Opera de Paris 1898
La danse masquée de renaissance JCayan
Acto I, La tragédie| Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 >| Part 4
Clip, clop, clip, clop, the sound of a horse's trot echoed eerily against the dark stone path, hypnotic and melancholic, its pace steadily increasing to reach its final destination. The dark elegant coach bounced softly along the bumpy narrow road jostling the solitary traveler who was lost in her thoughts.
The gaslights burned an eerie yellow glow, and moths helplessly drawn to the flames' allure banged blindly against the glass. The night slowly crept in, casting dark shadows along the pathways and buildings.
Families gathered to commence their evening meals and feast upon the various offerings. The sounds of soft murmurs, lovers whispering, sipping their wine in the cafes floated gently into the warm and humid night.
The coach traveled in rhythm and its passenger breathed in deeply. The various aromas wafted in the air, the foods and warm summer night uniquely Paris brought back bittersweet memories of her youth.
The sun relinquished its hold and quietly descended into the horizon, the streets soaked with rain and littered with the filth of human disregard. The raindrops landed gently on the top of the coach, its sound soothing, reminding her of home. The woman's eyes grew heavy and she fell victim to long forgotten memories.
It was twenty years since she last visited Paris, an old dull ache beat relentlessly in her heart and she sighed painfully.
Lady Kathryn Janaway was in the 38th year of her earthly existence, her hair the vibrant red of her youth, swept elegantly into a loose bun, her eyes a penetrating grayish blue. Her stature, small and delicate, she maintained the figure of her younger days. The once flawless smooth porcelain features bore the graceful lines of wisdom and strength gently around her eyes.
She grew to be a handsome woman with an elegant smile, pleasant demeanor and cultured grace. She moved with a knowing assurance that was gracious, admirable and subtle at times.
The sight of the familiar walks reminded her of the distant past, she felt the pain that struck sharply at her heart like a heated spear piercing the soft tissue of a long forgotten organ.
It was an ancient pain, receding with the passage of time, hidden deeply in her inner being until she was able to exist and live again. Her life was empty and lacked the burning of an inner soul, the once burning fire extinguished, to a feeble barely flickering flame.
She had lived a quiet and subdued existence, the 20 years since her return to the living, filled with some gaiety in a sad and tragic way. She sequestered herself from the flamed passions of youth, resigned never to feel the intensity of a pure love again.
Reticent, she found her thoughts drifting backward in time, to lazy Parisian spring days, the aroma of flowery blossoms mingled with fresh baked goods on the bustling walks.
The lyrical voices of laughter and conversation blended with those of vendors hawking their wares, eager to complete the last transaction of the day before returning to the comfort of their hearths. Artists of a lesser reputation lined the walk along the river Seine. These prolific visionaries, bringing birth to a new era, often leaving the critical pious public aghast. Their creations inspired with love and devotion, captured the essence of the romantic landscape and the countless denizens that were caught forever in Paris's scenic wonder. A masterpiece on canvas with just the stroke of a brush, the sales brought a mere pittance to many a penniless artist as they fought to stave off the harshness of reality, the more cruel and insidious dark metropolis lying in wait.
She was a mere child back then, just reaching the suitable age for marriage, the year of her 18th birthday, with all the vibrancy of youth and swept up into the excitement of living a less restrictive life. She persuaded her parents to permit her a slight indiscretion, forgoing her proper place of a young lady coming of age, thus escaping a restrictive and conventional country life in England.
She embraced her new fanciful escapade with the passion and exuberance of youth. It was the summer of 1877 when she first arrived, the coach pulling up to the side entrance of the Opera de Paris.
She was to begin her newly acquired position the next morning, her duties to be that of a personal clerk to the Music director, Maestro John Marc Santerre,a dowdy eccentric and prudish older man with a short temper and a brilliant mind for music and Opera.
He was wed to a beautiful diva, la Madam Elise Armande Santerre, who was 20 years his junior, their union striking most as an odd and peculiar match. Madam Santerre bore him only one child, a girl, whom they lovingly christened Simone Armande. She was a beautiful creature, and at the tender age of eight, it was plain to the eye she had inherited her mother's beauty and haunting soprano voice. The child was a stunning, yet awkward beauty, with sapphire blue eyes and curled tresses the color of cornsilk.
Kathryn coveted the position as the director's clerk and secretly harbored the aspiration to one day become his assistant. She knew her desires would not be easily achieved and for the first time in her life she regretted having been born a woman.
Though she had the expertise and knowledge to obtain the position, her station in life forbade such a thought, and she knew it was expected that she would eventually fulfill her destiny, and become a dutiful wife and devoted mother.
Not easily deterred, and harboring an inner strength and perseverance unlike other young women of her age, she promised herself that she would achieve her dream. Assured beyond the shadow of a doubt, she would be the first woman music director for a major opera house.
She recalled vividly the memories of that day. How she timidly exited the coach and was greeted warmly by Brigitte; her sweet and dear Brigitte. She closed her eyes once more and was assaulted by the soft sweet aroma of her perfume, the mixture of wild flowers and jasmine that hung sweetly in the air as she walked.
She envisioned the beautiful elegant face of a fiery brown haired tempest with dark olive eyes that captured her heart and soul. They were both so young then, Brigitte the new assistant dresser. They shared a room in a boarding house on the Rue de Faubourg. The proprietress was a vulgar miserable hag and distant fourth cousin to Madam Santerre, she having made all the arrangements.
Kathryn was captivated and enthralled by the free spirit of her friend. Brigitte possessed strength, honor and a silent kindness and inner humility. She had a quiet way of assisting the less fortunate and an overwhelming desire to defend the weak.
Brigitte introduced Kathryn to the gaiety of the Parisian nightlife and together they discovered the wonderful hidden cafes and inexpensive bistros. Kathryn taught Brigitte music and an appreciation for Opera, and imparted unto Brigitte her knowledge of compositional mastery. It was but a short time before the two commenced upon a lustful relationship, the kind of encounter frowned upon by a tyrannical and unforgiving society.
In the solitude and safety of their warm room, they explored the physical nature of one another and Kathryn found Brigitte to be a kind and attentive lover. Brigitte's supple flesh was soft and yielding to her gentle ministrations, it was romantic and sweet, and Kathryn reveled in her intense desires, the need to love Brigitte far outweighing the consequences of such a sinful act.
They continued their daily duties in the opera house, each morning rising with a frantic rush to wash and attire properly. Enjoying the playful wickedness of their lust, walking or running through the slippery walks enroute to the Opera house, they arrived without a moment to spare before the start of the day, their boisterous laughter filling the air.
Kathryn tried valiantly to contain her control around Brigitte, who would stand perilously close and tempt her with her seductive, wanton ways.
The year passed soundly and with it the love and bond they evoked continued to flourish and grow. Sundays were spent in the comfort of their large overstuffed four poster bed, exploring the pleasures they could bestow upon one another, or they would be assisting a poor unfortunate who had fallen on difficult times.
They would pass the day engaged in menial tasks not of their rank and station, such as cleaning, washing or caring for the young of an ailing mother. It was the silent and generous side of herself that Brigitte shared solely with Kathryn, her humility having a contagious affect on the young woman from England.
Brigitte immersed herself in these humble tasks as if born to endure the burdens of the world, her dedication admirable and providing comfort to the less fortunate in those difficult periods, refusing to acknowledge any recognition for her generous contribution.
It was the summer of 1878 when the illness first came upon her. The illness striking swiftly without warning, the doctor whispered the dreaded scourge that ailed her, "scarletta", the red death. Brigitte had spent the previous week tending a sick child and, unbeknownst to them, the child suffered of the malady and perished two days beforehand, the contaminant running rampant through his small and frail person.
It first made its presence known to Brigitte with a raised rash, it was fine, red, rough-textured and blanched upon touch. Her tongue was spotted with white pustules, the texture resembling a strawberry. Brigitte's forehead was fevered to the touch, and her breathing was labored and short, her heart fighting valiantly to stave off the illness.
A week passed and Brigitte's condition worsened, Kathryn barely slept, the dubious task of nursing her lover falling solely to her. Maestro Santerre's kind and considerate nature forbade Kathryn to abandon her friend in her time of need and he sent daily supplements to the two women.
It was not long before Kathryn fell victim to the illness and after a week of high fevers and delirium, she fought off the scourge, to find her skin desquamated, peeling on the tips of her fingers and toes. She began a slow recovery, each passing day restoring her to her former health.
It was then that she learned of Brigitte's death, her heart to weak to sustain the merciless onslaught of the dreaded plague. In the midst of Kathryn's delirium, Brigitte woke one final time and whispered the name of her greatest love, before succumbing to the darkness of death.
Kathryn remained bedridden for weeks, an inability to perform her daily functions. She lacked the enthusiasm to resume her former life and was barely able to accomplish the simplest task of relieving herself. The kind Maestro Santerre concerned over her dark, brooding mood sent word to her family.
Upon her parent's arrival, they were shown to the small quarters Kathryn once shared with Brigitte. Madam Dumaine, the vulgar proprietress of the establishment, was in distress and anxious to be rid of her diseased border, fearful word would be let out she housed a tenant who fell victim to the red scourge and her business suffer in its wake.
Kathryn's parents were aghast and stricken to find their once vibrant daughter silent and catatonic. They quickly gathered the delicate frail unrecognizable form into a coach. Bundling her warmly in blankets of the finest wool and returning back to England, back home to the place she loved as a child. Back to the green fields, endless hills and majestic beauty of the Derbyshire landscape. To the warmth of summer sun and cottages filled with life, love and laughter, the place were one could hope to heal a great hurt.
Three months passed and, with great trepidation, she ventured to leave the confines of her room. Her mind was unable to relinquish the memories that assailed her. She valiantly tried to still her thoughts and drifted into nothingness, speechless and unresponsive. Her heart screamed out in torment and broke anew with each vision of her sweet Brigitte. The mourning ceaseless, the loss of her love wounding her mortally, her body an empty vessel, a shell, void of its soul.
Her parents anguished over her delicate state of mind and duly concerned, sought to place her in a quiet country home. One catering to the ails of those lost, frail and weak of mind and spirit. Hoping the rest and solitude of such a setting, would break her of the malady of melancholia and return the daughter they lost to the haunting allure of Paris.
It was there that she first met Richard Janaway. He was handsome and pleasant, though frail and weak. He had a brilliant wit and sad deep-set green eyes. His chest sunken and his pallor white and sickly, the consumption slowly eating away at his lungs. The coughing spasms rendered him helpless and weaker with each onslaught.
Richard was there to escape the rigors of life and attempt to regain the strength and courage to return to its harsh reality. The consumption granted him with the sense to ignore the thought of living a normal existence. Instead, he expended all of his efforts into his music, which added to his father's distaste and ire.
Richard was born unto an upper class old English family their ancestral lineage, dating back to the times of Cromwell, The Lord Protector. He was born sickly, the last and first male child of Lady Penelope Janaway, a beautiful women far to old and frail to endure the trauma of a breached birth. Penelope died, never once laying eyes on the son she had long desired. His father, Lord Reginald Janaway resented Richard's very presence, the sickly brat a living and unworthy reminder of the love he had lost.
As a child, Richard was far too frail to play like other boys his age. He devoted himself to his studies and developed a fondness for music, an act most detested by his father. As the sole male heir, it was expected of him to follow in his father's footsteps and take his rightful position in Parliament. Richard abhorred politics and Lord Janaway grew displeased with the boy's progress.
He looked upon Richard as a scrawny whelp, undeserving of carrying the proud family name. As soon as Richard reached school age, he was shipped off to Eton Hall, his father ignoring the emotional outbursts and protestations of Richard's overprotective older sisters.
He was smaller in frame and stature then the other boys and found he was forced to endure the ritual torment from his upper classmen. But Richard had an ear for music, a gift handed down to him by his dead mother, and whenever he played one of his melodies, he enchanted even the beast within his tormentors.
Much to his fathers amazement, Richard graduated from Oxford at the age of 17, whereupon he was forced into accepting a clerkship in The House of Lords. He performed his duties inadequately, blundering the simplest of tasks. In due course, he was given only the easiest of tasks to perform, which he approached in his usual laconic manner. Richard's poor performance was brought to the attention of his father who was appalled and abashed by his son's shortcomings.
It was not long after, that Richard found himself disowned. Freed from the restraints of family duty, Richard set to pursue his only true love, music. He applied and received a position to the director of theTheatre Royal at Covent Garden. Maestro Michael Costa, enchanted by Richard's masterful compositions, his acute ear, and enthralled and appreciative of the genius waiting to be exposed to the world, hired him immediately as his protégé.
Richards's undying devotion for his art endeared Richard to the maestro. Michael Costa admired the brilliant burning light that shone brightly in Richard when they shared their love of music. After years of study and disciplined training inflicted upon him by the maestro, Richard began to earn a name and reputation befitting his talents.
His haunting classical compositions played regularly in Covent Garden, as he secretly pursued the creation of his first opera. It was in the year 1878 when he first met Kathryn. The consumption took its hold on him and forced him to the country to regain his strength. He recalled vividly her regal and hollowed appearance, the penetrating blue eyes void of emotion, the flecks of gray alluding to a tormented tale.
He became enchanted with her melancholy appearance and everyday he would seek her company in the garden. Enjoying long hours in her presence, speaking of his experiences at Covent Garden and of the busy London walks, while Kathryn remained in her unresponsive gloom. There were days when his illness prevented him from being in her company and he ached physically from being denied her presence.
It was on one such occasion after several months, when he was surprised by her quick wit, he fell into a spastic cough, his body contorted with pain while attempting to draw precious air into his burning lungs. A red mark stained his handkerchief, and his complexion turned ashy and gray. She reached out to him and gently soothed his aching back. Wiping his sweaty brow, and nestled in the warmth of her comfort, the spasm subsided as Kathryn remained reassuringly at his side.
The days that followed brought Richard a new happiness as Kathryn slowly emerged from her shell. Richard cherished each passing moment and the incredible gift she brought to him. Before he realized it, he was hopelessly and madly in love with her.
Richard feared, given their age difference, which was some twelve years, Kathryn would reject his advances and find him an unsuitable match. Still, he was completely captivated and marveled at the sharp, shrewd mind that she possessed, disguised cleverly under a cloak of femininity.
It was not long before their love for music cemented a new bond between them, an alliance drawing them closer than ever before. Kathryn developed a fondness towards Richard, one born of respect and kindness. It was to be a different kind of love, different than that she had experienced with Brigitte. Kathryn resolved to love Richard with a certain amount of control and reserve.
Months passed and before long Kathryn was well enough to be released into the custody of her parents, and with some trepidation, she bid Richard farewell. Not long after her departure, Richard appeared on her doorstep, requesting the honor of courting Kathryn. Her father, happy to see a touch of light enter his daughter's eyes agreed, and following a short courtship, they were engaged and finally wed.
Kathryn and Richard took residence in London and lived within walking distance of Covent Garden, renting a modest house they came to love and adore. The years passed with Richard climbing the ranks and eventually achieving the directorship upon the maestro's retirement in 1892. The Royal Italian Opera House was renamed, The Royal Opera House of Covent Garden, with Richard as its new director.
He and Kathryn shared a comfortable and affectionate life together. It wasn't that Kathryn didn't love Richard, for she was a loyal and devoted wife, but what she felt was a strong affection that grew into love, quite different from the intensity she had felt for Brigitte.
It was discovered early on, that Richard was incapable of siring children, and after a dark and stormy period, they both accepted the news and adopted their mutual love of music as their beloved child. Kathryn assisted Richard in the arrangement and composition of his Opera, and he in turn, taught her how to compose beautiful arias. The years passed, and before Kathryn knew it, she was in the 34th year of her life.
By then, Richard's health had deteriorated perilously, and more and more Kathryn unofficially assumed his duties in Covent Garden, until she finally became as familiar a sight as Richard. In the last four years, she shifted her duty programs between that of the Opera House and caring for her husband.
It was the fall of 1896, the season cold and wet, when Richard took a turn for the worse and was finally hospitalized. After several weeks, he succumbed to the illness that plagued him most of his adult life and passed away quietly in the arms of his wife. The Opera they began to compose together remained unfinished, its beloved composer laid to rest in the family cemetery and Kathryn mourned his loss.
Unlike the death of Brigitte, the death of Richard was different and after a period of proper mourning, she threw herself wholeheartedly into the task of completing their last and final work together. The child they created and which had lain incomplete for nearly six months after Richard's demise was given a new life under the direction of its mistress.
After hundreds of hours of labor and frustration, she finally completed the Opera, La danse masquée de renaissance, and presented it to the new director of Covent Garden a dear and loyal friend, Maestro Renaldo.
Upon hearing the opera and musical composition, Maestro Renaldo was impressed and so deeply moved by the haunting composition that he agreed to personally finance half of the opera, with Kathryn financing the rest. Richard's death left her comfortable and well taken cared of. The estates from the death of Richard's father, Lord Janaway, were passed onto Richard as the only surviving male heir and, in turn, to Kathryn upon his death.
After months of rehearsals, countless rewrites and changes in cast, the first dress rehearsal took place, and at the end of the performance, a date for the opening night was set.
It was the opening of La danse and the theater bustled with the excitement of a new masterpiece created by such a beloved composer. As such things happen, word quickly spread that Kathryn had actually completed the opera, and the excitement began to build to a heightened frenzy.
The thought of a woman composer brought out the biggest skeptics and naysayers, although their wives secretly admired the tenacity and perseverance Kathryn exhibited. Over the years, she had socialized with the various generous sponsors of Covent Garden and her title of Lady Janaway assured her entrance into the homes of the upper class once closed to her before. She built long and lasting friendships, the women admiring inwardly for her independence, and the men envying Richard for securing such a fetching wife.
La danse, is a dark love story set in Venice, Italy. It is the tale of a once arrogant and attractive man, Armando, whose face is disfigured in a terrible accident. The incident leaves him badly scarred. Women repulsed by his face, no longer flock to him. The friends that he once had turn their backs and are unable to bear his company. Armando becomes a recluse and longs for social intercourse, to walk among the busy streets and be in the fellowship of people once more, wishing to be free of the gloomy mansion, which both imprisons him and protects him from being ridiculed and cursed in disgust.
There is a three-day festival-taking place where all of the town dress in elaborate costumes and wear masks until midnight on the third day. The custom calls for everyone to remove their masks and reveal their identity. The villagers are dressed in colorful satins and silks, appearing as animals, angels or forest nymphs.
Armando covers his disfigurement by concealing himself in a full red skeletal mask and pretends to be death. He walks unmolested among the villagers and marvels at the gaiety and is moved to tears upon being included in the spectrum of humanity again. Then, suddenly, he is swept into a wave or merriment and happens upon a secluded garden where he meets the beautiful Constantina who is dressed as a white dove.
He is immediately struck by the beauty of her costume and finds himself enchanted by the delightful creature hidden beneath the mask. He begins to fall in love with the mysterious and witty Constantina. They spend the three days of revelry with the other villagers and in one another's company. They dine and drink and discover on the eve of the festivities, that they have fallen passionately in love.
It ends with the lovers standing in the garden where they first met at the stroke of midnight, Constantina is begging her lover to reveal his face to her, so that she may gaze upon the beauty of the man she has surrendered her heart to. The final aria is a romantic, haunting melody with both lovers speaking to one another of their love but with Armando refusing to remove his mask.
Constantina in tears begs her lover to reveal himself to her, while he speaks to her of being a hideous beast unworthy of her beauty and her love. She steps closer to Armando and reaching out a shaking hand ignores Armando's mournful pleas and removes the red mask of death, revealing a flawless face, unblemished and restored to its former self. The lovers are approached by a stranger dressed as an angel still wearing his mask, who tells them of the magical healing powers of love before disappearing into the night.
On opening night she held her breath, pacing nervously and clenching her hands tightly. There was a hushed silence as the final aria ends and the curtain begins to fall. A moment or two of silence pass, and Kathryn finds her stomach in a most indelicate way, anxiousness rising to her chest.
The entire house rise to their feet as spontaneous applause breaks the silence, and shouts of Brava reverberate loudly and are heard outside in the street. The curtain rises and falls 19 times before the cast are able take their final bow. Kathryn finds herself being pushed gently onto the stage and slowly walks to the center. The audience's fevered shouts rise anew, the applause echoing the rhythmic stomping of feet and drowning out her whispered thank you as she bows elegantly to the deafening praise.
The next day's news was favorable, and the new opera was received with much enthusiasm with performances of La danse soon being sold out.
The opera was a magnificent success and the wonderful legacy Lord Richard Janaway had started, and his lovely wife Lady Janaway completed, soon gained its own version of romanticism, as it became a final testament to the love Kathryn and Richard had for one another.
At the close of the opera season in London, Kathryn was approached by the Opera de Paris and contracted to bring her enormously successful production to France.
Kathryn was contacted by an old friend Maestro John Paul Duvall, who started as a protege 20 years before and replaced Maestro Santerre after his death. John Paul now held the coveted position of Musical Director and, after a passionate plea, he convinced her to touch the shores of France once again.
The coach jolted abruptly and Kathryn awoke from her long reverie. The many images and years that flashed through her mind quickly forgotten, as she stared at the Opera de Paris for the first time in twenty years.
Act IINella fiamma, 1888
She was a mere child of six when it became apparent she possessed a most remarkable voice. Maestro Santerre enrolled the services of the finest voice master, Madam Lowe, a former Diva herself, who possessed a stern manner and strict discipline. Simone received the finest training and tutelage, her voice growing stronger with each passing year.
With maturity and countless hours of training, Simone sang an incredible variety of ranges from light coloratura, high soprano to mezzo. However, it was not just the range of roles she was capable of singing, but how she sang them that made her special. She had a distinctive vocal timbre, which she could color in a seemingly infinite number of manners. She had a wonderful uniqueness in that she could also act, a rarity with opera singers. She was a joy to listen and watch, enhancing the range of octaves and far exceeding the expectations of her parents.
Simone Armande grew into a stunning creature, her frame long and firm, she was taller than many young men of her age and had an ample bosom for one so young. Her long blonde hair was full, which she wore in a loose bun, such was the current fashion 1888. Her dark azure eyes glowed brilliantly against an alabaster flawless complexion. Though she was thin in appearance, far thinner than was fashionable, she cut a stunning figure in her long tailor made dresses designed by the finest courtiers in Paris and made of the most expensive fabrics available.
Simone was isolated, and unlike most young women of her age, her parents insisted upon a disciplined childhood, one not full of fanciful excursions, courting and flights of freedom. The business affairs of the Opera de Paris kept Maestro Santerre from his home and family, Simone rarely seeing her father outside of the cold and indifferent salon of Madam Lowe's home where Simone arrived at dawn and departed at dusk.
From an early age, Simone was taught the importance of hard work and discipline; sheer idleness was a luxury she could ill afford. The accompaniment of others not associated to tutoring her in her schoolwork and voice exercises was strictly forbidden. Her mother had little time for her either, appearing as she frequently did in the many productions at the Opera de Paris.
Simone's upbringing was turned over to the care of a cold and indifferent nanny who detested opera, and had very little tolerance for her aloof young charge. She grew to be an independent and solitary woman, rarely offering friendship when approached. Her disciplined regiment became second nature to her and she soon discovered she lacked the patience for frivolities and simple pleasures of life.
It was the year 1888, and at the age of 18, her voice strong, powerful and perfect in pitch and timbre. It was decided Simone would be subjected to the most critical test of her life. Madam Lowe's tutelage completed, she was to sing for the first time under the musical direction of her father at the Opera de Paris. She had the deepest understanding of the Classical Italian style, the finest musical instincts and the most intelligent approach. There was authority in all that she did on the stage and in every phrase that she uttered.
A suitable Opera was chosen to serve as Simone's debut, her father anxious to show Parisian society that Simone would be the greatest soprano born in the history of opera. It was decided that she was to perform the role of Elvira in Enrani she was to sing in her coloratura voice, which served to feather the role. By the same logic, she was to forego the stentorian, overpowering voice she also possessed the vehement, aggressiveness more agreeable to such operas as Nabucco and Gioconda.
Simone was forced to endure the rigorous hours of rehearsing, her father ruthless and relentless in driving her further. At times the young woman fought valiantly to hold back the flow of tears threatening to overcome her. Madam Santerre, now retired, bestowed the title of prima soprano on her young daughter and offered her little comfort or sympathy. At times, the long hours took their toll on the young woman who was driven to succeed, and taught that failure was not an acceptable term.
It was not ignorance that drove the Santerre's to push their daughter so heartlessly, but merely arrogance, borne to those with a natural gift, an ability with a slight touch of madness. Much to Simone's surprise, she was offered sympathy from a most unusual source, her fellow cast members, bringing fruit to the claim that misery truly did enjoy company.
There was not a cast member in the entire company that did not experience the wrath of the driven maestro. It was obvious to the most lame of thought, that Simone endured the brunt of the maestro's maniacal outbursts. The young woman never faltered, standing still, and in a manner that could only be called proud, she did not so much as flinch as she met the gaze of her tyrannical father with an almost defiant stare.
Simone's arrogance was a demon that haunted and plagued the deep recesses of her brilliant and gifted young mind. Her first achievement was an embellishment, demonstrating the virtuosity and expressiveness which went far beyond other singers of her time. She was logical and intense, her flexible voice capable of performing perilous runs, rapid languid embellishments and crisp high notes.
An ability to express graduating dynamics from a pianissimo to fortissimo furnished Simone with the most efficient tool a singer could have, a varied, precise phrasing with the finest differences of shading and highlighting every individual word. Even more, she was able to project an overwhelming eloquence and an unparalleled capacity for diction and emphasis.
During the course of the rehearsals the tenor portraying Don Carlo, Antonio DeSelva became enamored with the beautiful and aloof prima donna soprano, Simone. He was betrothed to the second donna soprano, Susanna Tommasino. Simone showed little interest in returning Antonio's ardor, but he became obsessed the more Simone rebuffed his attention.
Mademoiselle Tommasino, enraged at Antonio's outlandish behavior, embarrassed and feeling rebuffed, embroiled herself in a verbal dispute with Simone, warning her to ward off Antonio. In a calm and toneless voice, Simone informed the misguided mademoiselle Tommasino, she had little interest in her betrothed and suggested that she speak with him instead.
Mademoiselle Tommasino seething with hatred for Simone, proceeded to speak ill of her, until in a rage of blind anger the maestro publicly berated Tommasino for her ignorance, lack of femininity and singing abilities, alluding that perhaps this was the reason for Antonio's wandering eye.
It was opening night and Simone sat calmly in her dressing room. The dresser, Madam Dumas, an older woman of forty-five, with black- silver hair and dark warm eyes, completed her task and quietly left. Simone crossed the room and sat in the settee, her eyes closed, her thoughts clear, her mind sharp going over the arias in her mind.
She was dressed in a long flowering green gown, with a brown cloak that laid next to her. The first act was to begin in an hour and as the discipline demanded, she was properly attired and ready to assume her position at the rise of the curtain.
Simone heard the sound of a soft knock at the door expecting her father and, not wishing to be lectured and bored with a speech, she let the breath out slowly from her diaphragm. Opening her eyes, she granted the visitor entrance, and the form of Antonio dressed as Don Carlo stood before her. She rose to her feet, the anger visible in her eyes, her face stern and defiant.
"What is it that you wish Monsieur?"
Her diction was clear and precise, her words clipping each syllable. Antonio crossed the room and stood close to her, his eyes fervent, two dark pools peering down on her.
"You are beautiful mademoiselle and I have taken the liberty of having a dinner prepared in my dressing quarters, I will require your presence after the performance."
His voice was a low growl and he stared at her with a lustful wolfish leer. There was something different in his demeanor, a certain anger brewing from within. Simone straightened to her full length, standing nearly a head higher than Antonio.
"I am afraid Monsieur that you presume too much. As I have stated before, I am not interested in any romantic encounter with you. It would serve you well to apologize to Mademoiselle Tommasino and beg for her forgiveness, you have offended her sensibilities, sir."
"I don't think that you understand mademoiselle this is not an invitation it is a demand, I will not accept no for an answer."
"It is obvious you are mad Monsieur and have lost control of your senses. I have no desire to dine with you, in fact, I find your very presence offensive and you are to leave my quarters at once."
Antonio refused, enraged by her rejection, he crossed the room, grabbed her firmly by the arms, spinning her around to face her and spat out.
"I am not mad and I will not be denied the pleasure of your flesh."
Simone used her height to her advantage and tore from his forceful grip, the sleeve of her dress ripping at the shoulder. She raised her voice in anger, ordering Antonio to leave her room.
Madam Dumas, aware of the delicate situation, ran to notify the maestro, taking note of the concealed and cloaked figure hidden in the shadows. A chill swept through her and she shook violently. Becoming alarmed for Simone's welfare, she quickly sought the maestro out.
The maestro was conducting the rehearsal, his obsession for perfection driving the musicians to exhaustion before the start of the opera. Interrupted by Madam Dumas's outburst, an enraged maestro belittled the dresser, until in near tears, she managed to explain the situation taking place in Mademoiselle Simone's dressing room.
The maestro arrived in a fit of rage and without knocking, entered Simone's quarters. Antonio stood holding a kerchief to his brow, a small wound dripping blood. Santerre stared at his daughter in anger, and then ordered Antonio to depart their company.
Simone remained defiantly poised, staring at her father, the maestro showing little concern for his daughter's welfare. Instead, he sought to admonish her brutally for having blemished Antonio's face, with only three quarters of an hour to go before the start of the opera.
He turned coldly from her and ordered Madam Dumas to make her presentable. The matronly dresser moved closer to the young woman and began examining the damaged garment. In a final display of arrogance, he removed himself from Simone's quarters, leaving her in the care of the teary eyed dresser without a further word.
Simone remained staring at the retreating figure of her father, for once understanding how arrogant and pious he truly was, his obsession for his work far outweighing his love or concern for her safety or welfare. Simone's eyes turned to face her mother who had entered inconspicuously as the scene between her husband and only child unfolded before her. The icy blue cold stare from her daughter sent shivers down Madam Santerre's spine.
"You need not worry, mama, I will not disappoint you or papa, you shall have your opera."
She spat the last words out with a heightened sense of distaste. Her mother stared at her for a moment longer before gathering the flowing skirt of her gown in her hands, bowing slightly to her daughter and then turning to leave the room.
The dresser, Madam Dumas, eyed the young mistress suspiciously and quickly took to the task of mending the torn garment. Her dark brown eyes, sympathetic and motherly towards the young woman raised with coldness and indifference. Simone merely sat obediently, her back perfectly straight, allowing the matronly dresser to repair her gown, never once, voicing an opinion or muttering a word.
The lights were lowered and the stage manager knocked gently on Simone's door, alerting her, she was due on stage in five minutes. Simone Armande stood and smoothed the long flowing gown, placing the cloak around her shoulders and tying it loosely around her neck.
With sureness borne of awareness, she proceeded to enter the stage, the lights caressing her features lovingly. The audience was stunned to silence as the magnificent beauty entered the scene and preformed her role with expertise and precision, her voice the sound of an angel calling into the night.
Ernani Act I
The scene reflected one of a forest in the mountains of Aragon, a group of rebels are celebrating the coming revolt against the King. The commander of the bandits appears, the outlawed nobleman Ernani who wishes to avenge the death of his father at the hands of the father of the reigning King, Don Carlo. Don Carlo appears, for he is enamored of the girl, Elvira, and intent on taking her away with him. Elvira resists, and then, Ernani arrives. The encounter is interrupted by the arrival of the old Silva, who, not immediately recognizing the King, challenges both him and Ernani to a duel.
The first act was performed flawlessly, Simone singing her lines and acting the role with elegance and ease, her voice powerful at the right moments and her movements dramatic. The audience was stunned and a hushed silence filled the house, each viewer exchanging electrified looks.
The second act approached and again the young diva graced the stage as if a highborn kinsmen to a court. She sang her lines effortlessly, each word's diction resonating with vibrancy and detail. Simone's acting taking precedence, the audience were enraptured with her performance.
Act II Ernani
The arrival of Carlo's squire clarifies the situation: Silva kneels and asks for pardon; Carlo saves Ernani, who has meanwhile exchanged vows of love with Elvira, explaining to Silva that he had come to the castle to discuss with him the coming imperial election. He announces his intention of abducting Elvira, with whom he is in love, but who is about to be married to her elderly uncle, Don Ruy Gomez de Silva. Elvira, in Silva's castle, awaits her elopement with Ernani.
The shadowy figure entered the quarters of the young prima donna soprano, the smell of smoldering smoke lingered on her clothing. She stood behind the silken screen and waited patiently for Simone Armande to enter.
Act III Ernani
In Silva's castle, a vain search takes place, Carlo departs, taking Elvira with him, however, Silva again challenges Ernani to a duel. When the two realize that Carlo is their mutual foe, they agree to suspend their quarrel to take vengeance against the King. The Emperor grants an amnesty, and magnanimously gives Elvira in marriage to Ernani, whose rightful property is restored. The act concludes with a paean to the new Emperor, the successor to Charlemagne. One person, however, does not join the jubilation, but cries out for vengeance: Silva.
Elvira and Ernani are filled with happiness, but while they are exchanging promises of eternal love, they hear the sound of a horn. Ernani, recognizing the signal, grows pale and sends Elvira off on a pretext. Silva then reveals himself, removing the mask and recalling Ernani's pact.
Ernani tries to dissuade him; then also Elvira, who has returned and understood what is happening, intercedes with the old man, at first angrily, then with tenderness, but all in vain. Silva is adamant. Ernani has no choice but to hold to his oath: with a dagger, he stabs himself in the breast and dies.
With the ending of the final act, Simone's performance had reached a level of perfection never before seen in the history of opera. If it was at all humanly possible, her confidence improved and her voice became stronger, upstaging the tenors and walking away with the admiration of the audience, imprisoned and captivated by the haunting performance and hypnotic voice. They rose to their feet applauding and shouting Brava. Simone was swept into center stage by Paulo the tenor portraying Ernani.
Her father stood next to her and, in a hypocritical gesture, placed a chaste kiss on her cheek and held his hand out to her, assisting her to bow. The young woman stared at him with a cold glare and ignored his fatherly gesture, instead preferring to bow her head sarcastically at him.
Simone exited the stage to thunderous applause, the sound of cheers ebbing away as she headed in the direction of her dressing room. Nodding politely to those people backstage, accepting the offered congratulations graciously.
She entered the room and removed the cloak, hanging it loosely over the silk screen, as she turned to face the door, a blunt instrument struck her from behind. She fell and slipped into unconsciousness. The figure stepping over her fallen form was Susanne Tommasino who took one last look at the arrogant prima donna soprano before exiting the room.
There was a frenzy as the fire quickly spread and the smoke became thick and black. The wooden stage scenes and clothing fueling the flames and spreading it rapidly. A madness ensued as people began pushing each other violently in an effort to escape the burning inferno.
The screams, a mixture fear and panic, could be heard as pandemonium arose and if it wasn't for the kind nature of madam Dumas, it would not had occurred to Maestro Santerre to search for his own daughter.
Santerre turned the knob to her door and the smell of burning flesh quickly filled the air. He yelped and removed his jacket as Antonio appeared and assisted him.
They entered the room, large orange flames danced engulfing everything in their path. The curtains and bedding had completely dissolved in the heat and fire. The two men coughed and Antonio quickly dropped to his knees as a large pillar of wood came crashing to the floor and landed on top of Simone, her hand trapped underneath its massive weight. The flames licked at her left brow and singed the flawless flesh in its wake.
The young man rose and, with all of the strength he could yield, he removed the burning timber from her form. Her dress in flames, her father doused them with his jacket. Antonio lifted the unconscious form and rushed from the opera house. The sound of people coughing and crying filled the smoke soot streets as they watched their precious Opera house engulfed in flames.
Antonio gazed at the disfigured woman he cradled in his arms, the flame of her beauty snuffed out in the fiery inferno. Tears welled up in his eyes and he turned to look at her father. The maestro's face was stricken, his lips quivering as he stared at the Opera de Paris being burned to the ground, never once turning his vision to his disfigured and injured daughter.
Continuata Parte II, select url below
Continuata Parte II
Continuata Parte II