Opening Night

By Gayle Carline

     Celina fran­ti­cally looked about her as the exe­cu­tioner placed the noose around her neck and pulled it tight. Where is Paulo? My God, where is he?

Loosen the knot, Gre­gory,” she hissed under her breath.

The young man in tights blushed and fum­bled with the noose as the cho­rus around them swelled.

Kill her!” they sang, “Kill her! Kill the witch of the Moors!”

The blended voices rose to a crescendo, to be cut off by the entrance of the hero, Panini. This was sup­posed to be Paulo’s entrance - Paulo Pes­tac­cio, the famous tenor. The voices soared, wavered, cracked, and rose again, wait­ing for him to sing out, “Alto!

When at last they had reached the end of their musi­cal tether, a plump fig­ure slid out from off­stage, trip­ping on the curtain’s tail as he pulled his sword out of its scabbard.

Halt-O,” he shouted as his sword flew from his hands, across the stage. Paulo planted his small, slip­pered feet, and wob­bled to a stop, his belly tak­ing a few more spins before it came to rest.

Magda,” he crooned. “Madamina, il cat­a­l­ogo è questo.

Celina rolled her eyes. Oh, my God, he’s drunk, singing Don Gio­vanni. She looked around at the cho­rus. Their faces were alter­nately pale and flushed, depend­ing upon whether they were mor­ti­fied or merely embar­rassed. They looked at her, their eyes so large she could almost see their optic nerves.

Panini,” she sang, inter­rupt­ing the drunken tenor. “Panini, you must not risk your life to save mine.”

Paulo stopped singing and stared at his hero­ine. He was silent for a moment, before launch­ing into another line, “Osser­vate, leggete con me. In Italia sei­cento e quar­anta–

Again, I say,” Celina ad-libbed, her high soprano vibrat­ing in her throat. “Panini! You must stop this foolishness!”

She looked des­per­ately at the cho­rus. One man, a bass, decided to help her out. Turn­ing to the crowd, he sang, “He must stop this foolishness.”

Stop this fool­ish­ness,” the cho­rus echoed.

Paulo regarded the faces on the stage, dazed and con­fused. “In Ale­magna due­cento e tren­tuna?

No, Panini, no,” Celina sang as she elbowed Gre­gory upstage. “Your bat­tle will be for naught.” Lean­ing her head toward her exe­cu­tioner, she snapped, “Do something!”

The cho­rus, hear­ing a reprieve of their pre­vi­ous song from the orches­tra, began singing, “Kill her.” Once again, they arrived at the spot where Panini would inter­rupt. As they turned to Paulo to sing the last note, sev­eral mem­bers of the cast took an extra breath.

The great tenor was too busy search­ing for his sword amidst the scenery upstage. Celina and Gre­gory looked at each other. Gre­gory shrugged, and sang out, “Alto!

The cho­rus turned and stared at him.

I love her,” he sang. “I love her and she shall not die.” Embold­ened by his impro­vi­sa­tion, he con­tin­ued, to a full-bodied finale, “The Witch of the Moors shall not die!”

Rip­ping the noose from the diva’s neck, he grabbed her by the waist and sailed off­stage, as the cur­tain fell. The audi­ence applauded, ten­ta­tively at first, then politely at last. Celina grabbed Paulo and shoved him into the wings, then ran out for the per­func­tory cur­tain call. No encores were requested, so the men and women of the cho­rus scam­pered back to their dress­ing areas, leav­ing the Celina and Gre­gory to deal with the drunken man, who had passed out, his green vel­vet coat flipped for­ward, expos­ing his spandex-stretching rump.

What the hell are we going to do with him now?” Gre­gory asked the direc­tor. “We’ve got two more weeks of this opera to do, and he can’t even stay sober through open­ing night!”

The direc­tor, a small, spec­ta­cled man with a ner­vous twitch, pat­ted Gregory’s shoul­der. “Now, now, my boy, don’t worry, we’ll take care of him, some­how. He just needs to be han­dled. It’ll be fine.”

It won’t be fine,” Celina said as she stomped across the stage. “You can’t con­trol him, and I won’t have him ruin­ing our lit­tle play.” She paused at the rotund Ital­ian, snor­ing in the cor­ner. Bend­ing over, the robust beauty took his ear in her del­i­cately man­i­cured fin­gers and twisted it.

He howled and rose to his feet, a vic­tim of her persuasion.

Come with me, Paulo,” she said, and led him off to her dress­ing room. Once inside, she opened a box of vials, and took out a bowl.

Eye of newt and wart of frog,” she hummed, clos­ing the door. Smil­ing, the witch held the tenor’s mouth open and poured in a green liquid.

I always wanted a lit­tle dog.” A small cackle escaped her.

The offi­cial report was that Paulo Pes­tac­cio had caught the first jet back to Roma, after artis­tic dif­fer­ences with the direc­tor. Gregory’s lilt­ing tenor gave him the role of Panini, and Celina never went any­where with­out her new pet, a fat lit­tle pug named Porcellino.


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