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   Chapter 19 No.19

A Romance of the Republic By Lydia Maria Child Characters: 9492

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


While Flora was listlessly gazing at Monte Pincio from the solitude of her room in the Via delle Quattro Fontane, Rosabella was looking at the same object, seen at a greater distance, over intervening houses, from her high lodgings in the Corso. She could see the road winding like a ribbon round the hill, with a medley of bright colors continually moving over it. But she was absorbed in revery, and they floated round and round before her mental eye, like the revolving shadows of a magic lantern.

She was announced to sing that night, as the new Spanish prima donna, La Seńorita Rosita Campaneo; and though she had been applauded by manager and musicians at the rehearsal that morning, her spirit shrank from the task. Recent letters from America had caused deep melancholy; and the idea of singing, not con amore, but as a performer before an audience of entire strangers, filled her with dismay. She remembered how many times she and Flora and Gerald had sung together from Norma; and an oppressive feeling of loneliness came over her. Returning from rehearsal, a few hours before, she had seen a young Italian girl, who strongly reminded her of her lost sister. "Ah!" thought she, "if Flora and I had gone out into the world together, to make our own way, as Madame first intended, how much sorrow and suffering I might have been spared!" She went to the piano, where the familiar music of Norma lay open before her, and from the depths of her saddened soul gushed forth, "Ah, bello a me Ritorno." The last tone passed sighingly away, and as her hands lingered on the keys, she murmured, "Will my heart pass into it there, before that crowd of strange faces, as it does here?"

"To be sure it will, dear," responded Madame, who had entered softly and stood listening to the last strains.

"Ah, if all would hear with your partial ears!" replied Rosabella, with a glimmering smile. "But they will not. And I may be so frightened that I shall lose my voice."

"What have you to be afraid of, darling?" rejoined Madame. "It was more trying to sing at private parties of accomplished musicians, as you did in Paris; and especially at the palace, where there was such an élite company. Yet you know that Queen Amelia was so much pleased with your performance of airs from this same opera, that she sent you the beautiful enamelled wreath you are to wear to-night."

"What I was singing when you came in wept itself out of the fulness of my heart," responded Rosabella. "This dreadful news of Tulee and the baby unfits me for anything. Do you think there is no hope it may prove untrue?"

"You know the letter explicitly states that my cousin and his wife, the negro woman, and the white baby, all died of yellow-fever," replied Madame. "But don't reproach me for leaving them, darling. I feel badly enough about it, already. I thought it would be healthy so far out of the city; and it really seemed the best thing to do with the poor little bambino, until we could get established somewhere."

"I did not intend to reproach you, my kind friend," answered Rosa. "I know you meant it all for the best. But I had a heavy presentiment of evil when you first told me they were left. This news makes it hard for me to keep up my heart for the efforts of the evening. You know I was induced to enter upon this operatic career mainly by the hope of educating that poor child, and providing well for the old age of you and Papa Balbino, as I have learned to call my good friend, the Signor. And poor Tulee, too,-how much I intended to do for her! No mortal can ever know what she was to me in the darkest hours of my life."

"Well, poor Tulee's troubles are all over," rejoined Madame, with a sigh; "and bambinos escape a great deal of suffering by going out of this wicked world. For, between you and I, dear, I don't believe one word about the innocent little souls staying in purgatory on account of not being baptized."

"O, my friend, if you only knew!" exclaimed Rosa, in a wild, despairing tone. But she instantly checked herself, and said: "I will try not to think of it; for if I do, I shall spoil my voice; and Papa Balbino would be dreadfully mortified if I failed, after he had taken so much pains to have me brought out."

"That is right, darling," rejoined Madame, patting her on the shoulder. "I will go away, and leave you to rehearse."

Again and again Rosa sang the familiar airs, trying to put soul into them, by imagining how she would feel if she were in Norma's position. Some of the emotions she knew by her own experience, and those she sang with her deepest feeling.

"If I could only keep the same visions before me that I have here alone, I should sing well to-night," she said to herself; "for now,

when I sing 'Casta Diva,' I seem to be sitting with my arm round dear little Flora, watching the moon as it rises above the dark pines on that lonely island."

At last the dreaded hour came. Rosa appeared on the stage with her train of priestesses. The orchestra and the audience were before her; and she knew that Papa and Mamma Balbino were watching her from the side with anxious hearts. She was very pale, and her first notes were a little tremulous. But her voice soon became clear and strong; and when she fixed her eyes on the moon, and sang "Casta Diva," the fulness and richness of the tones took everybody by surprise.

"Bis! Bis!" cried the audience; and the chorus was not allowed to proceed till she had sung it a second and third time. She courtesied her acknowledgments gracefully. But as she retired, ghosts of the past went with her; and with her heart full of memories, she seemed to weep in music, while she sang in Italian, "Restore to mine affliction one smile of love's protection." Again the audience shouted, "Bis! Bis!"

The duet with Adalgisa was more difficult; for she had not yet learned to be an actress, and she was embarrassed by the consciousness of being an object of jealousy to the seconda donna, partly because she was prima, and partly because the tenor preferred her. But when Adalgisa sang in Italian the words, "Behold him!" she chanced to raise her eyes to a box near the stage, and saw the faces of Gerald Fitzgerald and his wife bending eagerly toward her. She shuddered, and for an instant her voice failed her. The audience were breathless. Her look, her attitude, her silence, her tremor, all seemed inimitable acting. A glance at the foot-lights and at the orchestra recalled the recollection of where she was, and by a strong effort she controlled herself; though there was still an agitation in her voice, which the audience and the singers thought to be the perfection of acting. Again she glanced at Fitzgerald, and there was terrible power in the tones with which she uttered, in Italian, "Tremble, perfidious one! Thou knowest the cause is ample."

Her eyes rested for a moment on Mrs. Fitzgerald, and with a wonderful depth of pitying sadness, she sang, "O, how his art deceived thee!"

The wish she had formed was realized. She was enabled to give voice to her own emotions, forgetful of the audience for the time being. And even in subsequent scenes, when the recollection of being a performer returned upon her, her inward excitation seemed to float her onward, like a great wave.

Once again her own feelings took her up, like a tornado, and made her seem a wonderful actress. In the scene where Norma is tempted to kill her children, she fixed her indignant gaze full upon Fitzgerald, and there was an indescribable expression of stern resolution in her voice, and of pride in the carriage of her queenly head, while she sang: "Disgrace worse than death awaits them. Slavery? No! never!"

Fitzgerald quailed before it. He grew pale, and slunk back in the box. The audience had never seen the part so conceived, and a few criticised it. But her beauty and her voice and her overflowing feeling carried all before her; and this, also, was accepted as a remarkable inspiration of theatrical genius.

When the wave of her own excitement was subsiding, the magnetism of an admiring audience began to affect her strongly. With an outburst of fury, she sang, "War! War!" The audience cried, "Bis! Bis!" and she sang it as powerfully the second time.

What it was that had sustained and carried her through that terrible ordeal, she could never understand.

When the curtain dropped, Fitzgerald was about to rush after her; but his wife caught his arm, and he was obliged to follow. It was an awful penance he underwent, submitting to this necessary restraint; and while his soul was seething like a boiling caldron, he was obliged to answer evasively to Lily's frequent declaration that the superb voice of this Spanish prima donna was exactly like the wonderful voice that went wandering round the plantation, like a restless ghost.

Papa and Mamma Balbino were waiting to receive the triumphant cantatrice, as she left the stage. "Brava! Brava!" shouted the Signor, in a great fever of excitement; but seeing how pale she looked, he pressed her hand in silence, while Madame wrapped her in shawls. They lifted her into the carriage as quickly as possible, where her head drooped almost fainting on Madame's shoulder. It required them both to support her unsteady steps, as they mounted the stairs to their lofty lodging. She told them nothing that night of having seen Fitzgerald; and, refusing all refreshment save a sip of wine, she sank on the bed utterly exhausted.

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