Roza made her way through the dense hustle and bustle of the afternoon flea market. She knew not what she was looking for nor why she came. Her restless soul compelled her to wander through the seemingly endless rows of antiques, collectibles and superficial priceless junk. Roza was a young opera singer. Today was her day off from her relentless study as a graduate student at the conservatoire. What better way to spend it than to stroll down the old village market and browse for props, relics and better yet, vintage clothes? The month before, Roza had picked up an exquisite Empire style white lace gown that made her feel as prim and as regal as the opera heroine in the operatic scene she was currently studying. Who knew what other wonderful treasures this month's antique market could hold?
As Roza was strolling down the final row, a sudden flash of bright light caught her attention. It was a large, dark, antique full length mirror. The great structure loomed before her, its gothic beauty enticing her to approach it. She reached out to touch it.
"You are a singer aren't you?" a voice behind her sudden inquired. Roza started and spun around to face a strange old woman adorned in gypsy attire who was the dealer of this booth.
Roza looked at her. "How did you know?"
The gypsy woman smiled strangely. "I don't know. I just know. You look like a singer to me. And this mirror..." she walked over to it slowly and stroked its intricate carvings of angels, cherubs, flowers, lyres and nymphs. "This mirror belonged to great one once."
Roza was intrigued. "Really?"
The gypsy woman nodded. "Her name was Alexandra Vilis. She was an extremely promising young singer at the conservatoire back in the 1920's. There was nothing that this girl couldn't sing. And did not only she possess the most exquisite of soprano voices...but also a stage presence to match. Her interpretations were considered out of this world, she inspired the directors to take the stagings down new roads. Nobody new how she did it...how such a young and relatively inexperienced young singer could create such authentic and exquisite art. Word of such a divine talent traveled fast, and opera lovers and officials from all over came to see her student performances alone. Such a prodigy she was..." the gypsy woman trailed off and then gave a great sigh and Roza who was intrigued and therefore, listening to every world of this fascinating story picked up on it. Something was not right.
"So what became of Miss. Vilis?" Roza asked eagerly.
There was a long silence and the gypsy woman turned and looked away, a far away look in her eyes. "No one knows. She was bound for world-wide stardom, everyone knew that. She was even engaged to sing at the Metropolitan. But then...one night...during the intermission of a gala performance at the conservatoire...she just disappeared."
"Oh my goodness..." Roza said with a gasp. "That's terrible....And they never found her?" she asked.
The gypsy woman shook her head. "They never found her. They searched everywhere. It was a terrible tragedy for the world of opera. It was as if she had disappeared off the face of the earth...."
"Oh my..." Roza commented once again approaching the mirror. "And this was her mirror?"
"Yes it was. One of her most cherished possessions, they say. It always hung in the dressing room wherever she happened to be singing."
Roza gazed at the mirror. "It's so beautiful. I‘ve always wanted a mirror like this one."
"I can offer you a fair price," the gypsy woman said suddenly.
"Really?" inquired Roza, wondering what her definition of fair was. She happened to know that valuable antiques ran for prices that her meager student funds could not sufficiently cover.
"Five hundred dollars?"
"I cannot afford that."
"Then how about two-hundred fifty?"
Roza thought about it hard. Something compelled her to possess that mirror. Something that she could not explain. "I'll take it." She heard herself say. And what a bargain that was. "That is practically a steal."
"It is perfectly fine by me. I somehow knew that you were the right one to have this mirror the moment I laid eyes on you." The gypsy woman said solemnly. "I think Alexandra would want you to have it. Especially since you are a young singer like she was. May you find the same inspiration that she did."
Mesicku na nebi hlubokem, O moon in the velvet heavens,
svetlo tve daleko vidi y our light shines far,
po svete bloudis sirokem, you roam throughout the whole world,
divas se v pribytky lidi. gazing into human dwellings.
Po svette bloudis sirokem, You roam throughout the whole world,
diva se v pribytky lidi. gazing into human dwellings.
Mesicku postuj chvili, O moon, stay awhile,
rekni mi kde je muj mily! tell me where my beloved is!
Mesicku postuj chvili, O moon stay awhile,
rekni mi kde je muj mily! tell me where my beloved is!
Rekni mu, stribrny mesicku, O tell me, silver moon,
me ze jej objima rame, that my arms enfold him,
aby se alespon chvilicku in the hope that at least for a moment
vzpomenul ve sneni na mne. he will dream of me.
Aby se alespon chivilicku In the hope that for at least for a moment
vzpomenul ve sneni na mne. he will dream of me.
Zasvet' mu do daleka, Shine on him, wherever he may be,
rekni mu kdo tu nan ceka! and tell him of the one that awaits him here!
Zasvet' mu do daleka, Shine on him, wherever he may be,
rekni mu kdo tu nan ceka! and tell him of the one that awaits him here!
O mne-li, duse lidska sni, If a human soul should dream of me,
at' se tou vzpominku vzbudi; may he still remember me on awakening;
mesicku, nezhasni, nezhasni! o moon, do not fade away!
Roza held the climax note in the final phrase, a high Bb flat, long and effortlessly and soulfully. How she adored this absolutely exquisite Slavic aria by Dvorak more than any other. It was a piece of alluring mystical beauty that transcended the incarnation of a yearning, irrevocable, passionate love that could tragically, never be fulfilled. How this piece utterly reflected Roza's own thoroughly Slavic soul and the bitter melancholy that had filled her life so far. She had loved like that once! She had loved unconditionally with a soul-searching conviction and passion. It had been five years ago, but Roza felt as if it just happened to her yesterday. The emotions were vividly fresh in Roza's mind, especially when she sang an aria like the Dvorak. The passion that monopolized her then once again flooded her heart and soul, often reducing her to tears.
Once, a seventeen year-old Roza had fallen head-over-heels in love with a raven-haired Italian pianist that once accompanied her back in her native New York. So intense was her love, that she could barely speak to the older man. Convey her feelings verbally, she did not. The only way possible that she could express her feelings for the handsome pianist was through music, living a sort of exquisite dream as she made music with the one that she loved more than life itself. He inspired her in a way none other had inspired her before. She still treasured that time in her heart. That time when she was so young and innocent and knew not of the evil that dwelled in people. But suddenly, one devastating day, her great dream was shattered. The pianist's true cruel nature, which was up and till then obscured with surface impeccable charm, was now revealed. A greedy and cold-hearted opportunist, he knew of Roza's tender feelings and took advantage of them. The pianist charged Roza ‘s family twice what he charged everybody else simply because Roza loved him and he obviously thought her well-off and infinitely naive. When Roza's father learned of this, he fired the pianist. The man Roza had loved so dearly, ruthlessly disappeared from her life forever, without so much as a goodbye after all they had shared musically and artistically. She never saw him again.
The period in which Roza pined turned into weeks and months and grew into a couple of long dark years. Of course, the perceptive and intuitive Roza had known all along of Vincenzo's shady nature. She just did not want to believe it. She kept on drinking the insidious poison that was her passion for her heartless tempter, for all the good that it did her. She continued to love someone who had only intended to use her in cold blood, who was emotionally unstable, and who was not capable of caring for or loving anybody. She held on to her frivolous dream, because like Gilda in Verdi's Rigoletto, she just did not want to let go of it. Like many of the countless tragic heroines in the operas, Roza sought solace at the churches, weeping and praying for peace.
Low and behold, two years later, Roza did find her peace. She was certain God had willed it. The weight was lifted and she at last was free of the disillusionment and the bitter sting of the betrayal. She found peace in her art, her music. Music, which would never abandon her or betray her. Music, which would always brilliantly illuminate her life. She emerged herself in the wonderful world of opera, absorbing as much as possible both musically and spiritually. She gained a reputation as being incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about anything opera and her luscious lyric soprano voice blossomed. She was accepted to a fine conservatory, studying under the best and making wonderful progress.
It should seem that Roza should be completely happy, now that she had was truly in her element and had found her place in life, but she really wasn't. It was that soul-searching Slavic influence...that overwhelming yearning to love and be loved. She lived constantly in the world of her operas, those very human musical creations and knew in her heart that she could only find happiness with a mysterious man of melancholy who would know her soul and love her for herself, as she so wanted to be loved. It was a pity that she lived in the present modern day....a time when romanticism and chivalry are sadly ignored or frowned upon. The male population all but ignored her completely. It was not that she was not pretty enough. Roza was tall and shapely and had waste-length curly dark brown hair, large dark eyes and a clear, creamy pallor. Her quiet ways, old-fashioned dignified romantic air and great integrity and depth tended to scare off most. Roza loved the 19th century fashions and ideals and had felt all of her life that she was born in the wrong century. She wondered if she would ever find love.
Roza snapped out of her reverie and left the cozy haven of the little practice room, closing the door behind her. She must have spent a good twenty minutes or so after her singing, engaged in her restless thoughts. She glanced at her watch and saw that it was a quarter after five and that she was late to her apartment for the scheduled mirror delivery.
That evening, Roza stood in her Victorian apartment adorned in her elegant old-fashioned white lace dress, admiring herself before the new mirror. Her dark curly hair cascaded to her waist and her soulful dark eyes wore a thoughtful _expression. How perfect this mirror fit in her romantic world of fancy. Her room was done up in attractive hues of ivory and pale yellow. A canopy with elaborate lace stood next to one wall, a large bookshelf which displayed an extensive array of opera scores, collections and recordings sat at another, while the closets and broad windows with matching ivory lace curtains and a mahogany rocker composed the rest of the space that was Roza's dear room. Here was a place where she could dream to her heart's content in peaceful solitude and study her scores without interruption. Roza loved that; for she was very much a loner. Dreams had been her main companions since she was a child.
It was twilight and Roza was sitting in the mahogany rocker in the corner, reading through a small pile of opera scores that made up her current repertoire. She had waited for years and was at last mature enough to begin studying complete operatic roles. Contessa in Le Nozze di Figaro, Marguerite in Faust, Juliette in Romeo et Juliette, Gilda in Rigoletto, Micaela in Carmen, Tatyana in Yevgeny Onegin, Antonia is Les Contes D'Hoffman, Mimi in La Boheme, Magda in La Rondine, Liu in Turandot and the title role of Rusalka. These were her core roles as a lyric soprano and she very much adored each and every one of them. Many a night she had fallen asleep studying the scores and discovering the secrets that they held.
Tonight, the score was Yevgeny Onegin and the role of Tatyana. She had recently decided that she loved this opera more than any other that she had ever experienced. How completely she identified with the shy, dreamy romantic country maiden, Tatyana Larina she felt that through everything she said and did, she could be herself. Except of course, in the final scene when Tatyana, (now the Princess Gremina) refuses to follow her own heart and settles for duty and honor instead. Although she admits she still loves Onegin she rejects him and he is left devastated and alone. Yevgeny Onegin, who was the most complex, fascinating, and alluring opera character Roza has ever encountered. This was by far, to Roza the most tragic of all operas. She felt that she would rather die than endure such a fate.
"Honor? What is honor? I call it a living a lie if you ask me!" Roza said aloud. "Tatyana is lying both to herself and to the man she married!" She felt a sudden urge to cry. She didn't know why a mere opera upset her so much, but it did. Reservations aside, one day she would sing this role, and it would be her that would have to reject that handsome, desperate, melancholic man. Opera just wasn't fair!
"I wish I could understand," she said with a long sigh. A passionate impulsive thought shot through her like lightening. I wish I could do more than that.
A sudden intense flicker illuminated the room!
Roza jumped from the chair with a start that took her breath away. What was that? What? It was as brief and as blinding as lightening, yet it seemed to issue from inside the room! But Roza knew that that was utterly impossible so she ran to the window and looked out as to find the source of it. Perhaps a thunderstorm had crept up without her having realized it. But no, that was not the case. The night was silent and cold and clear. The stars shone from above and a full moon illuminated the realm of the night. Roza shook her head in disbelief. She truly believed at this moment she must be going completely mad, but convinced herself that it was merely a product of her overactive imagination.
And then it happened again. It came just as suddenly as the first time, with a renewed vengeance.
What is going on here? Roza wanted to know. She whirled around and gasped in utter disbelief. A severe woman adorned in navy and silver robes with long raven hair and a long diamond-studded veil stood before the mirror with her arms raised as if she had just come from somewhere. She stared at Roza with piercing bright blue eyes.
"Don't look so surprised, my dear," she said in her powerful, high voice, "You said the right words."
Roza regarded the mysterious women in immense confusion and disbelief, even fear. "W-What d-did I say?" Roza stammered. "W-Who are you?"
The imposing woman stared at Roza in disbelief. "You don't know who I am? You, the child of opera incarnate? You don't recognize me?"
Actually, Roza did have some idea, she had an idea all right. An idea that seemed extraordinarily eccentric and impossible. Being the opera excerpt she was, she would have immediately recognized this being as a character from a Mozart opera. But in reality, it made no sense that this character was standing in her bedroom.
The mysterious woman was waiting impatiently for Roza's response. "Perhaps this will refresh your memory," she said. Promptly she began to sing exquisitely a passage from an aria known well for its fiendish virtuosity. She spun off coloratura passages with immense ease and with an intensity in her person that Roza had never experienced in this music or in any other.
"The Queen of the Night," Roza murmured in extreme awe of what she had just heard.
"Wow, that was amazing! I have never heard a better Queen," she said dumbly.
The majestic woman laughed, a high piercing sound. "That is because I am The Queen of the Night. "
Roza could not fail to believe her. Somehow, some way in her very being, she knew it was quite true. "But how?" was all she could utter.
The Queen of the Night laughed a musical sound, obviously enjoying Roza's shock and confusion. "Come, I will explain all." she said taking a few steps behind toward Roza and reaching out for her hand, but Roza took a timid step back. Her face became sympathetic. "Come now, I don't bite," she laughed and coaxed Roza to sit down with her on the peach sofa. "You must understand first and foremost that neither I nor the others mean you any harm at all. You are a champion to me, after all you will likely sing my dear daughter Pamina one day. You are many others' of the realm's champion as well....because it is beautiful young singers like yourself that keep opera fresh and alive. It is our duty to inspire you, to give back some of what you are giving to us. Living for opera as you do, you have been chosen to receive access to our world."
Roza was aghast. "O my, this sounds so wonderful ... but I don't quite understand."
"The mirror," the Queen said lingering, gesturing to Roza's gothic antique mirror which glowed when the Queen referred to it. "It is a door to our world. A world of all opera and opera characters ... Operaland."
"Oh, my," Roza's hand moved up to her mouth. This was a bit much for her to take in.
The Queen picked up on Roza's sheer anxiety. "I know this all must be quite overwhelming for you, but it is all quite real. Imagine the possibilities, Roza---a whole world composed entirely of the passion which you live for....imagine the inspiration you shall receive."
"Oh, yes," Roza sighed, suddenly becoming very excited by the idea. "I'll actually get to meet the characters I portray! And their fatal tempters!"
"Yes you will," the Queen confirmed and then she became quite severe. "But you must do no more than that."
"How so?" Roza wondered aloud.
"My dear," said the Queen. "You will enter a world of unimaginable beauty but also a world of unjust tragedies and wasted lives."
"That is what opera is all about, " Roza commented.
The Queen of the Night nodded in agreement and then motioned for her not to interrupt her. "But you must remember that you are there as a sort of apprentice. You are there to observe Opera as it really is and then use this knowledge to enhance your art. You must remember this above everything and you must not become too involved."
Roza regarded the Queen with immense confusion. "What are you saying?"
"It is the one and only rule that governs the chosen visitor from Reality into Operaland," the Queen explained in solemn tones. "You must not become involved in the life of an opera character, no matter how much he attracts you or how you ache to heal his tortured soul with your love. For if a man of Operaland makes love to you, you will remain in Operaland forever."
Roza flushed, rather embarrassed. "I'm not that kind of a girl. I don't think you'll have to worry about me."
"You must remain that way, " said the Queen masterfully. "You must remain chaste to preserve the authenticity of your interpretations. You are a servant of your art and you must not forget that. The moment you neglect your duty in the most extreme way, you will be lost to Reality forever. "
Although Roza was chilled to the bone by the cold intensity and finality of the Queen's words, a part of her wondered if that wasn't such a bad thing. But no, no matter what, she knew had to be extremely careful to be maintain total selflessness in her art from now on. Sacrifice. That was what the world of music performance was all about.
The Queen of the Night rose and began to walk towards the mirror. "I leave you now. For my drama repeats itself seasonally beyond my control as is what happens with all of us in Operaland. You may begin your journey into our world whenever you wish as this door will always be open to you and only you. "
Roza followed the retreating Queen. "How does it happen?" she inquired.
The Queen turned to her once again. "All you must do is stand before it with you arms raised, truly desiring the knowledge it will give to you and the power to pass through will come to you. To return all you must do is find the mirror again. Farewell and good luck to you." And she disappeared into the silvery surface of the mirror as abruptly and as mysteriously as she had come.
Roza remained behind in her small, cozy room in utter shock over what had just occurred. She gave a great sigh and fell back on her bed, aspiring to allow her mind and heart to absorb the exquisite miracle that had just befallen her artistic life.
It was the following day and Roza found herself in quite the daze. She wondered if she had not dreamed the whole affair of the night before up and she found herself second guessing herself all day long. Thus, she had a harder time than usual concentrating during her classes and rehearsals at the conservatory. However, at least today was Friday and she could have the whole weekend to practice and enjoy her opera. She need not worry about social gatherings and friends, as she never really had many. Just a string of acquaintances masquerading as colleagues who pretended to be as serious about the art as Roza was. But they never were. They saw singing and opera as a job and could never seems to muster up any passion for it. This irritated Roza to the highest extreme, for she saw being the gift of a great voice and the treasure chest that was the repertoire as the greatest miracle that could befall a person's life. She could not comprehend why others did not share her view and her great enthusiasm. Roza preferred her own company rather than being in the presence of those who only depressed her.
In the evening, Roza made her way back to the serene haven of her room not without slight apprehension. Could someone or something be waiting for her in some sort of malevolent enchantment? Roza was extraordinarily superstitious and rather morbid in nature. She momentarily fancied herself as the unsuspecting victim in a horror film and a great shiver went down her spine.
"Nonsense," she scolded herself aloud, to ease her uneasiness by hearing the sound of her own voice. "Although you want so badly to believe it, opera is nothing but make-believe and the characters of the drama are only brought to life by the singer that sings the role. "
Roza turned the doorknob and entered her room. All seemed in order and quite normal, so she heaved a great sigh of relief. She crossed the room with her armful of scores and placed them one by one in their rightful spots. She put all the scores back on the shelf---all except one. With its soft leather binding of sapphire and its glorious, melancholy and heartbreaking music, it was her favorite of all. She clasped it lovingly and closed her eyes, allowing her heat and mind to cherish her most beloved romantic dream. If only it were more than that....Suddenly Roza gave a start. A breeze caressed her long dark curls from behind and she was at once certain that she was not alone. She turned to the mirror and was so startled she could not cry out! For it was not her own image that she saw...but that of a strange man in old-fashioned clothes! Roza, who could not move and who could scarcely dare to breath, stood there transfixed in extreme fear and wonder.
The image was a clear as if it were some sort of picture screen, though in black and white. The man was very tall and handsome with thick wavy dark hair, virile features and soulful eyes. Roza judged his attire of a dark waste coat with an elaborate high starched collar to be of the 1820‘s. The man seemed to be in a state of great passion and despair for he spoke desperate words that Roza could not hear and clasped his arms pleadingly. The person to whom he spoke at last walked into Roza's view. It was a beautiful highborn beauty who wore an elegant gown that trailed behind her. The woman seemed equally upset as the man. Roza could see that she was quite young, probably about the same age as herself, but her features seemed worn and weary as if from years of suffering. She shook her head at the man, her face so infinitely sad that Roza ached with pity for her. But the woman's face was quite resolved and Roza's pity at once shifted to the man. She watched spellbound and helpless as the man fell at the woman's feet and clasped her hands desperately, as if he clearly feared to let her go. The two struggled for a moment before, the woman at last tore herself away from the man and ran from the picture. The man cried out, his arms reaching out for the fleeing woman and then he collapsed, overcome with his despair.
Oh, how Roza ached for him with her entire heart! She had been weeping along with the unspeakable tragedy that had unfolded before her very eyes. Involuntarily she reached out for the image of the tortured handsome man, but all at once the image faded. "No, No! This can't happen! It can't end like this! It can't! It's too terrible! Too terrible!" she sobbed, feeling with all her heart and soul the anguish that these two people had just experienced as precisely as if it were her own. Roza was overcome with the strong desire to extinguish this unbearable agony any way that she could. She was ready for anything. Numb to her earlier anxieties she was only conscious of the Queen's words that resounded in her ear, "You may begin your journey into our world whenever you wish as this door will always be open to you and only you," Roza approached the mirror, and without hesitation or complication she allowed herself to fall into its mysterious silvery depths.
As Roza passed through the mirror, her body began to tingle from head to toe and she became extremely light-headed. Sparkly stuff like glitter seemed to fill the air and she lost her balance, then her consciousness. When Roza, awoke a few moments later she found herself in a small, red room that seemed to be a dressing room. A small mahogany vanity full of ribbons, perfumes, powers, and other delicacies sat in one corner, a white wicker divider sat in another, a small closet jammed full of elaborate costumes composed one wall, while the mirror stood conspicuously on the other. When Roza glanced up at it, it sparkled, as if winking at her.
Suddenly Roza was aware of voices, footsteps, movement outside of the tiny room, most likely in the corridor on the other side. The voices spoke fast and excitedly and in a language that Roza recognized as Italian. A commanding and rich female voice rose above the rest who seemed to be tagging along right at her heels. Roza heard the voice stop at the dressing room door and she heard the doorknob turn.
"Una momento," the woman said opening the door, her back to Roza. She waved a handkerchief at someone outside and entered the room. She was a tall, statuesque woman with wavy black hair worn on top of her head, flashing black eyes, full cherry lips, a smooth medium complexion and she wore a flashing red silk early 19th century gown. When she saw Roza, her dark eyes went wild with sheer surprise and then confusion and anger.
"Tu ... qui? Chi se tu?" she demanded spinning off several angry phrases in Italian that were too fast for Roza to comprehend. But she did catch some of it, a name, Cavaradossi. Then this was Floria Tosca, the famous Puccini heroine who was a great diva and the beloved of Mario Cavaradossi! It was really her! But oh my, by the dark jealous tones in her voice, did she think for a moment that Roza was hiding here to go after her lover?
"Signorina Tosca..." Roza began in awe, trying to begin to explain what she was doing in the diva's dressing room. "Per pieta. Io son Roza," her Italian failed her. "And I mean you nor your great romance no harm at all. In fact, I am a great champion of both of you. I come from a place very far away...in another world. I am a young opera singer and am here to observe opera as it really is. I don't know how I ended up in your dressing room and am very sorry if I have offended you." Roza stopped, feeling quite awkward and realizing that Tosca, an Italian woman, probably did not understand a word she was saying.
But she was wrong. "Oh, so you are Roza!" Tosca proclaimed, her frown melting into a great smile of obvious approval. "We have been waiting for you!"
Relieved, Roza regarded the famous diva in wonder. "Oh my, I didn't know you spoke English!"
Tosca laughed. "I'm really not supposed to. I'm Italian to the core," she said proudly. "But you see, we all do here...as our operas do have English translations. It may seem strange, but it is true. In addition, we not only speak the original language that our operas were written in, but the native language of the character as well. For example, Mimi, Rodolfo, Musetta, Marcello, Magda and Ruggero (who will be all be along shortly) all speak French as well as well as Italian and English---for they although they may be of Italian opera, they are really from gay Paris. "
There was a knock on the door.
"Entrare," Tosca sang in her great dramatic voice. And so entered the three sets of Puccinian couples on cue. They were all exactly as Roza imagined them. She saw Rodolfo first. He was of modest tenorly height with curly golden brown hair and dark soulful eyes. Leaning against him lovingly was Mimi. She was slight and graceful with dark brown hair worn up and an ivory complexion. She reminded Roza of a porcelain doll. She was clad simply, but beautifully in a long, navy dress. When she caught Roza's eye she nodded and smiled at her warmly. She must know I have studied her part well, Roza thought, returning her shy smile. Musetta and Marcello were not far behind. Musetta entered first, confidently and coyly dragging Marcello behind her. She was voluptuous and extravagantly elegant in a brilliant pink silk dress that admirably set off her shiny flaxen hair and flashing dark green eyes. Marcello was tall with light brown hair and sparkling blue eyes. Like Rodolfo, he dressed simply in a dark period suit, the uniform of the Parisian bohemian. After the Boheme couples, came Magda and Ruggero of La Rondine. Magda was also gorgeous. Her dark brown hair was thick and shiny and her dark eyes full of life and love. She was dressed simply in what Roza recognized as her grisette disguise of her era of Second Empire Paris. She wore a flowing pale yellow skirt with ruffles and a silken blouse with puffed sleeves. Ruggero, with his dark puppy dog eyes and wavy dark hair, wore a simple student's gray suit and carried a top hat. What a beautiful site these operatic couples were to behold!
Everyone greeted Tosca and praised her for a concert that she had given earlier that day. Tosca was gracious and proud but she turned her attention to Roza. "This, my friends is Roza, the singer from reality," she said waving her arm wide, in grand introduction. "She has come in quest of inspiration." Within a moment, the focus had turned to Roza, and she was surrounded by her beloved Puccinians. Magda and Mimi were especially pleased to meet her as it was apparent that they undoubtedly trusted and accepted her as one of their own and as one who could transcend their persona and story very well.
But then something suddenly occurred to Roza. The handsome desperate man and sad woman she had seen in the mirror from her room were not among them. Her strange, inexplicable urgency to find them (particularly the man) suddenly filled her once again.
"I beg your pardon," said Roza abruptly to the Puccinians. "But I was wondering ... when I gazed into your world from my world just now, I saw a desperate man pleading with a woman to go somewhere with him."
"Ah, opera is full of that sort of thing, Roza," said Tosca with a smile. "You of all people, definitely know that well."
"It could have been anyone," said Rodolfo.
"Don Jose and Carmen perhaps?" Mimi suggested in her eager, soft-spoken way.
Roza shook her head. "No, it wasn't them. They were not gypsies, but aristocrats." She thought hard. "I know not why that mirror showed me that image, but I feel compelled to find these people."
"Then you must!" said Magda dreamily. "It might be some sort of sign! Or even fate!"
Roza was perplexed. "I'm just still trying to understand how all of this works. I don't know why I saw that particular vision at once, but I do know that I am here only to observe and nothing more." Then it hit her suddenly, like a whirlwind. She knew exactly who those people she saw in her mirror were and she knew she had to see them first before she resumed her further study of the characters of Operaland. "I must ask you something..."
"What is it?" asked Tosca.
"I have just realized where I need to start my observation work here. I wish to start with my roots. Being of Slavic decent, I want to meet some Slavic characters. I...um...need to see the Tchaikovskians. Where might I find them?"
"Why in Russia of course!" proclaimed Marcello.
"Oui," said Musetta. "Where else could they be found?" she said matter-of-factly and elbowing Marcello playfully in the stomach.
Roza was still confused. Yes, without a doubt it made sense that the Tchaikovskians would be in Russia, St. Petersburg most likely, but how on earth would she get there? She voiced her question aloud, "Is Operarealm's Russia as far from Rome as it is in reality?"
"Si," said Tosca and everybody else nodded. "It is a very long journey by train. But if you must go, you may go with us. It is dreadful to travel alone. You see, we are all heading over there for this season's grand ball, which will be held in St. Petersburg this year and hosted by the Gremins"
Roza's jaw dropped. "The Gremins? You mean Tatyana...she is already married by this point?" she was somewhat disappointed as it was always the character of the young Tatyana that she was most like, and it was the young Tatyana that she was most eager to meet.
"My yes," said Tosca. "You see, all of our stories repeat themselves seasonally. But it just so happens that you have happened to visit us at the time when Tatyana is the Princess Gremina, and when happily both Mimi and myself have not yet perished ...our stories will not even be active for several months your time. We are on a sort of break ... and Thank our dear Lord for that." she made the sign of the cross and Roza remembered how religious the character was.
Roza had scarcely glimpsed the Rome of Operarealm before it was time for her to leave it on the train bound for St. Petersburg. It was an immense city of great majesty and wonder, which its mysterious ancient statues and architecture and she barely saw any of it before Magda and Ruggero hastened her onto a great scarlet train bound Northeast. The journey was a long one, but one which passed quickly as Roza gawked at the vividly scenic terrain of hills, cottages, castles and mountains outside her window while enjoying the pleasant company of the Puccinians. As it turned out, this train was not going directly to St. Petersburg, but rather Vilinus, Lithuania where they were to meet up with some Russians (who were holiday on holiday there) and travel with them by coach to St. Petersburg where the ball was to be held.
"Which Russians?" Roza asked eagerly, intrigued to the core.
Musetta laughed a musical sound. "You really want to see them don't you?" and Roza nodded, grinning.
"We're meeting Liza, and her friend, Palina," Magda told her as she cuddled closer to Ruggero.
In the evening, the train at last began to slow as it became apparent that they reached had reached Vilnius. Roza was absolutely ecstatic! She had always wanted to meet the people of Tchaikovsky's Pikovaya Dama! And where they were, the people from Tchaikovsky's other operas, surely couldn't be far off. It seemed that in Operarealm, characters by the same composer, country or period had a tendency to stick together.
The group of four sets of Puccinian couples and Roza left the train and got into horse-drawn carriages that were to take them into the heart of town. Vilnius, one of the cities of Roza's ancestors was an extremely quaint, yet elegant city with gorgeous gothic Baltic architecture, red roofs, cobblestone streets, and quaint cottages which glowed in the apricot evening light. The ride was a brief and pleasant one as Roza absorbed the ethnic beauty and breathed the cold autumn air. It was certainly refreshing after such a long train ride.
It seemed as if they had just gotten into the carriages, when they stopped in front of a rustic, but elegant crimson brick Inn. Standing on the steps were half a dozen people who waved rigorously at the carriage's approach.
"Oh look!" said Magda to Roza. "It's Liza, Paulina, Max, Agathe and Ännchen!"
"Quite the welcome party!" commented Roza, smiling as she excitedly recognized the people from Pikovaya Dama and Der Freischütz.
"I didn't expect to see you here!" Tosca said upon greeting Agathe.
"Nor did I," said Agathe with a small smile. She had long, auburn hair and soulful, emerald eyes. "I've never been to Lithuania, let alone Russia, come tomorrow."
"It's been loads of fun!" chirped Annchen happily. She was small and spritely with shoulder-length golden hair and laughing hazel eyes. "Last season the ball was in boring Berlin. This will be a great adventure! It has been already, making such a journey, hasn‘t it, Agathe?"
Agathe shrugged. "If it hadn't been for Max here, it would have been truly dreadful."
Max a tall, light-haired young man with gentle blue eyes, smiled down at her and took her hand.
Annchen made a face. "Oh, you two ... always so lovely dovey!" She regarded Roza as if for the first time. "I'm sorry, I don't think I've ever met you before!" she said loudly.
Liza, the beautiful sad girl with the black hair and eyes and the white skin spoke for the first time, in a rich but soft voice. "You are the girl, aren't you?"
"The girl?" inquired Paulina, the girl with strawberry blonde hair and china blue eyes who stood beside her. "Which girl?"
"The lady from reality who is allowed to visit us, " Liza said matter-of-factly. She approached Roza slowly and took her hand in greeting. "I've wanted to meet you for a long time, Roza. They say you're of Russian decent?"
"Yes," replied Roza. "And Lithuanian as well. I can't tell you how much it means to finally meet you and be here. And attending a grand ball in St. Petersburg! I've always dreamed of such things. Always!"
Liza gave her a small, pleased smile. "I hope you will be our guest of honor for this occasion."
"We'd love to be in your company," Palina put in.
Roza was thrilled. "I'd be honored!" Guests of honor at a ball in her favorite city with some of her favorite characters. What more could she ask for?
Her heart knew and guarded that answer well.
Much later that night, Roza tiptoed down the drafty, black oak stairs at the Inn aspiring towards the warm glow of the fire on the great hearth in the den. She needed some warm tea or cocoa, something to calm her mind and soul. She also needed some time alone to reflect on her extraordinary experiences so far in this realm of true opera. She had spent a delightful evening with the Puccinians and some of the characters of the Pikovaya Dama and Der Freischütz conversing over a small buffet in the parlor. She still could not believe all that had befallen her so far and knew not what could possibly befall her in the near future. Roza was restless with the anticipation of it. So restless that she could not sleep a wink and therefore had left her cozy bedroom. She felt as if something beyond her control compelled her to float down that gloomy staircase.
Slowly, quietly Roza entered the dimly lit room. The only light came from a waning fire in the fireplace which sat in front of it two massive winged-back chairs. An elaborate scarlet oriental carpet blanketed the floor and glossy navy, peach and cream wallpaper which gracefully set off the hues in the carpet adorned the walls. The ceiling was high and quite beamed with a rustic chandelier of brass extending from its center. Two walls of the room featured two gothic high-arched windows; one of which was fully obscured by a great navy tapestry and the other of which was half drawn exposing a lovely crimson velvet window seat. Beyond that was the inky darkness of night. The wind whistled ominously and a branch tapped relentlessly against the windowpane.
The room somehow struck Roza with an overwhelming sense of isolation and mysterious foreboding. She lingered on the threshold for several moments, deciding if she would even enter it or not. Morbid thoughts plagued her overly active imaginative mind and sent chills down her spine. A sudden creak which seemed to issue from one of the fireside chairs made her gasp in fright. Roza took a few startled steps back into the dark hallway, ready to run.
"Please don't leave," came a man's voice from one of the chairs at the hearth. The voice was so rich and velvety, yet so infinitely sad that Roza found herself compelled to do its bidding.
"I beg your pardon?" Roza asked timidly, slowly entering the great room.
"I am utterly alone," the melancholy male voice said with a sigh. "Mademoiselle, will you grant me your presence?"
Roza hesitated in uncertainty. "What is it you want, Monsieur?"
"Some companionship in this wretched solitude of mine," the voice answered desolately with a trace of hopeless bitterness in it. Roza recognized a sharp Slavic accent adorning his speech. She immediately tried to place his identity in Operaland, but found herself momentarily stumped. The name was in her heart, but not in her mind. For her mind was reeling uncontrollably and for seemingly no reason at all...
"Please join me by the fireside," the mysterious man said in invitation. Who was he? Who? But she did know.
"I will," Roza told him gently, regaining control.
Suddenly a tall dark form in a elegant velvet brown waste coat with a high starched collar rose from one of the great chairs at the fireplace and turned towards Roza. Adorned in extravagant 1820's style clothes, he was easily well over six feet tall and had an abundance of thick wavy dark brown hair and sideburns. His handsome features were unmistakably Slavic---severe and masculine, yet very refined with a surface coldness and an underlying sense of incomparable passion and melancholy which shone through his penetrating eyes of sapphire. He was melancholy. And Roza could not mistake him for anybody else in the world.
The insidious man gazed at Roza intensely. There was a soul-searching desperation in his eyes that inspired Roza with both compassion and a strange excitement. She timidly returned the stranger's gaze, trembling with an emotion that she could not comprehend. Neither of the two spoke. The man preceded to pull one of the chairs closer to the fireplace and gestured for her to sit. As Roza moved forward, the man took her hand in greeting.
"Oh, forgive me, mademoiselle," he said gallantly as it had just occurred to him that he had not introduced himself. "I am Yevgeny Onegin."
"I know," Roza whispered involuntarily. Her heart skipped a few beats. He was exactly as she had imagined him. So exactly that it scared it. And it was then that she also realized that he was the same melancholic man that she had seen in that most tragic scene that she had seen in the mirror. "My name is Roza," she told him, suddenly inexplicably shy for the first time since she had come to Operarealm.
"Roza," Yevgeny murmured. "It is such a beautiful name. It's my pleasure to be in your acquaintance, Roza." He kissed her hand rather lingeringly and then seated her gently before taking his own chair at the fire.
Yevgeny studied her carefully with his piercing sapphire eyes. "There is something so familiar about you," he said sadly.
"How so?" Roza inquired softly.
Yevgeny considered this for a moment and then shook his handsome head. "I do not know what it is exactly ... There is just something about you...but I would have remembered if I had met a lady named Roza."
"Well I knew who you were instantly, " Roza told him. "You are exactly the way I pictured you...exactly."
"How?" Yevgeny asked her, rather confused and slightly uncomfortable for a moment. "Unless ... of course!" he realized with a pang. "Then it is you who are the opera child from reality who has come to visit this land!"
Roza nodded. "It is I."
Yevgeny rose to put some more wood on the fire and then settled back into his great chair, without taking his eyes off Roza.
"I must tell you," Roza said. "That it is the people of your opera, that I have been most anxious to meet. Your opera is my absolute favorite."
"Spasibo," Yevgeny said obviously touched. "But why? Doesn't it bore you?"
"Not at all," said Roza, but she wasn't at all surprised by his question.
"It bores me," Yevgeny said bitterly and with profound sadness.
"Everything bores you Yevgeny," Roza said dryly.
"And it wounds my heart tremendously," Yevgeny continued as if not hearing Roza. "Can you imagine how painful it is to live the same abominable story--those same horrible mistakes that you alone are responsible for and that agonizing rejection--again and again while each time being powerless to stop it?!" He put his face in his hands.
"Oh," murmured Roza, aching for this melancholy man and the sad fate she knew too well. "No, I have no idea ... not in that sense. But I do know well that we make our own misery."
"Have you ever been rejected by one you adore, and see as the light of your life?" Yevgeny asked her, looking for all the world, as if this was the worst fate any human being could suffer.
"Yes," said Roza calmly. "In fact I have."
Yevgeny regarded her incredulously. "Not you," he uttered, in sheer disbelief. "You are young, beautiful, talented ... and kind. It is so good of you to sit with me during a wretched time like this."
" ‘Tis nothing at all," said Roza thoughtfully.
"Please tell me who was fool enough to reject you," Yevgeny said. It was not a question, it was closer to a gentle command.
"It was a musician I worked with," Roza explained. "I was about seventeen at the time and he seemed to step right out from one of my operas...a tenor of course. Charming, handsome, articulate. He was much older than myself and I knew my parents would never allow it, but I loved him in spite of myself. I never dared confess it, but I used to write poetry about him in a little notebook I carried around and I used to sing about and only for him. I lived in a sort of unbearable agony, because I knew well that a man of his worldliness could never care for me. I would have done anything for him ... but he had other ideas. Being the foolish child I was, I was surely very obvious in my affections and it was not hard for him to realize how I felt about him. So he had a great sport in flirting with me a little bit, to make me believe I had a chance with him. Meanwhile he merely laughed at me and charged me twice for music lessons what he charged others. He was a con-artist and when my parents discovered this they fired him and I never saw him again. My romantic dream not only never came true, but it was completely shattered."
Yevgeny seemed extremely moved by every aspect of Roza's story. He was silent for several moments. "Roza," he sighed. "Is there no honor in your world? What a hellish man this Vincenzo was! If I ever met him, I would dearly love to teach him a lesson! I was wrong to fail to see the rare quality and potential in my dear Tatyana. But I never deceived her! I was and am no hypocrite! But oh ... I've paid dearly for it all the same!"
"Oh Yevgeny ... please don't look back, it will only make it worse! Why punish yourself even more? One cannot change the past. It took me so long myself to figure than out." Roza told him earnestly.
Yevgeny gazed at her with an intensity that made her nervous. "In you, I seem to see both the former and present day Tatyana. Roza, with your soul, your passion, your steadfast spirit, you remind me very much of her."
Roza was quite taken. She shifted back in her chair. "Thank you." What else was she supposed to say? He was comparing her to the most acclaimed heroine in Russian literature and opera, her dream role. But she didn't go into how hard it was going
to be to sing that role on stage and to have to be the one that had to reject a man like himself.
"Do you know what it is to be alone?" Yevgeny asked her in his soul-searching way. "To live a live a life that is fruitless and devoid of repose?"
Roza shook her head. "No, I do not. Although I know to some extent, what it is like to be alone and betrayed, I cannot say my life was ever fruitless. Never! I've always had my music to keep my company. Any turmoil in my life has served as nothing but tremendous inspiration for my music. My art is wonderful, it is always and will always be with me. It will never abandon or betray me!"
Yevgeny regarded Roza incredulous admiration. "How can you live your life in such a fashion? How can you be so content--"
"I keep busy," Roza cut in. "Your problem, Yevgeny is that you have no aim in life. No dream to set your heart and soul on fire! In reality one would say that you have no life. I must tell you frankly, Yevgeny--you need to get a life! If you had a life, goals then you would no longer be alone. No one wants to be in the company--mind you this is not the case with me I find you wonderfully fascinating and complex--of one that is jaded and constantly depressed about something of which is their fault. I really hate to say this, but it is nobody‘s fault but your own, Yevgeny."
For several moments Yevgeny was silent, in utter awe of what she had just said. Then he sighed. "I know, Roza ... I know ... And I must do something or this nightmare will never end."
Roza sighed too. "I really do not know what to say. I really think I should apologize. I am a mistress of reality and I have no business interfering in the lives of men of Operarealm. I have overstepped my bounds and I am sorry."
Yevgeny looked at her in an imploring and incredulous manner as if he had not understood what she had just said. "You have nothing to be sorry for at all," he said in his most velvet tone, and in a voice which was barely above a whisper. "I must humbly thank you Roza, for you have helped me more than you know. "
Roza rose, struck to the core by the tenderness in Yevgeny's velvet baritone voice. "Sir, I have much enjoyed our conversation. But it is late and tomorrow will be a long day. I suppose you will be attending the seasonal Operarealm Ball in St. Petersburg?"
"I was not planning on it," Yevgeny told her. "Most balls are so terrible boorish and depressing. And I am very haunted by what happened at the last ball in my home city. So haunted! But I think I will overlook this."
Roza smiled. "Then perhaps we shall meet again."
"I hope so, Roza," Yevgeny said lingeringly.
Oh what was it about this man's voice and inflections that caused goosebumps to materialize all over Roza? "Good night, Monsieur," she said. And then she left the room before Yevgeny could say any more.
The dawn of the day of the ball was an exceptionally beautiful one of intense peach which was full of immense anticipation. Or as it seemed so to Roza, some sort of mysterious foreboding. There was an elusive heaviness in the air the moment Palina woke everybody at daybreak. They had to pack and leave early to catch the final train to St. Petersburg. The train left shortly before nine in the morning and would reach its Russian destination in the afternoon. Once there, everyone would go to Liza's house to prepare for the ball that evening. Roza was beside herself with restless anticipation. Although she had learnt the waltz in a conservatory social dance class once, Roza had never been to a ball in her life. She had dreamed of such a glamorous occasion for as long as she could remember. However, she had to remind herself sternly that this was an event solely for the purpose of gaining firsthand insight for her operatic career. I am a servant of my art, I am a servant of my art, Roza kept reminding herself during the train ride to St. Petersburg. She had not realized that she had taken to pacing the train corridors let alone that she had been speaking the words aloud.
"You are a servant of what?" inquired a female voice which issued from one of the compartments. Who...? She turned to face a beautiful young woman with striking long dark red hair, large blue-gray eyes and a creamy pallor. She was seated very close to a handsome Slavic-looking man in 18th century clothes. He too, was asleep.
"I am a servant of my art," Roza told the lovely woman proudly.
"Are you?" the woman asked, her voice hinting skepticism. "Then why must you pace back and forth and repeat it again and again? Are you trying to convince yourself as well as myself?"
Roza scowled. "I'm not trying to convince myself of anything."
"Oh--there now. There is no need to get defensive. I was only asking," the young woman said gently, she was not taken aback in the slightest by Roza snapping at her. "I was only asking because you remind me very much of myself once. I know who you are. You are Roza, the new soprano who owns the mirror to Operarealm."
Roza's jaw dropped. "How did you know? How...? Unless you're..."
"Yes," the woman nodded smiling, obviously pleased. "I am Alexandra Vilis."
"Oh my gosh!" gushed Roza. "I know about you! You're the phenomenal singer who owned the mirror before I did! Oh my--people have been mystified about your disappearance for decades!"
Alexandra seemed amused by this. "I'll bet they were." But then her mood changed, to one of a very serious matter. "But I really had no choice."
"What do you mean?" Roza asked, her curiosity getting the better of her. "Alexandra what happened to you? How or why did you disappear when you nearly had the opera world in the palm of your hands?"
"That is a very personal question, Roza," Alexandra reprimanded gently.
"I'm sorry," Roza said quickly, regretting her intense curiosity.
"No," said Alexandra with warm smile. "You don't have to be sorry. You have a right to know. I will not go into detail, but I will tell you this. I may have been inspired beyond what I thought possible, I may have been possibly the greatest singer in the world, but all of this matters nothing at all if you are chosen by fate."
"Chosen by fate?" Roza repeated, not comprehending the underlying meaning of her words. But in her heart she knew, she knew all right. She just felt a strong need to hear her suspicions confirmed aloud by another a person.
In answer, Alexandra snuggled closer to the handsome man that was sleeping beside her on the seat. "Chosen by fate or chosen by love," she whispered. "They are one in the same it seems. Do you honestly think that I could leave poor, discarded Prince Yeletsky behind here when that stupid Liza couldn't possibly see him for his all his greatness---when she went running after that idiot tenor Gherman, only to leave my poor love to despair? No, I would not do it! I am not that selfish. I gave my whole self to him and I am forever his as he is mine. I would have never found such a love in reality! Never! Everyone understands and respects me here as they never could back there. I am my own character in Operarealm and I will never age. I am and shall forever be as I am now. And I have no regrets. I would do it all over again."
Roza stared at Alexandra, absolutely speechless, all of her suspicions about her and the ways of Operarealm confirmed.
Alexandra stared back at Roza, her face searching Roza's in a way that made her uncomfortable. It was as if she aspiring to read her mind. "You have met someone too, haven't you?"
Roza started. "I have met many wonderful and inspiring people since I've arrived her," she told her firmly.
"Yes," said Alexandra knowingly. "But there is one that is above the rest isn't there? One that is utterly special, even very dear to you. A man. A man who has captured your heart, even though you might not know it yet. A man who is haunting your mind relentlessly. This man is what is causing you to pace up and down the train. It is the thought of him that causes you to repeat I am a servant of my art again and again, in attempt to get your bearings--to purge him from your thoughts--and to remind yourself of your initial purpose here. This man is a threat to that, is he not?"
Roza was absolutely furious. "How dare you say such things? How dare you make such assumptions when you don't even know me!"
Alexandra raised her hand in order to encourage her to calm down. "Now, now, there's not need to have a conniption about it. That will only make things unbearable."
Roza was so angry she wanted to throw something at her. She scoffed, unable to speak.
Alexandra seemed merely amused. "Ah, but I do know, Roza. I know you better than you realize. I told you, you remind me so much of myself! If not a word of what I say is true, then why are you so upset?"
Roza scoffed again. But she calmed down considerably. Alexandra certainly had a point there and Roza did not want to make any sort of fool out of herself.
Alexandra extended her hand to Roza, smiling. "Oh come now, Roza don't be angry with me. I really like you and I want us to be great friends."
Roza took her hand reluctantly and then returned to her compartment. They would be arriving in St. Petersburg any minute now and she wanted to be ready. Roza sat down beside the sleeping Liza and Paulina and heaved a great sigh. Oh my, what if everything Alexandra said was right? She was not prepared to even consider that.
At long last, they arrived in St. Petersburg, the city that Roza has been the most anxious to experience. She was not disappointed in the least. Everything she had known about this great ancient city through literature, opera, and pictures proved to be much as she had imagined it, yet she was hardly prepared for its sheer intensity. The great dark and mysterious Neva River ran through a place of immense melancholy and wonder. There were colorful structures of marble and stone as far as the eye could see and crowds of various native Russians and visiting Operarealm citizens wandering the streets adorned in fur and wool. The anticipation of the Operarealm Ball warmed the freezing late Autumn Northeastern air.
They arrived at Liza's great yellow mansion in the mid-afternoon and the ladies at once ascended up the elegant marble stairs to undress and rest from their journey. Liza said that they would need this nap very much indeed because the Operarealm Ball was a extravagant event and the dancing often lasted well into the next morning.
"Oh my," Roza exclaimed suddenly just as they had laid down on their respective plush sofas for their afternoon nap and something very crucial suddenly occurred to her. "What am I to wear to such an occasion? I have no ball gowns with me! What am I to do?"
Liza yawned, for she was quite exhausted. "Oh, do not worry, Roza. Everything has been provided for you."
"Indeed it has," added Palina. "For you are our guest, Roza."
"Thank you," Roza responded, but she still didn't completely understand and while she was not vain, felt that if she didn't have an appropriate dress to wear to the grand ball it would be dreadful beyond dreadful.
"Wait until you see it, Roza," said Palina cheerfully. "It's the most gorgeous shade of sapphire silk and in a style that will suit you wonderfully. Really Roza...do you think that Operarealm would not provide the best for its chosen and honored guest?" And with that Roza was suddenly reassured and not another word was said. It was time to get some rest for the exciting evening that lay only hours ahead.
Roza was so utterly excited that she barely slept at all. Just when she felt herself really starting to doze off, the maid came in and woke the ladies up to start preparing for the ball. When the maid, Anya produced the gown that Roza was to wear for the occasion, Roza gasped. It had to be the most gorgeous dress that she had ever seen in her entire life! In the Empire style, it was a radiant sapphire silk with short, elegant puffed sleeves with silver trim and a high waste with intricate silver curly-q's at the bodice. It came with matching satin sapphire shoes, silver evening gloves and a tiara that bore resemblance to the curly-q‘s in the dress. Roza thought that it was both glamorous enough for Tosca to wear, yet still simple enough for Tatyana. It was the ultimate dress of her dreams.
Several Russian maids arrived to help the ladies dress for the ball. Liza was wearing a lovely, massive 18th Century gown of emerald green and black velvet and taffeta and Palina, one of similar style of pale blue and gold silk. Both dresses employed exquisite embroidery work at the bodess and had long sleeves with lace. The maids puffed and twisted their hair up in eccentric period styles and then they turned to Roza, who was all too happy to have her hair done. She absolutely loved having someone toplay with her hair. Liza and Palina stood close by commenting as they saw fit, dictating what should be done. Roza could not understand much of what they said, because they spoke in their Russian, but understood at once when they had finished for the women produced a gleeful, "Da!" and led Roza to a full-length mirror.
Roza gasped at what she saw. A romantic old-fashioned operatic beauty stared back at her. The sapphire dress fit like a glove and her long hair had been twisted up in an ornate bun which complimented the tiara. A few stray curls cascaded gracefully around her lovely face. As an after thought, dark red lip stain was applied to her lips and a slight blush added to rosen up her pale cheeks. She could have come right out of an opera.
"Oh my, Liza, Paulina--dear friends--I cannot thank you enough for helping me like this!" Roza gushed, twirling her skirts about and admiring her reflection.
"Oh, think nothing of it," Liza told her and Palina nodded in agreement. "We are so glad to know you." Liza looked at a small, golden clock on her vanity stand. "Oh my! Look at the time! It's after half past six! I was supposed to meet Gherman down on the porch minutes ago! I must leave you girls now. But I will certainly see you again very soon during the ball." And with that, Liza glided down the stairs without allowing the two girls to say little more than a "Do svidaniya!"
Roza felt like Cinderella as she rode in the beautiful white, horse-drawn carriage and gazed out at the beautiful St. Petersburg evening. A sea of other equally elegant carriages rode on either side of her and brilliant fireworks lit the star-filled sky. Palina told her that this was the first clear evening St. Petersburg had seen in a very long time and that she did not expect it to happen again soon as it was late autumn and winters here were extremely long and fierce. Roza noted that every time the fireworks lit up the night, they revealed a frozen, snowy ground. They crossed the Neva, without a doubt the coldest, blackest, most mysterious river Roza had ever seen. She knew that they were quite close to their destination as she remembered from her reading of Pushkin that the Gremin's mansion was to the Neva, nearby. She could barely suppress her extreme elation. Especially when the carriage stopped before an immense, beautifully lit stone mansion where already dozens upon dozens of carriages were parked. She had reached the ball of her dreams at last.
Several couples in colorful costumes, some sporting glittering masks, walked through the gate and greeted old friends and acquaintances in the magnificent marble hall. Roza recognized the Puccinians, Mimi, Rodolfo, Musetta, Marcello, Schaunard, Colline, Magda (along with sidekicks Yvette, Bianca, and Suzy), Ruggero, Lisette, Prunier, Tosca, Cavaradossi, (as well as several others she assumed were from his other operas) immediately and they greeted her.
"Absolutely charming," Tosca said, admiring Roza's sapphire gown. Tosca herself was clad in an exceptionally stunning bright scarlet one with a long train, leaving no one in doubt as to her occupation as an opera diva.
"Gorgeous beyond gorgeous!" gushed Magda in her elegant peach satin.
"Grazie," Roza responded graciously, as she watched Tosca and Cavaradossi and Magda and Ruggero walk in arm and arm. Oh, to have a love like that! Roza thought suddenly with a great sigh.
"Roza, dear, are you okay?" came a familiar female voice on her right. It was Alexandra in a elegant 18th Century pale green silk.
"Yes, I'm fine." Roza replied curtly.
"I understand you, Roza," said Alexandra looking at her intently. "Do take heart, I'm sure you'll find a lover before the night's out!"
Roza blushed. "But that is not what I am here for! This a social function--convenient because I get to meet so many characters. This is very crucial inspiration for my work."
"Yes it is, indeed," agreed Alexandra, but her smile was sly. "Then if you value your work as much as I did once, than I advise you to be on your guard. For this is the sort of place where the unexpected happens. This is the very occasion which started my whole ordeal. Come to think of it, this very place as well....for St. Petersburg was hosting the Operarealm ball that season as well..."
"Reminiscing, my darling?" came a rich male voice from behind Alexandra. It was Prince Yeletsky.
"Da," said Alexandra smilingly lovingly at her husband as he took her side. "Dearest, this is my friend, Roza, she comes from the land of Reality."
Yeletsky bowed. "Then I am very pleased to meet you. Alexandra came from Reality, and she is truly an angel."
Alexandra took Yeletsky's arm lovingly and they walked to the ballroom where the Polonaise from Tchaikovsky's Yevgeny Onegin had just begun to play. The orchestra echoed heavenly from the ornate ballroom, where Roza could see that several couples were already dancing.
"Roza!" called Ännchen, who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. "What are you doing standing out here all by yourself? Come in and join the party!" and she took Roza by the arm and led her towards the ballroom. "There are many people inside who are anxious to meet you." And indeed, just inside there was a huge congregation of Mozartians, and characters from the operas by Richard Strauss, von Weber, Beethoven's Fidelio, and the operettas by J. Strauss and Lehar, all of whom seemed to stick together. It did make sense to Roza, for after all they were all from German-speaking countries. She met among others, Konstanze and Belmonte from Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail, Il Conte and La Contessa from Le Nozze di Figaro, Susanna, Cherubino, Figaro (who was currently conversing with Rossini's Figaro), Fioridiligi, Dorabella, Despina, from Cosi fan Tutte, Sandrina and Serpetta from La Finta Giardiniera, Donna Anna, Don Ottavio, Donna Elvira, Zerlina, Masetto (all of whom knew not were the title character from Don Giovanni was at the moment, Elvira remarked bitterly "that he was most likely adding more names to that disgusting catalogue of his"), as well as the Marchallin, Octavian, Sophie, Baron Ochs, from Der Rosenkavalier, and Arabella and Mandryka from Arabella. The room was packed full of characters! There were circles representing operatic turn-outs from Monteverdi, Lully, Handel, Gluck, Mozart, Schubert, Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, Gounod, Massenet, Delibes, Saint-Saens, Dvorak, Janacek, Smetana, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, Borodin, Glinka, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, Puccini, Strauss, Debussy, Ravel, Poulenc, Berg, Floyd, Copland, Menotti, Moore, and even operas and composers, that she, Roza had not even heard of!
When the lush orchestra began playing the Polonaise from Dvorak's Rusalka, Roza spotted Rusalka herself in a far corner, speaking to a lovely dark-haired lady in Czech, whom she soon learned was Marenka from Smetana's The Bartered Bride. Rusalka had long, cascading flaxen golden hair and wore a long turquoise gown which shimmered when it hit the light. She looked gorgeous, but terribly unhappy. It was obvious that Marenka was trying very hard to cheer her up. The reason for Rusalka's distress became evident, for the tall dark-haired gentleman that Roza recognized as Rusalka's beloved Prince was across the room at the punch bowl, flirting wickedly with the unnamed foreign princess. Roza wanted to hurt both of them for causing the sweet, loving Rusalka so much grief. If the Polonaise hadn't ended just then and hadn't a few couples come off the dance floor blocking them from her view, Roza might have done just that.
The orchestra began to play a succession of Strauss waltzes. The German-speaking crew were obviously very pleased by this, for they let out cries of delight and took to the floor. When that huge mass cleared out, Roza suddenly saw her standing there. In an exquisite gown of ivory and red velvet and silk with an extensive train , was the Princess Gremina---Tatyana herself--the lady that Roza was most anxious to meet. She was slender and graceful, yet ample, and had very dark hair worn in a most elegant up-style. Her pallor was pale, and her eyes, large, dark and profoundly sad, as if from years of suffering. However, none of this was betrayed in the great grandeur and dignity that she had about herself. She truly was royalty. When her eyes met Roza's, she at once glided over to meet her.
When the Princess Gremina came close to her, Roza was at once aware of how young she was. Somehow, even though she knew better, she had always pictured the older Tatyana as a mature thirty-something woman like the Marschallin, but she was surprised to see that Tatyana couldn't be any older than herself, in her early 20's.
She took Roza's hand in greeting. "So you are the famous Roza," she said with a smile of approval. Her voice was warm and mellow and sweet, and laced with the familiar Russian accent.
"Da," Roza told her. "I am so pleased to meet you. You are so very much like myself and I adore your opera more than any other."
"Spasibo," said Tatyana graciously. "I know you, Roza and I admire you. You are so sensitive and musical and you understand me more than anyone I know."
"Oh, Spasibo! That means so much to me, coming from you," Roza told her. "In my view, you are the strongest and most regal of all operatic heroines. "
Tatyana blushed slightly. Yes, she was still the same Tatyana. Although she was exceptionally poised and regal, she was still refreshingly humble and even somewhat timid. "You believe so?"
"My yes," Roza confided in her. "I could have never done what you did in that last act!"
A look of immense pain crossed Tatyana's pretty face and Roza immediately regretted her words. "Oh, words cannot express how sorry I am..."
Tatyana shrugged it off, like the proud highborn beauty that she was. Her face was once again calm, composed, even devoid of emotion. "It is quite okay, dear Roza. You are here to learn and I will be perfectly frank with you on whatever you wish to know," she lowered her voice considerably. "How could I do it? It was the two forces I could not ignore---society and honor. And when I make a vow I do not break it."
Just then a silver-haired gentleman in uniform with a kindly face appeared beside her. It was Prince Gremin, without a doubt. and he smiled at Tatyana with the uttermost respect and adoration. Tatyana shot Roza a look that seemed to say "Now do you honesty think I could betray a sweet man like this?" Roza nodded to her to indicate that she understood and Tatyana introduced her to her husband. Roza, who could read people extremely well, could tell that he was a most kindred spirit indeed. The couple then left to join the rest of the Tchaikovskian group that was forming near the punch bowl across the room, to the Waltz from Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings.
Roza suddenly felt restless. Where to next? she wondered. There were so many people to meet and the operatic crowd was growing larger by the hour. Several young men noticed her solitary state and asked her for a dance, but she declined graciously and politely, even though she knew not why. She did not know what she was waiting for at all. Roza took to pacing about the ornate white and gold marble ballroom and watching the couples out on the floor. Suddenly Roza felt a pair of eyes watching her intently. She glanced across the ballroom and saw him. Dressed in an elegant 1820's black tuxedo with a waste coat and a high starched collar was Yevgeny himself! Roza thought she would faint on the spot, despite herself. He was the most handsome man she had ever seen. So majestically elegant, was he! So sinfully gorgeous and statuesque!
Yevgeny watched Roza intensely with his piercing sapphire eyes for several moments before coming to her. He seemed utterly dumbstruck, prey to an indescribable emotion he'd only felt one other time during his entire life and still was not accustomed to. Momentarily blinded, caught off balance, he composed himself quickly and walked slowly across the ballroom toward Roza, who seemed as equally spellbound as he was.
Yevgeny took Roza's hand and kissed it lingeringly. Roza felt her cheeks go red, for his gaze was intensely insidious. All she could say was, "You came..."
Yevgeny nodded, still holding her hand. "I found for some mysterious reason that I was unable to stay away....and now I am so glad that I did not."
At just that moment, the orchestra began to play the dramatic introduction of a waltz that was at once familiar. Both of them recognized it at once, and felt at once.
"May I have this dance?" Yevgeny murmured.
"Da," said Roza. And he led her out onto the dance floor to the opening strains of Tchaikovsky's exquisitely dreamy Thornrose Waltz from Sleeping Beauty.
Roza ultimately felt as she was soaring on top of the clouds as Yevgeny swept her around the ballroom. He was a most fabulous dancer, Roza had always assumed that but she had no idea, nor did she have any idea how it would feel to waltz with him. It was as if they were the only two in the universe. Although the room was full of people, many of whose eyes were on the two of them, neither Roza nor Yevgeny were aware of anything but the other. This must be what heaven is like, Roza mused. This was their waltz. However, their dancing did not stop its conclusion, where Yevgeny spun her in wildly in a circle. They waltzed to Tchaikovsky's waltzes from The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, Dvorak's Prague Waltzes and the Waltz from Serenade for Strings.
It happened during the Serenade for Strings Waltz. Perhaps it was because this waltz was considerably slower than the others, perhaps the immense emotion had built up from the previous waltzes---Yevgeny had slowly (and unconsciously) drawn Roza closer and closer to him. Only when the waltz ended in its abrupt manner, did Roza realize that she was in his arms. Coming unwillingly to her senses, as if awakening from a dream, Roza withdrew herself suddenly. What did she think she was getting herself into anyways? The Queen's warning echoed fresh in her mind, "You must not become too involved in the life of an opera character, no matter how much he attracts you or how you ache to heal his tortured soul with your love. For if a man of Operaland makes love to you, you will remain in Operaland forever." She really did feel as if she had awoken from a beautiful dream...
Yevgeny stared at Roza imploringly, confused by Roza's sudden apprehensive motions, and clearly overcome with passion, intense romantic passion. In desperation, he took her hand and led her away from the crowd of curious operatic onlookers.
"Oh...Roza!" Yevgeny murmured. Words failing him, he caught Roza in a passionate embrace.
Roza suddenly became very frightened. Without even trying to, and despite being so careful she had unwittingly overstepped her bounds as a visitor to Operarealm. "Yevgeny--I'm sorry!" She tore herself from his embrace and ran blindly, faster than she had ever ran in her entire life, down the palace corridor. Yevgeny pursued her, calling to her in chillingly passionate and pleading tones which broke Roza's heart.
Roza knew not how she did, for it all happened too fast, but she managed to throw him off her track as she ran through a crowd and slipped into the library to hide. Roza locked the door behind herself and leaned against the wall, panting. How could this happen? How? She desperately wanted to cry, but her fear seemed to have drained all the water from her tear ducks.
She jumped and shrieked when she heard the voice behind her.
"Oh my, you are as white as a ghost!" It was Tatyana, the Princess Gremina, and she spoke to Roza in a calm, soothing voice. "Whatever is the matter?"
"He-he's after me!"
Tatyana regarded her in incredulous confusion and horror. "Who is after you?"
"The man I was waltzing with just now. Didn't you see--"
"No," Tatyana told her simply. "I've been in here since after I made my appearances and retired early."
"Doing what?" asked Roza.
"Why reading of course," Tatyana told her with a small smile. "I don't particularly care for balls. They have been nothing but occasions of heartache and turmoil for me. I dislike being looked at, having to put on a show. Do you have any idea how exhausting that is? I'd much rather sit by myself with a good book and my dreams, they are all I have left. But enough on my desolate fate," Tatyana came toward her. "Tell me what happened. Who is after you?"
Roza sobbed. "Someone I care for very much, but whom I can not become too involved with. Do you know what happens if I were to do that? I'd never see reality and a chance of operatic glory again!"
"I know," said Tatyana gravely. "As you know, my fate is somewhat similar, and every bit as painful. Tell me, Roza, is the man who pursues the same man that I loved and whose image haunts my mind still?"
Roza sobbed. "Yes! Yes! It is he...Yevgeny!"
Tatyana put her hand to her mouth. She had somehow expected that response, but it still shocked her. "That impulsive...reckless man..." She understood all at once.
"Oh Tatyana---what shall I do?" Roza moaned.
Tatyana was silent for several moments, thinking long and hard. "I can clearly see that you love him as I do and that makes the situation even more dangerous. If you remain here with me and my husband...even under our protection...he will pursue you relentlessly. I know him well. Roza--you must go! You must go far from here where he will not see you--where he will not think of finding you!"
At those last words, Roza broke down, totally helpless. Tatyana embraced her as a true sister. "Do not worry. You are doing the right thing. You live for honor. You live for your career. Listen to me, and all will be secured. Some dear friends of mine are leaving soon for a secret holiday in Czechoslovakia. There is a beautiful castle there, far from anywhere. You will go there in extreme secrecy---I will be the only one who knows your whereabouts and you will be safe to continue your study there. What do you think?"
"I think I have no choice," Roza said mournfully. "Thank you, Tatyana. You've saved me."
"It is the least I can do for my greatest champion," Tatyana told her kindly. "Now I will send for my dear friends and tell them of our plan. You must depart as soon as possible, if you are to depart at all." And she gave Roza a last hug of reassurance before leaving the room and locking the door behind her.
Left alone, Roza felt beside herself with grief. How could she do such a thing? How? When all of her life she had vowed to do just the opposite! Oh how she loved him! She had never loved anyone else--not even Vincenzo---as she loved Yevgeny and she knew in her heart that like, Tatyana, she would never love anyone else besides him. Circumstance had stabbed her heart brutally! She had dreamed of such a fateful meeting with Yevgeny like that her entire life and now the rules of Operarealm, circumstance and honor had it away from her, just as they had Tatyana. She had never in her entire life wished herself dead, but she did now. Anything to not feel this unbearable agony. How could she walk (no, run) away from the man she loved like this? It hit her suddenly. She could write to him....leave him a letter explaining why she did this. Yes! He'd have to understand when told him the truth. He was a restless, impulsive man...surely he'd grieve for awhile and then get over it...as was likely the case with Tatyana. However, something inside told Roza that this would not happen. She ignored this, and set to work quickly. Tatyana and the others could return any time now and she needed to be ready to go.
Roza found a secretary in the corner of the Gremin library quite easily. Inside was beautiful old-fashioned paper which was remarkably thin and several fancy quills. Roza sat and wrote, bearing her soul:
I must confess that I do not know how to begin this letter, as I am sitting here alone prey to unbearable agony. If you were utterly anguished by my sudden and unexpected departure, I might have been more so. You must listen and understand me. I will confess everything for the sake of the peace and sanity of both of us.
I have dreamt of a magical evening such as this my entire lonely life. Ever since I have known your exquisite opera, I have been hopelessly in love with you. Yes, I love you! I love you more than I have ever loved anyone, and I fear I will never love another soul as I love you! So many opera people I have known were and still are profoundly hateful of yourself and your impulsive actions earlier in your life. But I understand you and love you in spite of yourself. You may be jaded and selfish, but you are incredibly fascinating. There is an intriguing depth and potential in your Russian soul that I am very much attracted to and I only wish I could be permitted to help you realize it.
Can you even begin to understand how abominably hard this is for me? I sit weeping because I cannot be with you. I cannot because circumstance forbids it! Do you have any idea what would happen to me, a lady of Reality, if I were to become completely yours? I would be lost to Reality forever! I would never realize my full potential as an singer! I have been allowed access to your world solely for this purpose. I have found more inspiration than I have ever imagined and I know that I must be forever content with even having been given the privilege of meeting you! Oh Yevgeny, please forgive cruel circumstance and take it into your heart and soul to find a direction in your life. I care for you most profoundly and I only hope that you will find your peace, as I hope to find mine.
I am exhausted. I can say no more.
Roza wiped the tears from her eyes and folded the letter just as Tatyana and the five travelers, Fioridiligi, Dorabella, Despina, Marenka and Rusalka, entered the room with clear concern in their eyes.
"Are you ready?" Tatyana asked her sympathetically. Roza nodded sadly. Tatyana was holding a pile of shimmering masks and gave Roza a shiny silver one with a long black lace veil. "Some dear friends from a Verdi opera were kind enough to donate these. The others will be wearing one as well so that you won't look so suspicious."
Despina laughed mischievously, clearly quite enjoying the intrigue. "Those fools out there will just assume we've been to a masked ball."
Tatyana handed a mask each to the five operatic ladies.
Roza sealed the letter in her hands and gave it to Tatyana, who had just noticed it and was looking at it curiously. "Please ... you have done so much for me and now I must humbly ask of you one more small favor," Roza said imploring the young princess. "Please make sure that Yevgeny gets this."
Tatyana nodded. "Are you sure?"
"Yes," Roza told her firmly. "He deserves this much at least. I just had to do it!"
Tatyana placed the letter in her bosom. "Then I will deliver it shortly. But only after the midnight train--your train---has departed. Precautions must be taken."
"The midnight train leaves in fifteen minutes, so we must hurry!" Marenka gushed, indicating for Roza to put on her mask.
Roza hugged Tatyana one last time. "Thank you---so much--for everything!" She slipped on the silver mask and switched cloaks with Marenka. Markenka's immense black cloak not only matched the mask, but also hid Roza's trademark sapphire gown better than her own sapphire cloak did.
With one last farewell, the six masked females disappeared quickly and silently into the raven black night.
© 2003 Copyright held by the author.