[an opera novella]
[written as Daphne]
“Lei mi chiama?”
“Signor, no. – Lei ritorna?”
(Mozart, La finta giardiniera)
Pete is going through what looks like his second helping of scrambled eggs and bacon by the time Myka enters the dining hall. He takes one look at the circles underneath her eyes and whistles.
“Look who has decided to join the mortal hordes!”
“Looking at your plate, it feels like hordes indeed.” Myka only carries a cup of tea. “What happened to your gaming duel with Amanda?”
“Tonight.” Pete heaves more bacon onto his fork. “Loser pays pizza for the team. – You coming to cheer me on?”
“Don’t you have your brass guys for that?” Myka asks around a sip of tea. “Perhaps I should side with Amanda instead.”
“Please.” Pete rolls his eyes. “They’re brass guys. She gives them one look, and they all will side with her.”
“True,” Myka agrees. “And of course I’ll be there. To see you getting your ass handed to you.”
Pete shrugs. “As long as Amanda thinks it’s a nice ass.”
Myka takes another sip of tea. “I don’t think she has anything to complain about.”
“Heh.” Pete preens a little. “Of course, it would be more of a compliment if you could open your eyes this morning.” He squints at her and pushes the sugar dispenser in her direction. “Here. Put some more of that into your – whatever that is.”
“Sage tea,” Myka says, but Pete is already interested in something else.
“And now for the actual question, with how pale you are this morning…” He leans forward on his elbows. “Has Miss Cardiff turned you?”
Myka sputters. “What?”
“Sired,” Pete clarifies. He points his fork at Myka. “Into a vampire.” Then he cants his head to the side and frowns. “Is it still called ‘sired’ when it’s a female vampire?”
“I could ask her,” Myka offers.
“Tell her I won’t put garlic on the celebratory pizza!”
At the moment, Myka does not want to think about pizza. She picks up a brioche because she knows she needs food, and sugar, but what she actually needs is sleep, although that need is outweighed by the smug knowledge of having stuck it to Helena Wells. Last night has equally been fun and terribly irresponsible, even though Myka has been careful to avoid alcoholic drinks and smoke. She has slept in as much as she could and her throat feels only slightly off. Still, her legs are protesting on her walk to the morning rehearsal.
“And look who’s decided to join us,” Claudia announces cheerfully, when Myka walks onto the set, and today, she is not the first.
“I’m on time,” Myka protests.
“Amply,” Claudia concedes. “But compared to your usual schedule…”
“How come you are so awake already?”
“Practice,” Claudia says. “And I don’t have to sing.”
Sam waves her over to the seat next to him. “I missed you out running this morning.”
“We did get enough exercise last night,” Kelly says. She is still bouncing on her feet as if she did not miss any sleep at all and Sam at first looks a little put off, but when Kelly puts in a shimmy, both he and Myka are distracted.
Behind them, Helena walks into the room, sunglasses perched on her nose and a large shawl wrapped around her neck.
Myka smothers a smirk and even though her voice is a little off and she has to mark a few passages, she is content that Helena is not in great shape, either.
On stage, at a closer distance and without the shades, Helena’s skin looks near transparent, but even though her voice takes considerably longer to warm up this morning, there is the same uncanny intensity about her. It reminds Myka of someone running a fever and going on against better judgment.
Nielsen is working on Helena’s big second act aria, a wild revenge piece with erratic leaps. A few of those are hit-and-miss today, enough to make Myka wince in reflex, and Helena herself is aware of it, her lips pressed into a thin line as Nielsen chooses to ignore it and tries to pace Arminda’s rage instead. Even Sam, who is the focus of Helena’s temper onstage, refrains from a mocking comment, perhaps because he is afraid she might strangle him for real.
They also repeat yesterday’s scene, with Myka breezing onto the stage waving the paper from the magistrate. Helena fumes, but it feels brittle. She does not storm off this time, she stalks and pouts and gestures too much and Myka cannot get a handle on the exchange.
Nielsen is not happy. “Your focus is off!”
Myka needs a second longer to get her tired legs back to her mark to start the scene again. From the corner of her eye, she notices that Helena’s movements are a slower, too, but Helena remains relentless even when she stumbles.
“Still no,” Nielsen declares after the next try. “Better than yesterday, though,” he adds, but when Myka’s shoulders sag a little in relief, he glares at them both. “We may be getting somewhere, but we are no way there yet!”
Myka is glad for a bit of respite after that and she sips at a tea, next to the director’s desk, content to watch Helena and Kelly work on finding a connection as unlikely allies who both hold a grudge against Sandrina. The scene flows much better than the previous one and it irks Myka.
She worries at her lip when she drinks another tea in the break.
“It still does not work,” Helena says to her, matter-of-factly, as she helps herself to a coffee.
“Mhmm.” Myka nods and then she offers Helena the sugar she has just used to make her herbal concoction somewhat more palatable, but Helena declines and drinks her coffee black.
“This.” Helena points between them. Past her shoulder, Myka can see Sam talking to Nielsen. “I gather that we could do with a bit more familiarity.” Helena gestures to the side with her head and Myka follows her, trying to focus on the warmth of the mug in her hands and not on the sight of Helena’s legs in the riding pants that are part of her costume.
She remembers Helena next to her, only hours ago, hips moving with the thump of a bass line, their bodies supple like warm honey.
“Familiarity,” she repeats.
Helena lifts her cup, shifts it within her grasp. “It cannot be just rage. I am not yet certain how –” She shakes her head, frustrated. “There has to be something else.”
Myka plays devil’s advocate. “Well, perhaps you are over me, and I simply don’t get it.” She shrugs, chagrined that yesterday, Helena was willing to make her look like an idiot onstage, when today, she is asking her to fix this. “There are men like that.”
“True,” Helena agrees. “But Ramiro? He may be a tad on the stubborn side, but he is far too well-mannered for that. And there is still too much of an undercurrent. Also on my part,” she clarifies. “Why do we keep arguing?”
For a moment, Myka is not sure whether Helena means their roles or themselves. “I think it’s about how we argue.”
“The intensity,” Helena suggests immediately.
“I was going to say, ‘the bickering’.”
“In the spirit of an old married couple?”
Myka shrugs. “They know how to push each other’s buttons.”
Helena taps a nail against her cup. “But it is not comfortable, it is raw. It is amplitude: kiss or kill. Anything as long as it is grand enough. – Precisely the energy I try so hard to find with Belfiore, but in vain…”
“But there need to be comfortable moments, too,” Myka protests, because she cannot sell romance if she is supposed to yell and snipe all the time, but Helena has taken hold of her wrist and pulls her along.
“Let’s run this through.”
“Now?” Myka complains and blinks as they stumble out into the sunshine, onto dust and concrete.
“Of course now.” Helena slips her shades onto her nose, gauges the distance between her and Myka and takes two steps further away.
Myka is still blinking into the light. “I should take a picture of you for Pete.”
Helena peers over the rim of her glasses. “Pete has a thing for me?”
“Pete will be very disappointed that you have a shadow,” Myka says. “He thinks you’re a vampire.”
Helena laughs. “Arminda having turned Ramiro into a vampire, we might pitch that to Nielsen.”
“Or Ramiro having turned Arminda,” Myka says doggedly, and Helena gives her a grin somewhere between fond and derisive.
“Into a librarian, I presume?”
Myka merely rolls her eyes and Helena smiles before she returns to the scene.
“Arminda could always rely on Ramiro -” She looks over at Myka and waits for her nod. “And now there you are, suddenly making my life difficult.”
“And it’s getting her attention.”Myka leans against the wall, studying her pretend warrant from the magistrate. “Signore, da Milano mi giunge adesso un foglio…”
This time, Helena is not ignoring her or glaring at her. From beneath her lashes, her eyes follow Myka as Myka crosses the stage.
Myka chooses to walk closer past Helena, and a little slower. She almost brushes against her, but not quite.
Helena’s fingers curl and uncurl, her tone is doubtful. She puts in more pauses and during what will be Bennet’s pompous aria, her gaze flickers over to Myka more than once, while Myka is playing it cool.
“Listen to me, Arminda, darling -“
Myka sounds gentler now, not as petty as yesterday.
“…you damn liar,” Helena bites out, but this time, she plays it as fighting against tears.
“No, you’re wrong, I am…” And Myka trails off as she reaches out to touch Helena’s shoulder, slowly, and Helena does not recoil. Her shoulders rise, and fall, and for a moment, her own fingers hover close to Myka’s hand before she steps away.
“I hate you!”
There is a stumble in her step as she stalks away and it throws Myka for a loop. It is just the moment Helena needs to be a little farther away, to have Myka scramble after her with purpose.
“Listen to me!”
And now, when Helena declares “I am burning with rage!” it comes across as wild and broken, far more layered than yesterday. There is a split second more where they stare at each other, breathing differently than a minute ago.
“Well,” Helena declares contentedly, out of the scene in a blink. “This might just work.” She does not step away.
Myka clears her throat and remembers too late that this is not something she should do, least of all this morning.”Yes. It works.”
Nielsen leans forward on his elbows when they replay their approach after the break. “Yes! Yes, that’s it!” He waves in the direction of Nick. “Intern, I commend your coffee. Give them more of it!”
Behind him, Kelly whistles under her breath when Helena lets Myka’s hand slide off her shoulder. Next to her, Sam has stopped perusing his score and is staring at the stage with a bit of a frown.
Then Myka is alone on stage and segues into her big, languid aria. She debates whether she should mark, after last night. The bits of recitative still come out a little awkwardly, but Myka knows when the ritornello starts and she lets the air fill her lungs, when she feels her flanks expand, that it will work.
“Beckoning hope, sweet companion of love…”
She looks at the stage chair Helena has abandoned; she walks closer and runs a hand along its headrest. Only then does she sit down, using it as tangible link to Arminda as she sings of love.
Myka has worked with Hugo on the legato take on “tu mi conduci in porto” – fa, two beats, downward scale, trill on la.
“It needs to wrap around you like your favorite, softest scarf,” Hugo had said. “Or forget that again. Just remember it has a heartbeat. Mozart always has a heartbeat.”
And Myka floats on the line, wings spread and carried by the subtle pulse of the music.
Around the director’s desk, not even Bennet is looking elsewhere. Helena has sat down among the group, quietly, and the way she is smiling now echoes the music. Blossoming, is the odd first word that Myka’s mind offers. Beckoning. Lusinghiera.
Her smile slips under Myka’s skin without effort, like music, and Myka feels herself melt away. She has to rein herself in and focus on centering her breath, but she wants Helena to keep smiling at her like this.
There is a moment of silence after Abigail has played the final chords. Nielsen merely nods, and Myka cannot curb a triumphant grin when she walks back to her seat.
“Sounds like someone is falling in love,” Kelly sing-songs under her breath when Myka sits down next to her. Bennet snickers at that, Sam winks at her, and Helena is still smiling.
“So it’s internationally true that the mezzos always go home with the trombones,” Kelly muses. Nielsen is already blocking the next scene: Helena and Bennet, and then Sam.
“Trombones? You mean Pete?” Myka needs a moment to react. “Trust me, he would go rather go home with an Xbox. Or with a sandwich. Any sandwich.”
“I would not mind being part of that sandwich,” Kelly mutters, and Myka is not sure she has heard that correctly, but then Kelly needs to head onto stage and Myka has an idea. Arminda could be the first to return for this scene: possibly catching the last bit of Ramiro’s aria, or perhaps remembering their earlier exchange. She wants to run it by Helena first, but when Nielsen calls for lunch break, Helena brushes past her without another look.
Myka hangs back for a bit, but Helena is leaning onto the piano and saying something that makes Abigail laugh while she is looking everywhere but at Myka.
“Problem?” Claudia asks from where she is adding Nielsen’s latest orders to the directing score.
“Not at all,” Myka says and she hates how surly she sounds. She refuses to label Helena’s attitude as a problem. The pattern continues in the evening: Helena arrives with Abigail, their heads close together in conversation, and does not bother to acknowledge Myka’s presence even though Myka is sitting right in their path.
The first time Helena actually looks at her is on stage. They are working on the second act finale again and they have returned to “This does not work”. Nielsen is not enthusiastic, either, and hollers at Nick to give everyone more coffee to get this scene finally off the ground.
Myka drives her pretend car again and Helena holds up her arms to shield her eyes from the pretend headlights, but any approach Myka takes towards her – a hand to her shoulder, again, or getting right up in her face – is met with “This does not work.”
“You’re the only reason for all this misery!” is Myka’s favorite line to sing tonight.
Helena transposes a few of her phrases downward, she is not comfortable, either: Myka can see it in how she stalks through the scenery without a clear focus. But, of course, to Myka she will say, “This does not work”, and it is one time too many.
“You do remember that we talked about giving our characters some undercurrent of affection?” Myka wants to know when Nielsen calls for a brief stop.
Helena tosses her hair back, raises her chin. “If you could manage not to sound quite so whiny, then yes.”
“If you could manage not to be quite such a pain about everything, great!”
On impulse, Myka decides to ignore Arminda in the next try. She leans against her pretend car door and laughs at the mixed up couples, and then she crouches down next to a tired-looking Amanda, whose beleaguered Sandrina could use a chivalrous hand.
“Perchè tiranna cotanta asprezza?”
This time, she tosses the line back over her shoulder, barely dignifying Helena with a glance. Amanda looks at Myka gratefully and uses the momentum offered. Myka only needs to correct her stance and rise on one knee so Amanda will not tower over her.
“Myka, Amanda!” Nielsen calls from the sidelines. “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it!”
Myka is fine with ignoring Helena for the time being. She stays next to Amanda and throws all her frustration at Sam. She is challenging him to a duel, and up to this take, she has always done it measured, with the leveled blend of courtesy and disdain lifted from a classic King Arthur movie. This time, Myka is charging at him before she can think better of it.
“Mio signor, non se ne vada,
un duello colla spada
lei non deve ricusar!”
Sam’s chest is solid underneath her hand, and Sam smiles just a little before his gaze wanders off, back to portraying the Count who has gone mad. And then Helena is between them, pushing them apart.
“Please! Please stop!”
Her fist curls into Myka’s shirtfront and they stare at each other, at such a close distance that it gives Myka a little jolt. For a dizzying moment, Helena’s eyes seem to eclipse everything else.
Then Helena stumbles back, wide-eyed as it registers for Arminda that her first, instinctive move in trying to prevent the duel has been towards Ramiro, and not towards the Count. It is a small detail, but Myka is professional enough to admit that it is a really good one.
Nielsen seems to agree because he yells at Claudia to write it down and in the end, he even ends the rehearsal five minutes early.
“Let’s run this through again, shall we?”
Myka looks up from her score and into Helena’s face.
“Of course now,” Helena says with impatience. “The duel challenge does work nicely, but it will not carry the entire scene for us -“
“It’s ten p.m.,” Myka observes.
“Your point being?”
Myka sighs. “My point being that I am tired. And I promised Pete to be there for his grand Xbox duel.”
“Blow him off,” Helena demands. “This is important!”
Myka closes her score. “I promised.”
Helena looks at her without understanding. “Do whatever you wish with him, just do it later!”
Myka gives her a long, hard look. “Good night, Helena.”
Pete beams at her when she arrives just in time for the duel. He would not need her for back-up, though, since most of the cast and crew of the Giardiniera and what has to be the brass section of the entire festival orchestra – including the Tchaikovsky on the main stage – are already there and have taken a stand around the last dining hall table that remains in place, and the console it carries.
“I need my lyric soprano unharmed and able to sing in the morning.” A nervous Claudia, without success, tries to wrangle the remote from Pete. “And I need her half an hour early, since we’re rehearsing out at the Domaine.”
“We are?” Myka asks.
“Surprise!” Claudia announces and nods at Myka, before she makes another try for the remote. “Unless you behave like a bunch of teenagers tonight, and –“
“Tonight,” Myka repeats dryly and Claudia sighs, but it is lost in another cheer as Pete and Amanda exchange barbs and prowl around the table.
“As if it were a boxing match,” Myka says and Claudia frantically shakes her head.
“Don’t give them any ideas!”
“Order the pizza already, Lattimer!” A stocky redhead – bassoon section, Myka remembers – raises his beer bottle. “This will be short – I mean, girl gamers…”
There are whistles and catcalls and Amanda taps perfectly polished nails against her own beer bottle. “Not as short as your breath!”
Another cheer erupts, and Pete groans when he looks at the bassoon player. “Man, you better apologize if you ever want another date, with any woman, ever.”
Amanda raises a brow, playing along. “Why would anyone date a brass player anyway?”
“Ha.” Pete grins. “One word: Tonguing.”
There’s more wolf whistles at that, and Amanda tips her head to Pete, while Claudia buries her head in her hands. “This isn’t happening.”
But it is happening.
Myka does not know much about gaming, she still squints at the screen each time cheers erupt or a groan tear through the group. To her, it is a blur of rapidly passing landscapes, with dizzying jumps and turns, but both Pete and Amanda seem to have far too much fun to end the duel quickly.
“How’s that for a high C, soprano?”
Pete juggles his remote in triumph as an avalanche of rocks and sparkles covers the screen and the brass section cheers.
“I’m a lyric, brass boy, and we deal in legato!”
Amanda’s avatar slides down atop the avalanche and makes headway, but Amanda’s grin turns into a curse when once more, Pete appears ahead of her in the game.
“And that’s em-boss-ure!”
Laughter echoes across the room. Even Helena shows up at some point, nursing a beer and still looking somewhat surly, but Myka refuses to let that interfere with her own good mood.
She cheers when Amanda finally wins, but then wraps an arm around Pete. “Sorry you lost.”
But Pete is grinning and glances over to where Amanda stands. “I think I won big time.”
Operatic Cliff Notes:
- Chapter Quote:
“No, my Lord. – Are you coming back?”
- There’s a lot of recitative quoted, but since most of it is quoted in English, it should be understandable. If anyone wants a look at the Italian original, it’s scene II/8.
- The role of Ramiro sings three arias throughout the opera, the second of which is what Myka sings in this chapter. It is called “Dolce d’amor compagna” and is a very slow, romantic affair (check here for the Salzburg Goth interpretation of Ruxandra Donose, and here for the “let’s stage Ramiro as a lesbian” approach in Berlin sung by Stephanie Atanasov).
on to Chapter 6