It’s time. My heartbeat picks up tempo as we move sedately from the wings to center stage. I follow the bass and contralto while the baritone follows me. All eyes are on us as we emerge from behind the heavy curtains and glide into our assigned seats. Anticipation heightens with the conductor’s raised baton.
After an opening chorus, I am the first to rise. Gently I toss back my hair, knowing the spotlights highlight my flaming red locks to greatest advantage.
My notes rise strong and true. I sense the ripple of appreciation through our audience as well as its collective gasp as I reach and caress a high note. My voice dips and soars with the precision of a highly trained color guard. Tonight is a good night.
My piece ends. I take my seat, careful to fan my long skirt out to its fullest advantage. The black velvet is a perfect backdrop for the scarlet slashes as red and black vie for dominance.
I sit with a Mona Lisa smile, elegant and still as a Greek statue. My bare arms and shoulders rise above my strapless bodice like chilled cream.
The contralto rises for her solo. Her white hair is so conspicuously out of style and the reading glasses teetering on her nose proclaim a youth long since fled. Good sense must have prevailed with her choice of black gown topped by a mud-brown lace jacket, discretely covering flagging arms and dumpy bosom.
I remain immobile as I glance down at my own young bosom, lifted and firm as my lilted notes. The contralto finishes her last, low, mournful syllable and plops into her seat. She removes her reading glasses and gropes for the water glass discreetly placed behind her chair. I straighten an already perfectly positioned shoulder. I need no such reminder of failing humanity. I will sail through this hour unaided and waterless.
I continue my poised posture, not looking at anyone or anything. The contralto sits, shoulders hunched forward, eyes closed, in the inelegant pose of the aged.
When forced to duet, I sing just a shade louder, not drowning out my partner, but certainly compromising the quality of what she has to offer.
After the performance, we retreat to the wings, the sounds of resounding applause ringing in our ears. The conductor, whom I’ve not worked with before, approaches his soloists.
He speaks to me first. “Ah, my dear,” he states, bending over my manicured, porcelain hand. “Your execution was flawless. Perfect inflection. Perfect pitch. Well done.”
I incline my head in acceptance while my heart swells to painful proportions. I move to one side, desperate to hear what he has to say to the pathetic contralto.
“Dear, dear Elaine,” he gushes. “Chills tease my spine every time I hear you sing. You always capture the composers’ hearts. Always. Tonight I felt as though Mozart himself communicated to me through you.” He grasps both her hands. “Thank you,” his hoarse whisper assaults my numbed ears. “Thank you for delivering the message from Mozart’s heart, through yours, to mine. Priceless. Priceless,” he sighs.
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