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Mia California: An Opera Journal

ISSUE:  Spring 1996

Thursday, 7:00 p. m.

First Butterfly run-through, Carnegie Hall.

We assemble in a tight dogleg corridor outside a studio door. Conductor nowhere to be seen. Everyone, therefore, is tense: we tell conductor jokes.

“How can you tell a dead skunk in the road from a dead conductor in the road?”

“There are skid marks in front of the skunk.”

“What’s the difference between Greek and the alto clef?”

“Some conductors can read Greek.”

I keep searching my watch.

8:00 p. m.

The studio is modest and crowded but cool. The windows have recently been bricked up and sealed with sheetrock and bandages of spackling. Pictures hang on all the walls, in rows. They are the visual pedigree of music studios everywhere, the autographed picture of one’s teacher, the sketch of Verdi: the guild of classical musicians coheres under the image that it is really a family, your teacher your real parent-singers have taken their teachers’ names-and Verdi, therefore, (or Auer or Liszt) your great-grandfather. There are pictures of conductors leaning over their orchestras and stirring them with batons.

There is an air conditioner (not running, and hence not whining); also an answering machine, switched off. The phones have been brought to the piano. The small Steck grand is fetlock deep in scores and file boxes. The desk is in reality a narrow folding table with a pressed-board top, like the tables in church basements and union halls.

Middle of act one, everyone doing nicely. Pinkerton and Suzuki are still tense, as they were in the hall. When the conductor makes a joke, their smiles go on and off like “Walk” signs. Yamadori is relaxed, joyous, singing his score with perfect punctuality and address. He is an old hand. Butterfly is very young, new at the game. In a week or two she will make the stage director furious, incredulous, by declining to kneel on the rehearsal room floor in her designer jeans. Now she is intent, her dark face sober, her voice clear and unstraining and precisely measured to the acoustical resources of the room. She hardly glances at her music. She makes no mistakes.

I stand up and sit down, flinging over the pages of the accompanist’s score. I am not singing Butterfly. I have a small part in La Fanciulla del West, which is in an advanced stage of rehearsal. I am the amateur here: modest baritone gift I keep in a jar in the kitchen. I am not one of the family. I have had teachers, and their teachers’ pictures hung above their pianos. But I hail from a different lineage, the chary, grumpy, solitary lineage of the writer who spends half his time scratching away on paper and half looking blankly out of the window, hoping that something will occur. Among singers, I am a standoff, a witness, a boundary walker, a Janus, a Judas. I listen and watch, make myself useful, keep quiet, turn pages.

9:30 p. m.

Pinkerton is showing wear. On high notes, on which his living depends, his voice has become thick and dull, like meat. Scarlet sweeps across his face; the veins in his neck spring out.

The conductor’s swatch of gray hair is coming down on one side. He shrugs violently into his jacket, working his left arm up and down against the tines of bursitis. He leans near-sightedly (no glasses) toward the piano score. “Rehearsal 159.”

The session has not been easy. No tempers have been lost, but the smiles have been saying “Don’t Walk” for some time. Constant backing-up for annotation, changes of pronunciation, missed cues. The protocol is: mistake, apology, repeat, next cue. A page or two go by clearly, then another misstep. There is no stopping for rest. The rehearsal pianist (and chorusmaster), a stocky, even-tempered, overworked girl with a hank of black hair, strokes persistently through oceans of music. Under a fur of perspiration her upper lip is gray with exhaustion.

Saturday, 4:30 p. m.

First Fanciulla staging rehearsal with cast and chorus. St. Michael’s Hall, 34th Street.

Long cold room straddling purposes. A raised stage at one end with pillars and cornices of blistered plaster; vaulting horses and furled tumbling mats at the other end. The room is really half a cellar, so that the windows are set just below the ceiling, iron accordion radiators hung between them. The glass, almost opaque with dirt, is barred with metal webbing in ecclesiastical diamonds. This churchly room is in New York; it must protect itself. Now that its doors stand open, the street people come in and go out, slipstreaming in the flow of singers. In the men’s room, there is excrement on the floor.

Theatre occurs in grimy settings like this, or at least this is the kind of place it first occurs, before we carry the awakened show to the opera house, sheltering it so that it won’t blow out in the winds of the street. Such places for rehearsal-rooms borrowed for the purpose, so confused and naked that they seem just room, just space cored out of all space with a few arbitrary partitions-speak of the ad hockery of theatre itself. No matter how much thought we put into it, the thing will cohere, if it does, will run (if it does) almost by accident, in moments in which our intentions are at best half-carried out and always in danger of aborting altogether. Theatre is always, in the old image, the juggler’s trick that may come apart in a hail of china.

For the Fanciulla rehearsal we don’t use the stage. It isn’t big enough (and maybe we don’t have permission). The set is mapped out on the tile floor in lines of folding chairs. The stage director stalks among them, laying down the geography of the future set like a theory of planetary arrangement. “Entrance here,” he calls out as he moves, “double doors there, elevated platforms here and here; that’s a ramp; that’s a ramp.”

In an arc of chairs bent around the blonde piano the chorus runs through its entrances. The singing seems to burst out at random above the buzz and jangle of the rental spinet. The chorusmaster plays and conducts; she recites the solo parts in a monotone, scoops the chorus in with a toss of her forelock, hands deep in the piano. The hall has no drapery or acoustical tile to absorb the sound of forty operatic voices, and every phrase the chorus sings, with its bright cloak of echo, has the crack and depth of near thunder.

Singing is not an affair of reason, hardly of intelligence at all. The tone grows like a tree in the body itself, roots in the thighs and buttocks, trunk in the trunk, first heavy branches reaching out through the shoulders, fruit on the tongue. When the singing is right, the tone has the unity and power of organic growth. When it goes wrong, the body itself feels spoiled and awry; headaches sulk behind the eyes, the musculature seems to crumble. From its proper brightness and firmness, the tone withers to a mouthful of dubious oatmeal.

The chorus is singing well. It sings strong. With every new phrase the volume increases, the singers feeling the power of their sound as a whole, the mortars of the basses, the rifle cracks of the tenors, until the conductor walks down to the piano to hush them. “No voice, boys, no voice.” They pay no notice.

5:00 p. m.

The Fanciulla principals have been drifting in through the freshet of chorus sound, carrying briefcases, bags over shoulders, backpacks from wilderness outfitters, the front wheels of bicycles, coffee, pop, bagels in napkins. Now the chorus finishes and disperses. The amateur members bend over their imported cranberry-bound Ricordi scores. The professionals lounge and gossip. Gossip is food and drink, the news of jobs and auditions. The union rep stalks among them, a heavy woman with a voice corroded by cigarettes. The professionals’ scores, in back pockets and rolled under arms, are bound in soiled lemon cardboard.

Fanciulla is a formidable opera to stage. Of its principal characters five or more may be onstage at any given moment, all with distinct motivations, breaking the score up among them like a cookie. (Puccini himself complained to Guelfo Civinini, his second Fanciulla librettist, about the trouble the minor roles were giving him.) The chorus of miners-the true hero, some directors believe, of the opera-darts on and off, assumes a character and motivations of its own, crumbling the cookie still further. The stage is always crowded with bodies-now, in St. Michael’s, in the folding-chair theory of the set, with bodies mostly doubtful about where they should be or go. A foot or a hip out of place can mean a misplayed scene. For hours the stage director must exercise the same patient attention to lines of egress and massing of population as a traffic controller.

He must have patience, but he must not show it, because patience will not make the chorus move.(“I never shout at an orchestra,” Sir Georg Solti says. “Or, rather, I shout at them once a year.” A good conductor, a good stage director, keeps a small tactical anger warm in her pocket.) As a stage entity, the chorus is ponderous and stupid, like a rhinoceros. Waves of indecision course through it, increasing with each body, until a minced forward step at the head of the line means total immobility five people back and reversal of direction, back up the chute of folding chairs, at the rear. If the chorus sings, it does not move; if it does not move, people wait in the entrances and arrive onstage, preoccupied and anxious, after the musical cue has passed. Pocketing his patience, yanking out his anger, the director bellows at them-“Go for the sale at Macy’s!”-and four or five shoo like baffled hens.

Where ordinary theatre has one director, opera has two, a divided authority that imposes cooperation and flexibility as necessary disciplines. The stage director and his assistants care, theoretically, for the acting and stage movement; the conductor and chorusmaster, theoretically, for the score and the singing. But opera is one art, music and theatre together, and so the director sings at the actors and the conductor invents stage movement. Authority shifts back and forth, moment by moment.

In Fanciulla the dual responsibility is an advantage as well as a necessity. The score does not soak the audience in melodies; a badly directed production will not coast into port on music. The leads must act, the minor soloists must convince in their short stints of stage time, or the show stumbles. Its first performance, at the Met in December 1910, had Toscanini to mind the score, and David Belasco, whose hit play Puccini had taken as his working text, to nourish the acting. Belasco was not formally connected with the production. But he haunted the rehearsals, lavishing his advice and anxiety on Caruso, the tenor lead; Emmy Destinn, who sang the title role, was already famous for her acting. Between them Fanciulla’s breakneck dramaticism apparently grew sinewy and taut, and the premiere was a success. The opera has often stumbled since.

The present director is a slender fiftyish man in chinos and immaculate loafers, forehead glittering with glasses, his cheeks embroidered with burst capillaries. “Go for the sale at Macy’s!” he shouts, and the chorus sifts guiltily on. But the principals are not ready. Out with the chorus and back in. The entrance goes by five times. Unexpectedly, the chorus loosens up, and starts to run and sing at the same time. The principals, irritated by repetition, start to tighten. Everyone corrects everyone else’s pronunciation.(The Fanciulla score is spangled with names-Minnie, Nick, “Meester Ashby”-and words, such as “Hello!,” deliberately left in English. Puccini had to remind Civinini that “Ranee,” pronounced in the American way, did not rhyme with “mance” pronounced in Italian.)

The entrance once more: the chorus pelts on, roaring in harmony. Folding chairs skitter and shriek across the tile. Another bungle, another traffic jam. Someone turns his back and swears. The baritone pulls out his prop-gun, a hefty black cap-pistol, and lets fly at the director’s forehead. Everyone laughs; under the full-throated laughter the smack of the gun echoes but is not heard.

Sunday, 5:00 p. m.

St. Michael’s Hall.

I stand above a chute of folding chairs. I am Jose Castro, a grimy outlaw onstage just long enough to deceive the law and smuggle a sotto voce message to the gangleader, Dick Johnson. Castro, the director says with a smile, is straight out of the caves.

I have just been introduced all around-“My name,” “Your name,” “Hello. Hello.”-and now straight into the music. I like the objectivity, the briskness, of this. Skill and acquaintance with the protocols are assumed; if you didn’t know them you wouldn’t be here. But in my case it is, to some extent, a charade. Everyone else here is preoccupied with offers and prospects; they have gathered from Tulsa and Seattle and Oberlin and Miami, they are headed out to small continental opera houses, they are angling for managements, and somewhere on the horizon is the Met debut. Somewhere-everywhere-on my horizon is the pad of paper. My music is hen scratch, the hollow pock-pock of the typewriter. That is where the opera is going, in my mind.

Nevertheless I am shaking with nerves. This many-sided business of acting and singing, watching the conductor, flipping the ribbons of Italian syllables out across my American tongue, these new approaches to space and time, I am not sure I can handle. The plates may all just come down. Everyone will be watching.

The singing itself is not difficult. Indeed there is almost no singing to be done. The part is all shouting, snarling, and cringing, and for this I don’t even warm up. Everyone shoves Castro around.

But there is a problem in that. I am slightly built, and my fellow cast members are all opera-average, or slightly larger. In this physical disparity there is a musical danger.

Mister Ashby, a Promethean bass, hauls me onstage and dumps me against a table. It hops under the impact, skidding on the tile; I hold it down by leaning on it. Sheriff Ranee, a not inconsiderable baritone, plucks me off the table and deals me a shove. I go seriously off balance, floundering with my feet, and progress rapidly through a folding chair and two chorus members to the floor. By the time I get up, I have missed my next musical cue.

Brief recess. The conductor is grinning at me, but his grin has red rims of irritation and tension. He is running this production, like all the others, on a tight negotiation between grant-money and union rates, taking money out of this pocket and shoving it in that one, postponing his accompanists’ fees until the summer is done and he can tweezer out the leftover cash. Time is money. Loose baritones are debt.

I know the protocol. I apologize for missing the cue. I ask Dick Johnson if he will enter a few seconds earlier, and he agrees. He is a handsome man, solid without being clumsy, with a cheerful childlike smile and great apparent calm.

Back to the chute. This time the chair, anticipating my arrival, folds up before I hit it. I start my cue on the gritty tile, snarling up at the fabric back of the piano. Johnson enters earlier, but not enough to help. But what does it matter? Once he begins to sing all vexations evaporate.

Opera is the last epic art, the last refuge in the giggly cynicism of our cultural world for the unembarrassed big gesture. C.S.Lewis once called epic “going as high as you can.” In opera this is literally true. Spiritual elevation means elevation in pitch. Puccini’s crucial melodies start low and climb.

Singers who cannot bring off the high note are always very clear about why it is unnecessary; but they are wrong. The glory of opera culminates in this conceptually simple, even crude, physical accomplishment-the perfectly free, mellow, almost intolerably intense half-yell. It is like any great skill, simple and impossible at the same time. It is easy to those who do it.

The Pinkerton of three nights ago was an earnest pilgrim on this road, but without illumination. Johnson is an illuminand, a saint and confessor. Standing quietly midstage, hands behind him, weight low and center, feet planted, he opens the stores of his voice, and all Rome is fed. This is what we’ve been waiting for. When he reaches his high note, the tone both warm and brilliant, intense and relaxed, he sounds as if he had an octave to spare.

Sunday, late.

Fanciulla was Puccini’s second “American” opera, after Butterfly, and the only one set in America. It tells how “the girl,” Minnie, falls in love with Dick Johnson, also known as the bandit Ramerrez, and saves him from Ranee and Ashby and ultimately from the gallows. Minnie has been, for an indeterminate time, schoolmarm, Sunday School teacher, and sexual ideal of a herd of California miners, the only gentling influence on their gold fever, desperation, and centripetal violence. But having redeemed Johnson from his life of crime, she leaves the mining camp, and California, for an unspecified greater world. She will never (mai piu! mai piu!) return.

Puccini seems more naive in Fanciulla than in Butterfly. California seems to have had some of the same exoticism for him as Japan; the score uses the five-tone oriental scale as well as American folk tunes. But whereas in Butterfly the Americans intrude on the exotic Japanese, the miners themselves are the exotic race in Fanciulla. The mythical quality of the Japanese, their marriage customs, gods, and cultural violence, fit their distance from European white civilization; the miners are white Europeans and mythical at the same time. In Butterfly the Americans are made vivid to us precisely in their bumptious and arrogant intrusion on the older, quieter race; in Fanciulla the Americans must be both violent and sentimental, aggressor and victim, active and passive. We have to like them and dislike them at the same time, and, consequently, to recent eyes they seem to separate out into cliches, the cliche; of the lynch-mob, the cliche of homesickness. It is the Great Western Myth with all its mechanisms on display. For Puccini, of course, the cliches were perhaps not cliches; it was still conceivable to awaken the dime novel conventions to some degree of genuine fictional life.

The miners exist, the opera tells us, on the edge of civilization, on the selvage where Europe fades out altogether. They are barely literate; when Minnie tries to teach them the Scriptures, the miners respond with slangy parodies.(Both the parodies and Minnie’s lessons are parodied again when the Indians, Wowkle and Billy Jackrabbit, sing a version of a psalm as a marriage contract.) Minnie is the camp’s incarnate conscience, guardian of its gold dust and its behavior. In their world her $30 worth of education, as she says, is everything; it is civilization itself.

Minnie is a clear example of Ann Douglas’s “feminization of American culture.” “The girl” is domesticity amidst the miners’ anarchy of labor, culture in the wilderness, religion in their practical atheism. When Sheriff Ranee, who has designs on her, dismisses her romantic ideal as fantasy-“Poesial”-she responds with an affectionate reminiscence of her parents’ love, not without its modestly erotic overtone. Love is domestic. When Minnie reads the miners David’s lament over Uriah and Bathsheba (“Create in me a clean heart”), the music repeats the sentimental ballad of home and mother sung near the opera’s beginning. Even divine love, with the stress of divine anger in it, is domestic.

Yet “the girl” is more than a cliche herself. She at least knows how little she knows and all but despairs at it-“Oscure, e buona a nulla,” she says to Johnson, unknown and good for nothing. Her little maidenly cabin is not only the outpost of civilization; it is her refuge. Her first virginal kiss, so powerful in its context and so ardently defended, redeems Johnson from his crimes; but it also releases Minnie from her penitential obscurity into a wider world.

Her new world, oddly, will be east of her old one. You cannot go west from California; Minnie and Dick will have to backtrack against manifest destiny. There is an odd negotiation with the frontier in Fanciulla, as in Belasco’s original play.(Belasco was born in California.) The Girl of the Golden West was still running in April 1906, when New York heard the news of the San Francisco earthquake and fire. Saying the last lines of the play-“Oh, my California, I’m leaving you-oh, my lovely west”-the actress, Blanche Bates, broke down, and the audience wept with her. Knowing Belasco, one is tempted to think that the moment had been engineered; but the audience’s reaction is still interesting. Did they sob because the dream of the frontier was still a cultural possibility, or because the frontier was gone and only a dream?

Those who think that the miners are the tragic heroes of the opera have similar ambiguities to consider. Fanciulla is a comedy, not a tragedy like Butterfly or a melodrama like Tosca; it ends with a wedding, and the miners, greedy, abject, and bloodthirsty, have none of Cio-Cio San’s third-act nobility. If there is a tragedy of the miners, it occurs offstage and almost outside the libretto. The miners, Minnie says, are sacrificing themselves for their distant families. The tragedy, that is, is the one that has exiled them from their homes as a condition of the homes’ economic survival-the tragedy of itinerant laborers and immigrants caught in the 19th-century market’s hunger for labor. Puccini and Belasco presumably knew the conditions of 1890’s monopoly capitalism at least indirectly, Puccini from the Italian emigrants’ end, and Belasco from the slums of New York. But these conditions make the miners pathetic, not tragic; and the greedy nineties are present onstage only by implication.

Monday, 1:00 p. m.

Orchestra run-through. 40th Street.

The rented rehearsal hall is surprisingly small, its walls and ceiling stuccoed with acoustical tile. Standing against the walls, behind the thickets of black stands, are timpani, celeste, harp in its canvas tarpaulin, piano, chimes, wind machine. Behind them there is a line of chairs for the stage director and his assistants, gossiping quietly among themselves, lending moral support. At breaks they call out how good the music sounds.

Running down a canal in front of the percussion are chairs for the soloists. Only the leads sit there. The rest of us stand where we can find room and enter the canal when it is time to sing. In front, behind the conductor, the wall is full of votive pictures. Past the bassoon I spot a youngish, brown-tinted Stravinsky.(Did he stand in this room? look at these walls?)

The instruments begin. The sound is violent in the cramped space. I get anxious again. The whelm of the orchestra, its immediacy, distract me, deform my sense of the score; I cannot hear the music as a whole. Cannons to the right of them, cannons to the left of them.

A half hour passes. The intricate weavings and syncopations of the first scene are not falling into place, not clean or sweet. Singers drag, the orchestra dawdles. The performers hang like weights on the end of the conductor’s finger, and he drags them along.

Three quarters of an hour. My entrance. I walk into the arena, stand like a schoolboy, hands behind my back, and recite in the largest voice I can muster.

I muff a cue. The cannons stop firing, lapsing into silence. “That was it,” the conductor says, his eyes irritated. The baton flogs the music stand. I hear a sigh of dollars. “Come on,” the conductor says. Back to the start of the section. The trombones are violent on one side, the timpani on the other. The wind machine whines inside its canvas membrane. This time I make it through. No one looks around.

Wednesday, 11:00 a. m.

Central Park.

The 72nd Street bandshell looks bewildered, like other things the city uses and neglects. A chill is established in the shell’s concrete, a cold as damp and filmy as the chill in soil. The stage, rumpled duck boards, will catch your foot and twist it. At noon, in the August sun, it will scorch your feet through your shoes.

The chorus runs in and out, singing. The set is still being raised by a laconic, efficient crew who work oblivious of the singing, rushing crowd beneath their ladders. The skilsaws scream sporadically-the music doesn’t notice-and enormous feeder cables descend in loops like pythons.

The conductor stands six feet below stage-level, on the macadam. He is profane and patient. Everything has to be done now, all at once; dollars are draining away. But he will do it.

He is a short thickset Italian in a black Izod shirt. He is as focused as a compass needle, with some of a compass’s apparent liberty. Anything less like the stereotype of the conductor-flaring hair, milling arms, raging intensity-would be hard to find. His conducting is almost notation; he issues small, accurate gestures. The pudgy hands dart in complicated patterns; the left forefinger punches out cues, five or six a minute, like radio buttons; on come the voices. The hands highlight, pick things out, contour the phrase, bring the volume up here, turn it down there, fine-tune the throats. He is a mechanic of the air, a sculptor of vibration.

Everything depends on the hands. Acting and stage-movement have coalesced, at last, with the music and obey the same gestural signals. The hands that draw the clarinets in pull singers on stage and distribute them, set them struggling or caressing, dismiss them into the wings. “Don’t listen, boys,” the conductor says, continually, “don’t listen. Watch. I’ll be there.” He is.


The stage fries like a griddle. There is another act to go. The rehearsal pianist smears sun-block on the conductor’s forearms.

Later still, in the coffee shop.

“Oh, Goddawmighty.” The bursitis flames as if the sun itself has invaded the shoulder.

Thursday, 7:30 p. m.

72nd Street Bandshell.

“You filthy outlaw!” The costume man flops my hat in his hands and laughs. “I love that.”

Costumes arrive in a truck from Long Island. All the soloists have been out, in the course of the week, to be measured and fitted. The warehouse is hung with pictures; the father of the company’s present owner had been a tenor of some notice, and he is there as we are measured, in the pictures and in person. He seems worried about us: “All be friends,” he says in his accented English, gesturing at our shoulders and assembling us into teams to ride back into Manhattan.

At the Bandshell we change-men here, women there-in a sort of brush arbor behind the stage, up a steep set of steps. You find your own coat and breeches in the appropriate box-closet. Shirts, hats, and neckerchiefs come out of barrels and are spread on long tables. “You,” someone says to me. “Jose Castro,” I answer. “Castro, Castro. Yeah. Here.”

We are made up on a production line by girls in micro-skirts; their bare thighs brush our knees as they work. Then we mill around, avoiding each other’s eyes, singing scales, repeating and repeating the nasal grunt singers do to reassure themselves that the tone is still there. The crew is swarming on ladders; fifty things remain to be done. Someone with a jackknife cuts a hole in the backdrop so that the chorusmaster can see the conductor out front.

The stage director strides among us. His smile has tightened; it has the warmth of the sheen on an ice cube. There is nothing more he can do. Though he will stay backstage through the performance, sending us on with gentle shoves, it will be like nudging a stone in free space. We will pass beyond his control. The laws of performance, of the lighted stage, are as absolute and irrational as the laws of physics.

7:45 p. m.

A city official shows up to open the performance. He is there to remind the audience that New York, in its benevolent concern for its citizens, provides all manner of summer pleasures. He is spindly, rumpled. He glares around with the suggestion of a smile, his eyes splintered with blood. He seems uneasy among all these gigantic singers with their leering cheeks. In assassination he fears not the loss of life but the loss of office.

The conductor, rested, groomed, in his white jacket (the white sleeve will be easier to see in the dusk beyond the orchestra, like the white glove of a Roman traffic policeman), has come backstage and stands among us. We encircle him, edging up to the power. For a moment we think he will address us, general to troops, coach to team. He does not. He shakes hands with the director, who initiates the traditional counter-wish, the spell to deceive the gods: “In bocca al lupo, maestro, in bocca al lupo. Into the mouth of the wolf.” The conductor heads out the side of the stage and around the wing. In a moment, after the windstorm of applause has died down, the violence of trombones.

The chorusmaster climbs her ladder and peers through her spyhole, score in one hand, the other hand suspended in air. The assistant stage director heads back into the shell-“Now I can have my supper”-and sits down on a packing case with his Tupperware pot of Szechuan.

9:42 p. m.

Onstage the waltz begins, and the miners drift back out of the light, singing as they come. Cue. The stage director puts one hand on my right elbow. Mister Ashby lowers his mitt onto my left shoulder. In a moment the director shoves. I run away from him into the light, and am thrown against the table.

I sing, I act, I sit down, I stand up. This time someone holds the chair firm, and when I hit it it doesn’t move. I cringe and smirk; I snarl for a drink. The only thing that matters is the rise and fall of the white arm in the middle distance. I am relieved to be able to see it so clearly without my glasses.

Two chorus members drag me off. Everyone is intent on the job at hand; no one can tell me how I did. I don’t know myself. The performance, too, seems to disappear into free space.

10:30 p. m.

After my bow at the end of Act 1, I have come down to sit with my family in the audience.

Everything going nicely. The crowd loves the card trick in Act 2. Dick and Minnie catch their cues like fielders, and their voices are wonderful.

End of Act 3. Minnie and Dick edge toward their exit. They are leaving California for happy days of love. The two great voices rise and open, brilliant and without strain, above the rapt whelm of the chorus. Addio, addio. The audience, suspended on the high note, collapses into applause. Addio, mia California. I stand and applaud, feeling isolated in the crowd.


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