There is an important decision to be made. The Cornish Foundation is thriving under the directorship of Arthur Cornish when Arthur and his beguiling wife, Maria Theotoky, decide to undertake a project worthy of Francis Cornish -- connoisseur, collector, and notable eccentric -- whose vast fortune endows the Foundation. The grumpy, grimy, extraordinarily talented music student Hulda Schnakenburg is commissioned to complete E. T .A. Hoffmann's unfinished opera Arthur of Britain, or The Magnanimous Cuckold; and the scholarly priest Simon Darcourt finds himself charged with writing the libretto.
Complications both practical and emotional arise: the gypsy in Maria's blood rises with a vengeance; Darcourt stoops to petty crime; and various others indulge in perjury, blackmail, and other unsavory pursuits. Hoffmann's dictum, "the lyre of Orpheus opens the door of the underworld," seems to be all too true -- especially when the long-hidden secrets of Francis Cornish himself are finally revealed.