BOOK CLUB: The Understudy

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The Understudy by Julie Bennett takes us into the world of opera. It shows us a small slice of how competitive it is when you long to reach the heights of the lead in a major opera.

Sophie has worked hard and is now the Understudy for the lead female in Madama Butterfly, which is to be performed at the new Opera House in Sydney. 

When the leading lady disappears without a trace, Sophie gets the biggest opportunity of her lifetime.  After all her hard work she will now get to play the leading lady next to the very handsome and charming Armando Cecchi. 

She casts her nerves aside and gives her best performance, but then finds that instead of the newspapers being filled with rave reviews, they are all questioning where the leading lady is and why she has vanished without a word. 

Conspiracy theories abound and Sophie finds that she is the key suspect in Margaret’s disappearance.  Sophie starts to fall in love with the charming Armando but struggles with the hatred that is shown to her by Armando’s faithful staff member Bruno.  

Sophie begins to question everything. Is Armando all that he seems? Did Bruno play a part in the disappearance of Margaret? Who can she trust?

I really enjoyed this story and all the twists and turns. I love how it makes you see that even when you think someone is on your side, sometimes all is not as it seems, and they have their own agenda at play.

Cleverly written and easy to read.

ISBN: 9781760858520

Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading The Understudy by Julie Bennett. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.

11 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: The Understudy

  1. This was a curious read, set as it is in 1973, when the first opera played in Sydney Opera House, and the magnificent building was ‘new’ to Sydney. The understudy Sophie certainly does get to step up when lead soprano Margaret goes missing, and it’s a thrilling and amazing time for her, singing with the dreamboat Italian tenor Armando. She sings beautifully, and becomes the new darling of the opera – and also Armando’s new darling. There is the mystery of where Margaret has actually gone, completely MIA, and we do get to follow that through the book, with flashbacks and such. Slightly confusing at times, but it all comes together. Given Sophy’s intense ambition to succeed, it puzzled me when she almost gave up her career for Armando, given the affair was supposed to only temporary while he was singing in Australia. I wasn’t convinced they loved each other, it was too quick, too fierce, and at first only driven by shallow desire. However, read it and see what you think! I did love all the backstage stuff at the Opera House and the glimpses of Sydney life around that area – all so interesting.

  2. Thanks to Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to read The Understudy by Julie Bennett.

    The book takes place in the interesting world of opera and is set in 1973 and most importantly set in the newly opened (at the time) Sydney Opera House. The story covers the disappearance of the female lead Margaret just before opening night and her understudy, Sophie‘s opportunity to replace her.

    The mystery of Margaret missing from the opera company, with suspicion falling on Sophie and the relationship between Sophie and the male opera star, Armando creates a cracking tale for the reader. Also interesting the social mores of the time particularly how women were treated in society, how Sydney was growing and the housing situation particularly the suburbs around the harbour which were cheaper for the performers to live in! I found it all very interesting and engaging.

    The Understudy is a love story, a mystery, a drama and a interesting story for any reader. I would recommend The Understudy for anyone looking for an interesting Australian based story.

    Thanks again!

  3. Thankyou Beautyandlace and simon & schuster for the opportunity to read ‘The Understudy’ by Julie Bennett.
    Sophie is the understudy for Margaret who is to play the lead in ‘Madama Butterfly’. (We learn as we read through the book of events which have made Margaret the difficult person which Sophie has found her to be).
    Sophie has a mentor in Lady Napier and attributes her help in where she is in her career.
    Set in Sydney this opera is to be performed in the recently constructed Sydney Opera House.
    Lady Napier has advised Sophie that her career would be helped by seducing the handsome, Italian, male lead Armando Cecchi.

    I enjoyed ‘The Understudy’ after initially finding it a little slow to get into.
    As I progressed through I found it exciting and absorbing. Sophie is an interesting character and the details of life behind the scenes in the theatre made for a great read!

  4. The Understudy by Julie Bennett is set in Sydney in 1973 at the newly opened Sydney Opera House. The story follows the disappearance of Margaret the lead in the new opera of Madama Butterfly. Margaret disappears the night before opening and who else should fill her leading role but the Understudy Sophie.

    The mystery of where Margaret has gone, who is responsible and who the suspicion is falling upon.

    Sophie has now been given the opportunity of a lifetime to prove her singing ability partnering on stage with Italian tenor Armando . She not only proves herself on the stage but also rumors start circulating of an affair with Armando.

    The story also showed us what life behind the scenes of a performance are like, and life in a big city in the 1970’s.

    I enjoyed this story and all the twists and turns involving love, mystery, and drama. If you love reading stories based on Australia this is a story well worth reading.

  5. This was quite different to my usual reading habits and I was quite hesitant to read it as I thought I would get easily bored or distracted and take multiple efforts to get thru it.

    But that’s not what I found at all, before I knew it, I had finished. The understudy herself seems a bit wishy washy, letting things happen around her. The flow of the book was not so much what she went out to do but more what other characters did or did not do, which was quite refreshing really.
    I found I could not quite get a fix on her visually either. This helps me imagine the characters as they go about their business, but I really didn’t find much description of her, the others I could. As I said it happened all around her.
    The story also unfolds around her love life and we find right at the end of this book whether there is a happy ending for her or not. Quite a page turner .

  6. I found I was drawn into this story right from the beginning. Two opera singers; one at the top of her game the other, young and ambitious.

    It’s 1973 and Margaret is the lead in Madama Butterfly to open at the newly built Sydney Opera House. Sophie is her understudy. She has her eye on the top and she has a plan and is prepared to do anything to succeed!

    Told in a dual narrative by Margaret and Sophie, with both women having an air of mystery about them.

    Living in Sydney myself I enjoyed all the mentions of the city landmarks and the headlines of the time. I can vividly remember the opening of the Opera House, the controversy over the design and going to see a performance with my school.

    Julie Bennett has brought 1970’s Sydney to life through her meticulous attention to detail.
    The story travels back to 1953 and Margaret’s early years in a bohemian Wooloomoloo which was both poignant and fascinating.

    There is an intriguing mystery at the centre of the story and it’s final reveal took me completely by surprise.

    Lies, deception, jealousy and vengeance….. The Understudy is an intriguing read!

  7. A powerful love story based on glamour and intrigue behind the scenes of the opera / entertainment world. Innocence of youth versus mystery and drama, twists and turns as desire and hope unfolds in the spotlight of the story. Sophie thinks that ambition to succeed has been sabotaged during the story, she was the playing the game to achieve success but didn’t expect to fall in love, then have it come crashing down . Glad to read she manages to restore her faith in love in the end. Interesting read , many thanks

  8. Thank you Beauty and Lace and Simon & Schuster for the opportunity to read and review The Understudy by Julie Bennett.
    I really enjoyed reading this book set in Sydney in the 1970s when the Sydney Opera House was new and the first opera to perform there, Madam Butterfly, was impacted by the controversial disappearance of the female lead, Margaret Gardiner. Young Sophie, the understudy for the role has her sights set on stardom and utilises the opportunity to replace Margaret to take on a planned seduction of the lead male tenor, Armando Cecchi, in the hope that he will help propel her career into the international spotlight.
    There are multiple twists and turns and the back story of what actually happened to Margaret featured throughout creating even more interest and intrigue. A few surprises along the way but the unfolding of the story was fairly predictable, with Sophie being a huge success despite having to navigate some challenges along the way and the relationship between Sophie and Armando quickly developing.
    I was a little disappointed in the ending only because it seemed so abrupt, especially after some sections which seemed longer than necessary.
    However this was a really good read and I would highly recommend The Understudy.

  9. A beautiful love story set 1973 when the beautiful Sydney Opera House had just opened, this story was way out of my comfort zone but so worth it.
    The characters and story line was wonderfully written and if you try 1 different book make it this one. You won’t be disappointed.

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