Before I started writing, I was an opera singer. I performed in many operas and musical theater shows, and I loved the relationship between the audience and the performers.
This story was dedicated to my voice teacher, Jane Westbrook.
I still miss her…
The Diva – By Lisa Kessler
Adella watched from the wings, hidden among the shadows while she awaited her cue. Mimi was her signature role, her alter ego for over thirty years. She performed other opera roles during her career, but La Boheme was her bread and butter. Night after night, in countries around the world, she brought audiences to their feet with her interpretation of Mimi. Her flawless passion-filled performances of Mi Chiamano Mimi were often collected for Opera anthology recordings, and Sono Andati, the love duet of Rodolfo and Mimi, never failed to make music lovers weep.
But these days it took more effort to achieve what had once erupted from her throat with ease, like a gift from God himself. The last three years she struggled through illnesses, and her smooth legato melody lines were non-existent unless the director allowed her to stand in one place while she sang.
It wasn’t for lack of rehearsal. She knew her roles thoroughly, but age was beginning to take its toll. Coloratura roles didn’t come her way anymore. She couldn’t sustain the fast running cadenzas that used to flow so freely from her lips. She would never sing another Juliet’s Waltz from Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet.
Would anyone miss her? Ten years ago she reigned in the Opera houses at the pinnacle of her career, the grand Diva of the opera. If she was being considered for a role, other sopranos need not even apply.
But these days, her agent didn’t call her to select between competing offers from opera companies. There were new sopranos, rising stars, huddling in the wings, waiting to step into her spotlight.
She turned away from the stage and walked back to the prop table. Her mirror with the opal inlay handle sat on the right-hand corner, just where her contract stipulated. Adella carefully lifted the oval face, checking her lipstick. Stage make-up no longer hid the creases around her eyes, and nothing helped the heaviness below her chin.
She brought her free hand up to her jaw line, smoothing her skin. Recently she noticed opera companies now dressed her in high-necked gowns. Her once thick curls of raven hair spilled down her back, thin and lifeless. The make-up artists added hair extensions and enough hair spray to burn more holes in the ozone layer, just to give her hair the natural look she used to take for granted.
Her grip tightened on the mirror until she the handle snapped in her hand. Her heart sank and her eyes brimmed with tears. The purchase of the mirror was a splurge to celebrate her first performance at the Metropolitan Opera. It had been her constant companion throughout her career.
And now it was broken.
She carefully placed it back on the prop table, blinking her eyes to keep the tears at bay. This wasn’t the time to get upset. She needed to perform.
For the last time.
Rodolfo finished his aria, and she stepped to her spot in the wings, ready to make the first entrance of her final performance as Mimi from La Boheme. She gently cleared her throat, straightened her dress, and ran her tongue across her top teeth to be certain that no lipstick marred her smile.
The stage manager gave her the silent cue, and Adella stepped out from the shadows. The spotlight was warm on her skin, and wrapped her in its familiar embrace. Applause exploded from the darkness, and the diva held her head high, expecting and accepting their love and adoration.
When the noise reached its climax, the orchestra overpowered the crowd, silencing them with their melody. Adella and Mimi were once again one spirit, one being, and the music that rose from her throat was more than a song, it was a lifetime. The melody transformed into pure love and joy. Every word was articulated, each note spun forth with the precision of a master, but the effortless sound of an angel.
She enjoyed every second and memorized each moment on the stage. This performance needed to last the rest of her life.
As the fourth and final act opened, Adella found herself in the wings again. She sipped water and handed the glass to one of the stage hands while she watched the other performers. For months she prepared for this moment.
This would be her final act.
She wasn’t ready.
Singing in Opera houses was her life. There was nothing else. She’d been married once, but her travel schedule soured the union within five years. She had no children, no pets, and all of her friends were still performing. What would happen to her without dress rehearsals, opening nights, bright lights, the swell of an orchestra, and the swing of the conductor’s baton?
There was no turning back. Her voice was showing signs of age. Did she really want to sing until the critics turned against her? Did she want audiences to whisper during intermission about how well she used to sing?
She always promised herself she would retire before her voice suffered. She didn’t want to become a mockery of what she once was, instead she hoped to be remembered for the standing ovations and operatic beauty of her music.
Now that the end was approaching, her chest ached with sorrow. How could she give up her one true love in this world? This was her life and her identity. Adella Shugart, Soprano. Who would she be when she no longer commanded a stage?
Her cue finally came, and Adella walked out for the fourth act. How apropos that Mimi’s death scene would be her last. For the first time in her career, the tear that rolled down her cheek during the final duet was not an act. Her heart shattered, and the music that escaped her lips echoed her aching soul, as Mimi sang of her love for Rodolfo.
At the end of La Boheme, Mimi was dying. The medicine would not come soon enough to save her. She would leave the world with love in her heart, knowing she was blessed by loving Rodolfo and receiving his affection in return. As the duet reached its final cadence, Mimi collapsed, coughing as consumption stole her breath, and inside Adella sobbed, knowing she just delivered the most exquisite performance of her life.
The moment she stepped out to center stage for her final curtain call, the audience rose onto their feet. Chants of “Brava” echoed through the theater as she curtsied and accepted their praises. She waved to the crowd, her cheeks moist with tears she hadn’t realized she was shedding. Like Mimi, Adella was leaving the stage forever, and like her alter ego, she too was blessed.
“I love you too,” she whispered to the cheering crowd.
The curtain slowly lowered, and Adella took a deep breath, fighting the urge to sob. She wouldn’t allow the others to witness her pain. Straightening her back, with her proud chin lifted, she made her way into the wings. The applause faded behind her as the shadows swallowed her proud form.
The Diva walked away from the stage.
~~ The End~~
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