by Robert J. Bousquet, a New Jersey
Sherlockian with a passion for opera.

As published on Page 19 of the
journal shown at left, with permission
of the publisher and author.


While the presence of Irene Adler pervades the Canon, not to mention pastiches and motion pictures, she appears in only one work,

A Scandal in Bohemia. Although the King of Bohemia pro­vides Holmes with background information regarding her past exploits and present character, he seems, at the very least, a quite biased source of data. Indeed, Holmes's index may be the only source of impartial, but scarce, information:

·        born in New Jersey in 1858

·        contralto

·        sang at both La Scala (in Milan) and the Imperial Opera of Warsaw

·        considered to be the Prima Donna of the latter

·        retired from the operatic stage

·        living in London.

Because of my interest in opera, I attempted to determine what roles Ms. Adler performed during her brief operatic career. Given that she was born in 1858 and scholars date the events of this story be­tween 1887 and 1889, she was approximately 30 years old and should have been at the peak of her singing career. But more of this later.

It may be helpful to provide some back­ground information. La Scala, or more correctly Teatro alla Scala (right), is a World-famous opera house located in Milan, Italy. It was opened on August 3, 1778, renovated in 1838, and remodeled in 1867. Its reputation was established in the early 19th century when major works of Donizetti, Meyerbeer, and


Rossini received their world premiere there. Al­though it was heavily damaged during WWII, it was reopened and expanded in 1946. During the 1950's and 1960's, its name was con­nected to a noteworthy series of operatic recordings, mainly of the operas composed by Donizetti, Bellini, Verdi, and Puccini, starring Maria Callas.

Locating the Imperial Opera of Warsaw was a daunting task. In 1725, the first public theater in Poland was opened in Warsaw. Before this time, operas were performed in the homes of the afflu­ent. In 1748, this theater was expanded by King Augustus III, an opera lover who spent a great deal of money on lavish productions. In 1779, the National Theater was opened. However, as a result of the partitioning of Poland in 1795, the royal opera ceased to exist. Therefore, it would appear that while Ms. Adler may have per­formed with an opera company in Warsaw, it was not named the Imperial Opera.


While her career may have been brief, the evidence indicates that her talents were well above average. While today the term prima donna is applied to females who get their way or make everyone else's life miserable, the

term literally means "first lady" (of the opera, not the United States). It could thus designate either the leading female singer in a specific operatic performance or more widely the principal singer, usually a soprano, of a given opera company. Its usage in this case would seem to indicate the latter.