents in Soul Music.
Also, several to Lords and Ladies, such as the brief mention of another Carter son named after a vice, Deviousness Carter.
The happy greetings Granny Weatherwax receives when she and Nanny Ogg show up at Mrs. Palm's looking for a place to stay while in the city, due to all the witching she did for them back in Equal Rites. (Much to Nanny's astonishment, who assumes Granny doesn't realize the place is a brothel.)
There's a mention of how the show went on even when a dragon was roosting on the roof of the opera house, which happened in Guards! Guards!.
At least one of the girls who Nanny dismisses as no longer qualified to replace Magrat was one of Lucy 'Diamonda' Tokley's friends in the previous book. (She appears in the next, too, if you remember her from this mention.)
Contrived Coincidence: Played for laughs when someone's long-lost love shows up at the very end, with no real impact on the plot. Hey, that's how opera works.
Corpsing: A blink-and-you'll-miss-it subversion towards the end, when Andre, the Cable Street Particular who'd been investigating the goings-on at the opera house, mentions that Salzella's cooling body needs to be dealt with.
Deadly Dodging: The Ghost uses this tactic against some muggers threatening Granny Weatherwax and Mrs. Plinge, dodging and weaving so much the muggers end up stabbing each other.
Does Not Like Spam: Basilica has gotten incredibly sick of pasta, but he can't tell anyone he hates it because it's part of his makeover as a singer from Brindisi.
Doing It for the Art: In-Universe example: Salzella tells Mr. Bucket this is the reason why anyone produces opera, as it makes no money. It turns out he's lying through his teeth, as he's stealing all the profits and actually hates opera with a passion.
Don't Fear the Reaper: Granny plays poker with Death for child's life. She gets four queens, he gets four aces... but decides to declare "I lose, all I have is four ones" with a wink.
Dude, Not Funny!: In-universe example. Salzella makes several jokes about people who have just been murdered; Mr. Bucket finds them distasteful.
Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Mrs. Plinge tries to invoke this when she and Granny are attacked by thieves: "Oh, please don't hurt us, kind sirs, we are harmless old ladies! Haven't you got mothers?" One of them responds: "I 'ad a mother once. Only I think I must of et 'er..."
Exact Words: The "Departure" aria Agnes sings at one point is described as being about how hard it is for a character to leave the man she loves. It turns out the lyrics literally translate into a complaint about a stuck door.
Fainting: Christine is a master of feminine fainting.
Not just Christine—at one point, it's noted that some of the ballerinas faint "carefully, so as not to get their clothes dirty."
Falling Chandelier of Doom: Subverted, and in fact defied. Everyone says that the chandelier is an accident waiting to happen. But despite the villain's best efforts (and thanks to the intervention of Nanny Ogg), it doesn't happen.
Fauxreigner: Brindisian tenor Enrico Basilica—once known as Henry Slugg of Ankh-Morpork, because you can't sing opera with a name like "Henry Slugg".
Flynning: Shown and mentioned between the two ghosts, until it becomes deadly real.
Except, in true Discworld fashion, they're still just Flynning.
Foreshadowing: Henry Slugg from Ankh-Morpork becomes Enrico Basilica from Brindisi, because "the trick is to make sure that everywhere you go, you are from somewhere else." Later, Andre claims that he "...used to teach music to the Seriph's children in Klatch" indicating he isn't who he claims to be.
There's also a fragment from a song in German, "Schneide meinen eigenen Hals" - not translated in the text, but means "cut my own throat". Fans won't be surprised, because the song is called "The Pedlar's Song".
Christine (to Agnes): Perdita, dear? It did seem to me you were signing the teensiest bit loud, dear! I'm sure it must have been a little difficult for everyone to hear me.
The Joy of X: Nanny Ogg's book of rather suggestive recipes. ("Suggestive" in the form of yelling through a megaphone, mind.)
Lampshade Hanging: Plenty, of course, but the stand-out is the end of Salzella's death rant:
"... and the worst thing about opera is the way everyone takes... such!!! ... a!!!! long!!!!! time!!!!! ... to!!!!! ...argh...argh...argh...." (dies)
Large Ham: Christine is this. She has all the qualities of a modern-day prima donna. Modern as in she looks good, is overly dramatic and can faint on cue. As opposed to a traditional prima donna who merely had to have an amazing voice.
Live Mink Coat: Nanny wears her cat around her neck at the opera. Someone later complains that her fur stole is eating their chocolates.
Magic Music: Technically defied on Discworld, according to Nanny Ogg:
Music and magic had a lot in common. They were only two letters apart, for one. And you couldn't do both.
Make Me Wanna Shout: Frustrated and finally sick of the hypocrisy of the opera house, Agnes lets out a scream so high she breaks glass, splinters wood, distorts metal and just generally does a good deal of damage to the building.
Masquerading As The Unseen: As Granny is quick to lampshade, the only reason people recognize the Ghost is because he wears a mask.
You can recognize him because he's got a mask on? You recognize him because you don't know who he is?
Mugging the Monster: Subverted; Granny and Mrs. Plinge are threatened by some muggers, but before Granny can open up a can of whup-ass on them, the Ghost does it for her.
Mundane Utility: Borrowing is one of Granny's greatest skills in witchcraft, the ability to ride in another being's consciousness, see what it sees, and hear what it hears. At one point, she borrows Nanny Ogg...so she can see herself as she puts her hat back on and adjusts it. Nanny then questions why she doesn't just use a mirror.
"Do tell me about yourself!!" "I'm from somewhere up in the mountains you've probably never heard of..." She stopped. A light had gone off in Christine's head, and Agnes realized that the question had been asked not because Christine in any way wanted to know the answer but for something to say. She went on: "...and my father is the Emperor of Klatch and my mother is a small tray of raspberry puddings." "That's interesting!" said Christine, who was looking at the mirror. "Do you think my hair looks right?!"
Obfuscating Stupidity: Commander Vimes does this off-screen. He sends Detritus and Corporal Nobbs to act as "undercover officers" in the last act of the book. The attention on them leaves the real undercover officer, André, free to get on with things.
Only Sane Man: Agnes seems to be the only one thinking sensibly about things at the opera house, which only helps her feel alienated at first.
Salzella believed himself to be this: "You don't know what it has been like, I assure you, being the only sane man in this madhouse!!"
Painting the Medium: Christine's dialogue always ends in either "!?" or "!!" because she's just that excited about everything. In all other dialogue, multiple exclamation marks are a sign of Sanity Slippage.
Pimped-Out Dress: One specially made for the dowager duchess of Quirm, that fits Granny perfectly.
Red Herring: André's suspicious behaviour rouses in the reader the suspicion that he might be the Ghost, until it's revealed that he is a policeman.
Retcon: This is the only Discworld book that runs on the rule that (ordinary) iron cannot be magicked (there are many examples of it being magicked in other books, and in Witches Abroad Nanny specifically notes that they can't magic a lock open because it's octiron).
There is a mention in Wyrd Sisters as well; Nanny can't magic the torture implements that are made of iron.
Self-Made Man: Mr. Bucket is described as "a self-made man who is proud of his handiwork."
"Walter Plinge" is a real-life pseudonym used by actors who don't want to be associated with early minor parts (similar to "A.N. Other") and the character's description clearly evokes Frank Spencer from Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em (Michael Crawford, the first actor who played the musical version's Phantom, was once best known for that role).
The troll name for Granny Weatherwax ("She Who Must Be Avoided") is a reference to the H. Rider Haggard novel She and the eponymous character "She Who Must Be Obeyed".
Death's All I have is four ones. could be a reference to a Bugs Bunny cartoon, featuring Bugs lamenting in a game of poker that he only has 'a pair of ones... and another pair of ones.'
After Salzella's demise, Death comes to collect him. However, unlike his other appearances, he is bedecked much like the Phantom of the Opera in the masquerade scene of the musical: head to toe red evening dress. It also includes a cartoonishly unnecessary paper mask of a skull. But one must suppose you have to put a Masque on a Red Death.
This Is Reality: When it's revealed near the end that Henry Slugg's old flame is in the audience (and he's the father of her son), Agnes complains loudly that that sort of thing does not happen in real life. The rather more Genre Savvy Nanny Ogg replies "Happens all the time in opera."