p291, Corgi PB (British) The bowl of caviare flew out of his nervous fingers and caused a Fortean experience somewhere in the stalls.
Fort was an American journalist who made a lifetime's study of weird and strange events, searching newspaper archives in both the USA and Great Britain for anomalous stories that could not easily be fitted into any known category. He started out merely suspecting, but later came to believe, that contrary to what we are all continually told, science cannot explain everything that happens, and quite often, the scientific explanation for a strange event, when analysed, will be as full of holes as a Swiss cheese. One of the earliest newspaper clippings that confirmed his belief that weird, random, and seemingly impossible things happen, and the explanations advanced to explain them can often be less than convincing, is the one described as the Phantom Fishmonger of Cromer.
One day in 1897, the good folk of Cromer, Norfolk, were awoken by the steady patter and rattle of what felt like hail. To their consternation, a steady fall of whelks, mussels, prawns, crabs and some lobsters was apparently coming out of the sky, as the out-of-plaice seafood was rattling on roofs and falling from the roofs into the street.
As Cromer is a fishing port with a speciality in shellfish, the first explanation advanced by Authority was that a fishmonger had taken leave of his senses, and in a temporary madness had been running the streets of Cromer throwing his stock up onto peoples' roofs, with such intensity that many slates were broken and caused to fall. But nobody had seen this mad fishmonger, and in any case, the sheer volume of shellfish was too much for one man to carry. and as Fort pointed out, all the fishmongers of Cromer were hard-headed and very sane small businessmen, who would not have dreamt of disposing of valuable stock like this. When an alternative was proposed, that a freak tornado might have begun out in the North Sea and passed inland, disgorging the sea life it had picked up as its intensity faded, this was laughed at as being utterly incredible... despite the fact East Anglia is England's answer to Tornado Alley in the USA. (British tornados are smaller, slighter, and more genteel)
The term "Fortean Experience" has, since Cromer, passed into the vocabulary largely to describe mysterious rains of fish from the heavens... mysterious rains of fish also occur in Jingo and Good Omens.
The story is an obvious parody of The Phantom of the Opera, which was originally a novel but better known for the 1986 musical version created by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The character of Walter Plinge (especially the berets he wears) is a reference to Frank Spencer, a character in the 1970s British sitcom Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em. The actor who played Frank was Michael Crawford, who went on to play the Phantom in the original version of Webber's musical.
When Death is trying to persuade the reluctant swan to sing just once - everyone knows the well-known fact that a swan will sing only once in its life, just before it dies (hence swan-song, a last defiant flourish of life just before The End. Not just a shout-out to the ballet Swan Lake, but take a closer look at what the swan actually sings translated out of Überwaldean.
Schneide meinen eigenen Hals
Or: I'm cutting my own throat.....
Also of interest: the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote about the swansong with these lines:-
Swans sing before they die - 'twere no bad thing Should certain persons die before they sing.
Does this subtly presage Christine? Or the whole general area of death at the Opera?
The character of Christine - an appalling opera singer who can get nothing right and who is convinced of her own talent, despite sounding appalling - may be based on American socialite Florence Foster Jenkins, a rich but untalented amateur who used her money and connections to rent the Carnegie Hall to prove her ability to a sceptical world. [] describes her as an American amateur operatic soprano who was known, and ridiculed, for her lack of rhythm, pitch, tone, aberrant pronunciation of libretti, and overall poor singing ability. (Since made into a movie starring Meryl Streep in the title role, Hugh Grant, and Simon Helberg).
The Opera, as was, ends with Agnes Nitt's last defiant song of rage that effectively discharges the accumulated almost-magic and sets the stage for a new era of light operetta and musicals.
It ain't over until the fat lady sings....
Just a thought here on a visual gag. Nanny Ogg as ballerina. On the Muppet Show, wasn't there a running gag where Miss Piggy would insist on the prima ballerina spot, and as "Ballerina Pig" would act as much the same sort of highly visible sack of bricks in a tutu?
It has also been suggested that the often-tense relationship between Roundworld chanteuses Mama Cass Elliot and Michelle Phillips is reflected in the Discworld, when Agnes Nitt, by far the better voice which carries the act, but with the homely look, has to stand back and let the less vocally talented but more visually attractive Christine take centre-stage... the Mamas and the Papas were built around the voice of the homely Mama Cass and the visible beauty of Michelle Phillips. Mama Cass had a very high IQ and could have gone into the family professions of medicine or academia. Michelle, by all accounts, was a "typical blonde". AND there's a Creek Alley in Ankh-Morpork. So somebody made the connection....
The description on p. 213 of Death's outfit when he comes to claim Salzella is a dead-on description of the Phantom's outfit in the Masquerade scene of Phantom of the Opera. Though the Phantom generally wears a mask covering half his face and black evening dress, in this scene, he wears all-red and a full-on skull mask - just as Death does here.
Some other annotations
Granny Weatherwax: "...turned back to the stage. There was a tingling in her thumbs. She looked at the chandelier."
The Scottish play, Second witch: "By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes" - Apparently it's a witch thing.
Peccadillo and Iodine: A peccadillo (cf Mozart's Papageno) is a "small sin", frequently having sexual connotations. Iodine is a chemical most commonly used as a topical antiseptic (perhaps needed after your peccadillo?).
Dame Violetta Gigli: Although Sir Terry delights us by making up amusing names, there actually was a tenor by the name of Gigli (Beniamino Gigli).