A Sparkling Vintage Life

Jennifer discusses her latest novel, LOVE’S GRAND SWEET SONG, set in the world of grand opera in Chicago during World War I. 



Love’s Grand Sweet Song e-book

Love’s Grand Sweet Song softcover

Love’s Grand Sweet Song audio


“Un Bel Di” from Madama Butterfly (Puccini)

“Habanera” from Carmen (Bizet)

“Song to the Moon” from Rusalka (Dvorak)

Thank you for all your kind messages and prayers concerning my Amazing Eye Adventure (if you’re new here, I was diagnosed with ocular melanoma last fall, a rare form of cancer. My right eye was removed in November and I received a prosthetic eye in January. I’m adjusting well to mono-vision. I can pretty much do everything I did before, including driving, and of course, reading, writing, and editing. Pouring liquids can be a challenge. So can fitting keys into locks and plugs into sockets. And don’t get me started on stairs! Walking up is fine; walking down looks like a toboggan run. Even so, my depth perception is getting better all the time. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

I love my new prosthetic eye, which I’ve nicknamed “Iris”! Check out these photos to see the progression:


Welcome to A Sparkling Vintage Life, where we talk about all things vintage and celebrate the grace and charm of an earlier era. I’m your host, Jennifer Leo, and it’s March 18, 2024 as I record this. And we’re at episode number 40.

In writing and publishing news, I’ve just released Love’s Grand Sweet Song, which is now available in ebook and softcover formats on Amazon, and also on selected retailers as an audiobook. I’ll put links in the shownotes at jenniferlamontleo.com.

Love’s Grand Sweet Song is set in the world of grand opera in Chicago in and around World War I. It’s the third in the Windy City Hearts series, but is really a standalone book, meaning you don’t have to have read the other books in the series to enjoy this one. The Windy City Hearts series is loosely connected by the Chicago setting, the early 20th century time period, and each book features a strong female protagonist overcoming hardship through the help of faith, friends, and family. This means that you can read the books in any order, as the stories themselves aren’t connected. So you can start with Love’s Grand Sweet Song, or with Moondrop Miracle, or with The Rose Keeper. If you enjoy them, and I hope you will, I’d appreciate it if you’d leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads or wherever you get your books. Reviews are pure gold to authors in terms of getting our little books noticed in the ocean of books available. So thanks in advance for leaving a review.

As I mentioned, Love’s Grand Sweet Song is set in the world of grand opera in the nineteen-teens. The main character, Francie, is a waitress in a small Midwestern college town. Born into poverty, she doesn’t have much going for her  except for a glorious singing voice. And from that brief description you can probably guess the trajectory of where the story’s going. I promise you, it’s a tale of dreams come true and dreams crushed, of romance and heartbreak, of serious missteps and second chances. Above all, it’s a story of faith, and what it means to be a Christian trying to make a living in the demanding world of the arts, specifically opera.

I’ll admit, I get a fair amount of eye-rolling and nose-wrinkling when I tell people what the story’s about. Some people ask, “Why opera?” Well, for one thing, I happen to like opera! Some of it, anyway. Some of the beautiful arias, especially. My parents loved opera, so I grew up listening to it on records or on the radio (shout out to WFMT in Chicago). On many a lazy Saturday morning, I woke up to a blast of opera from the stereo if my father thought I’d slept in long enough. For my birthday one year–I couldn’t have been more than 8 or 9 years old–I asked for and received a recording of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado. I played it over and over and pretended to be the character Yum-Yum. If you don’t know it, look it up. And don’t judge.

Another reason I set the story around opera is that, in the time period of the book, opera was in the public eye much more than it is today. In those pre-Hollywood, pre-television days, some opera stars were like the Kardashians of their day, up to all sorts of hijinks and drama offstage as well as on. So it was fun to write about that world and some of its larger-than-life personalities.

There’s a lot more to the story in Love’s Grand Sweet Song, including threads tied more directly to the Great War. But today I wanted specifically to talk to you about the opera part, in case you’re one of the nose-wrinklers. I want to encourage you to give opera a chance–not only in my book, but in real life.

The word “opera” is the Italian word for “work,” like a work of art. It’s simply an art form that tells a story through music and singing. Opera was born in the 1600s in Europe–Venice, to be exact–and so a lot of it is in the languages of continental Europe. Italian, French, and German, Czech, and others. There is not one single opera style–there are many styles, some light, some heavy, some romantic, some comedic, some tragic. You might love Puccini, for example, as I do, and dislike Wagner, as I do . . . or vice versa.

If you’re ready to give opera a try, I suggest starting by listening to an aria or two, rather than an entire opera start-to-finish. An aria is a song written for one singer or perhaps a duet. You can readily find some examples on YouTube by searching for “aria”. I’ll link to some of my favorites in the show notes at jenniferlamontleo.com/podcast, episode 40.

Read a summary of the story, so you can understand the gist of what’s going on. Then, as you listen, follow along with an English translation of the song, easily found on Google by typing the name of the aria and “English translation.” When you hit on an opera or composer you like, see if you can find the whole opera on video.

When you’re ready to attend your first live opera, you may be surprised that it’s a much less intimidating experience than its sometimes portrayed in movies and on TV. For example, many opera companies nowadays project English subtitles, so you always understand what’s being sung. You can also read a plot synopsis ahead of time, if you want to (and doing mind potential spoilers). And the rules are no more strict than they are for any live performance: sit quietly, pay attention, don’t play on your phone, and don’t talk to your neighbor or, heaven help you, try to sing along.

For fun, I looked up the “rules” for going to the opera in an etiquette book published in Boston in 1860. The book is “Ladies’ Book on Etiquette” by Florence Hartley.

“At the opera you should wear full dress, an opera cloak, and either a head-dress, or dressy bonnet of some thin material. Your gloves must be of kid, white, or some very light tint to suit your dress. Many dress for the opera as they would for the theatre; but the beauty of the house is much enhanced by each lady contributing her full dress toilette to the general effect.

If you go to the dressing-room, leave your hood and shawl in the care of the woman in waiting, whom you must fee when she returns them to you.

If you do not wish to go to the dressing-room, allow your escort to take off your shawl or cloak, and throw it over the back of the seat. As your opera cloak must be light enough to keep on all the evening, though you may throw it open, you must wear over it a heavier cloak or a shawl. Throw this off in the lobby, just before you enter your box. Your gloves you must keep on all the evening.

Avoid handling the play bills, as the printing ink will soil your gloves in a few minutes, making your hands appear very badly for the rest of the evening.

You should be in your seat at the opera before the overture commences.

[175]Never converse during the performance. Even the lowest toned remark will disturb a real lover of music, and these will be near you on all sides. Exclamations of admiration, “Exquisite!” “Beautiful!” or “Lovely!” are in the worst taste. Show your appreciation by quiet attention to every note, and avoid every exclamation or gesture.

In our new opera houses there are rooms for promenade, and between the acts your escort may invite you to walk there. You may accept the invitation with perfect propriety. He will leave the box first and then offer his hand to you. In the lobby take his arm, and keep it until you return to the box. If you have taken your cloak or shawl to your seat, leave them there during your promenade. Return to your seat when the gong sounds the recall, that you may not disturb others after the next act commences.

In walking up and down in the promenading saloon, you may pass and repass friends. Bow the first time you meet them, but not again.

If you meet your gentlemen friends there, bow, but do not stop to speak. They may join you for once round the room, then allow them to leave you. Your escort will feel justly offended if you allow any other gentlemen to engross your attention entirely when he has invited you to the entertainment.”

Sheesh! No wonder people think the opera is stuffy! Times have changed.

These days, although many people dress up for opening night, for most performances you can wear whatever you like. And you certainly don’t need to cling like a barnacle to the arm of your escort. In fact, you don’t even need an escort, unless you want one.