Welcome to the Opera
"It truly is a magnificent structure," Monsieur Bonnefoy cooed, looking left and right at the granite columns and elaborate archways of the building, much like a child in a candy shop, "Simply divine."
"Indeed, it is," agreed Monsieur Kirkland, eyeing the opera house critically before turning to their blond host, "Why exactly are you selling this place?"
Monsieur Beilschmidt sighed deeply, a downcast look in his eyes. As they approached the opera house's entrance, he forced a weak smile on his face. "Well, there comes a time in one's life when you have to get away from it all. I just think it is about time I retire," the man said, pushing open the massive door in a single, fluid motion, "Gentlemen, welcome to the Opera Populaire."
The two new managers smiled, greatly impressed, as they proceeded into the grandiose building. Actors ran to and fro, carrying costumes for the second act and applying last minute touch-ups to their faces. Ballerinas straightened their outfits and dusted their shoes as they prepared for their appearance on stage. The three men weaved their way through the crowd of stagehands and performers that buzzed with frenzied excitement. Monsieur Beilschmidt was at the head of the trio, pointing out the elaborate décor and the intricate design of the opera house as they went along. They arrived at the stage where most of the commotion was centered: the dress rehearsal. With only a few hours till show time, the opera's workers were all frantically laboring to make sure everything ran smoothly.
At the head of the stage, the opera house's lead soprano, Natalia Arlovskaya, belted out the notes of the current scene. She stood with an air of arrogance as she sang, sneering at others as they took their places on stage. As she moved stage left, a choir girl stepped on her dress and she scowled at the seamstress hidden in the wings, scolding her for making the dress too long. The lead tenor made his grand entrance, stumbling on the lines of his solo. Monsieur Edelstein, the musical director of the opera house, frowned at this, but when he saw the three men haphazardly crossing the stage, his frown deepened.
"As you can see, rehearsals for our newest production, Vargas's Hannibal, are already underway," Beilschmidt stated, sweeping his hand over the room.
"Monsieur Beilshcmidt," the conductor moaned, "Ve are rehearsing!"
The blonde held up his hands in a placating gesture before clearing his throat, "Please, Monsieur Edelstein. Ladies und gentlemen, your attention please. Now, you've all heard rumors of my imminent retirement. Well, I would like to tell you that they are not rumors. Let me introduce the new owners of the Opera Populaire."
"This is Monsieur Francis Bonnefoy," he said, signaling the man with golden locks and matching stubble briefly before addressing his green-eyed counterpart, "Und Monsieur Arthur Kirkland. They've recently made a fortune in the junk business…"
"It's scrap metal, actually," Arthur interjected under his breath.
"And we are deeply honored to introduce our new patron, the Vicomte of Chagny!" Francis announced, earning an enthusiastic applause.
As the viscount entered, you and your friend, Lily, pushed to through the crowd to get a better look. A young man came into view with an unrestrained grin on his face. His dusty blond hair was neatly arranged, save for a stubborn cowlick that stuck up on the right side of his head. Bright blue eyes shone behind his glasses with a playful twinkle that seemed ever-present.
"That's Al…" you breathed, catching the attention of your friend, "Before my father died, at the house by the sea, you could say we were childhood sweethearts. He would call me, Little Lotte."
"Oh ______, he's so handsome!" Lily gushed, tugging on your arm.
"I'm proud to support all the arts, especially the world-famous Opera Populaire," the viscount stated.
With an exaggerated sweep of her arm, Natalia crossed the stage and held her hand out to the young man, which he awkwardly took and kissed out of politeness.
"Gentlemen, this is Natalia Arlovskaya, our leading soprano for five seasons…" Monsieur Beilshcimdt began, ignoring the sarcastic cheers coming from her team of handlers. Beside him a man in costume cleared his throat loudly and he continued, "Und this is Toris Laurinaitis, our leading tenor."
"Cool, nice to meet you. Well, I know I'm in your way here so I'll be going now. I'll see you all tonight, please continue with your rehearsal, monsieur." Alfred smiled, making his way off the stage.
"Thank you!" the exasperated conductor huffed, "Now everybody back to your spots!"
Alfred continued on his way, walking right past you without so much as a glance. You stared blankly at the ground for a few seconds before turning to Lily. "He wouldn't recognize me…"
"No! He just didn't see you, _____." Lily reassured you, patting your back softly.
"Please monsieur!" Madame Hedervary said, calling the new owners to move aside as you and the rest of the ballet girls made your entrance. The two did so and watched with great interest as the dancing began.
"We take great pride in our ballet," the madam continued, sounding rather proud herself.
"I can see why," Francis smirked as he watched the girls dance, when suddenly Lily stood out among the rest, "Especially that little blonde over there."
"My daughter, Lily," Madame Hedervary smiled.
The ballet continued and you became prominent, gracefully completing every twirl and dip without ever falling out of step.
"And who is that beauty?" Arthur asked, pointing you out.
"That is _____ _____, a promising talent as you can see."
"_____? Quite a peculiar name…" Arthur mumbled, rubbing his chin, "Is she related to the famous violinist by any chance?"
"His only child. She was orphaned at seven and came to live and train in the ballet dormitories," the madam responded, "I think of her as another daughter. Now please, stand aside."
As Natalia continued her song on center stage, once again someone stepped on her dress. "Not on the dress!" she cried, "What is your problem?"
The actor apologized nervously and moved to his spot as a giant mechanical elephant entered the scene. People scrambled to make way for the creature, bumping into one another. In a flurry of music and confusion, the song finally came to an end. Natalia cried out in frustration once more.
"The viscount is very excited for the show tonight," Arthur commented, distracted by the chaos.
Natalia stomped over towards them, "I hope he is as excited by dancing girls as you two idiots are because I will not be singing!" She turned and began walking, "That's it. I'm done! Let's go everybody."
The new managers looked at each other, dumbfounded, then at Monsieur Beilschimdt.
"What do we do?" Francis asked, his eyes wide.
The blonde sighed and waved in the woman's direction, "Grovel."
The two men nodded and rushed after her, calling out various flattering names to her.
"Goddess of song!"
Natalia turns to face them, "True, true, very true."
"Monsieur Edelstein, isn't there an aria for our star in act three?" Arthur mentioned, to which the conductor shook his head furiously, begging him to stop talking.
"Yes, yes. But I cannot sing because my costume for act three is not finished! And I hate this stupid hat!" the raucous woman exclaimed.
"I wonder, if you would grace us with a sneak preview, unless Monsieur Edelstein objects," Francis pleaded, petting her hand.
Natalia rubbed her temple as if she were suffering from a severe headache, when suddenly she smiled wide, "If the maestro would please begin."
"From the top of the aria, act three," Monsieur Edelstein sighed to his orchestra. It was his turn to rub his temple.
The diva charged back to center stage, commanding everyone to be quiet. Natalia grabbed her bottle of lemon and honey extract and sprayed some in her mouth to refresh her vocal chords. As the music began, many stagehands searched for objects that they could use as ear plugs.
"Think of me, think of me fondly, when we've said GOOD-bye!" she squealed, causing most of her audience to wince, "Remember me once in a while – please promise me YOU'LL try!"
Up in the rafters, an obscure figure lurked, witnessing the spectacle from above. His gloved hand reached out and untied one of the backdrops situated above the crowd. He smiled briefly as it fell, retreating into the shadows as the chaos ensued.
Several choir girls shrieked as the piece of scenery came down. Everyone scurried out of its way – everyone except Natalia, who was too preoccupied with her solo to notice. She let out an ear-splitting howl as the heavy canvas landed on her, crushing her against the stage floor.
"Nata! Nata, are you okay?" Toris exclaimed, rushing over to help his lady.
"Get me out of here!" the livid woman growled, pounding her fists viciously on the floor.
Several of her handlers jumped into action, pulling her out from under the backdrop.
"Yao!" Monsieur Beilschmidt called to the chief stagehand up in the rafters, "What is the meaning of this?"
"Aiya! It was not me, aru! I was not at my post," the dark-haired man responded before looking to his left and right, "There is no one here, aru. Whoever did this must have been a ghost."
"He's here," Lily whispered, gripping your arm so tightly that it was painful, "The phantom of the opera…"
A small envelope fell from above, drifting lazily through the ropes and weights until it landed before Madame Hedervary. She stared at the blank, folded parchment at her feet with equally as blank eyes. The woman picked it up and turned it over, revealing the familiar seal: a sinister skull made of crimson wax.
The new managers watched as the stagehands struggled, horrified at how terrible their situation had become. They turned to Monsieur Beilschmidt with pleading eyes as if he would be able to concoct a solution. The German shut his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.
"If you need me, I will be in Frankfurt. Auf Wiedersehen, gentlemen. Good luck to you," he stated, making a swift break for the exit.
The two men shot each other a mutual look of agony, before addressing their distressed diva.
"These things do 'appen, mademoiselle," Francis affirmed, lightly grabbing her hand.
She violently tore away from his grip and snarled, "Well, until you stop these things from happening, this thing does not happen."
With that she took her leave, calling for all of her crew to follow. Toris trailed after her, glancing back for a second to give the managers a sympathetic look before continuing on his way. Madame Hedervary crossed the stage to where the flustered men stood and handed them the envelope. They furrowed their brows, not sure what to make of the ominous seal.
"The phantom welcomes you to his opera and commands that you continue to leave box five reserved for his use. He also reminds you that his salary is due at the end of the month."
"His opera?" Arthur remarked, more to himself than to anyone else.
"And 'is salary? Salary for what?"
The woman fixed her skirt as if the conversation had little to do with her, "Monsieur Beilschmidt would pay him twenty thousand francs a month. Perhaps you can afford more, with the viscount as your patron and all…"
"Well, I was going to announce that publicly tonight after the performance, but it seems we will 'ave no performance since we 'ave lost our star." Francis sighed.
"What do we do now?" Arthur cried, throwing his hands up in the air, "Isn't there an understudy for her part or something of the sort?"
"Monsieur," the conductor frowned, "There is no understudy for Natalia."
Just as the two were about to concede defeat, Lily piped up, "_____ can sing it for you!"
Lily pushed you forward as you shot her a what-are-you-doing look. The new managers shared a puzzled expression, "The dancer?"
"Let her sing for you, gentlemen," Madame Hedervary suggested, urging you to the front of the stage, "She has been well taught."
"And who is your teacher?" Arthur questioned.
"I don't know his name…" you murmured, gazing at the ground.
"Well?" Francis nudged with a hopeful look in his blue eyes, "Go on then."
You closed your (e/c) eyes for a second and took a deep breath, recalling everything your instructor had taught you.
"Think of me, think of me fondly,
When we've said goodbye.
Remember me once in a while –
Please promise me you'll try."
Madame Hedervary crossed her arms over her chest, a knowing smile on her face. The two bumbling blondes stared in bewilderment, smiles growing on their faces as well, seeing as they would no longer have to cancel the night's performance. You captivated the room with your beautiful voice, creating a sweet melody that went beyond everyone's expectations.
"When you find that, once again, you long
To take your heart back and be free –
If you ever find a moment,
Spare a thought for me."
The rest of the day seemed to go by in a blur of light and motion, and suddenly you were alone on the stage, making your debut in the night's production. You wore an elaborate white dress adorned with silver beads and sequins, giving you a sort of magical, if not, heavenly appearance. A crown of pale flowers was woven into your (h/c) hair and your (e/c) eyes glimmered under the stage lights.
"We never said our love was evergreen,
Or as unchanging as the sea –
But if you can still remember
Stop and think of me."
Thousands of eyes peered at you from their seats, but this didn't make you nervous. If anything, it gave you courage and made your voice grow stronger.
"Think of all the things
We've shared and seen –
Don't think about the way things
Might have been…"
"Think of me, think of me waking
Silent and resigned.
Imagine me, trying to hard
To put you from my mind.
Recall those days,
Look back on all those times,
Think of the things we'll never do –
There will never be a day
When I won't think of you."
Up above, in one of the many box seats that the opera house contained, realization suddenly hit the young viscount like a freight train.
"Can it be? Can it be _____?" Alfred asked himself, eyes widening as his question answered itself. He stood and headed down to the ground floor, hoping to get chance to speak with you once your solo was over.
"Long ago, it seems so long ago how young and innocent we were… She may not remember me, but I remember her…" he sang in his head, making his way down the main staircase. Madame Hedervary watched him go from behind a curtain, a small frown on her face.
The fruits of summer fade,
They have their seasons, so do we
But please promise me that sometimes
You will think…"
You paused, smiling momentarily before proceeding into your staccato finish.
"Ah, ah ah ah ah~ Ah, ah ah, ah ah~ Ah!
The music concluded, but you hardly noticed over the sound of claps that thundered from your audience below. You received a standing ovation from the entirety of the room. You curtsied graciously in return and exited the stage, disappearing amid the crowd of stagehands and actors who congratulated you as you went.