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By Betsy Burke
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
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Chapter OneThe collision was all my fault.
It had happened on the day I was making my big move. I'd walked into the travel agency that gray Monday in early October and booked my ticket. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. Vancouver to London - Heathrow.
The woman at the agency is a big opera buff. She always asks me about my career progress and gives me special treatment. That day, she let me leave a deposit for one percent of the fare. There was no need to tell her that I still had to earn enough to pay for the rest of the ticket, because I knew I'd find the money somehow. How else could I justify all those menial jobs and forty-eight-hour workdays?
It felt so great when she printed out that little piece of paper, handed it to me and said, "Here's your flight itinerary, Miranda. I sure do envy you. I love London at Christmas."
I took a big breath and said to her, "This'll be my first time there."
Although it wouldn't feel like it. I had Londontown.com on my browser. I could tell you what was going on in every concert hall and theater in the city. I could already imagine myself strolling through Covent Garden, or grabbing a bite to eat at Bad Bob's or Café de Paris before the opera, maybe a Carmen, a Tosca, or a Nixon in China. I caneven tell you what the weather is in London on any given day. That Monday, London had drizzle with the prospect of heavy rain.
"I'm going over for an important audition," I said.
"Oh, wow. Really? Who's it for?"
"The English National Opera. I got the letter a couple of days ago. I've got my time slot. It's January the tenth at 3:30 p.m. In the theater itself. The brand-new beautiful renovated Coliseum."
Peter Drake, the two-hundred-ton tenor who was singing Pinkerton in our current production of Madama Butterfly, was good buddies with everyone at the ENO, so I took advantage of his buddydom and asked him to get me an audition. And he did. Although Peter acts like a diva, he's really a very nice man. His generosity is as vast as his costumes, which could probably double as pup tents in an emergency.
"How exciting," said the travel agent, "and a little bit scary too, I'll bet. What are you going to be singing?"
"Some Handel and some Mozart. And if they want to hear more, Rossini."
"Oooo. Sounds good, Miranda."
I pulled my pink cashmere scarf tighter around my throat.
"Yeah. I'll have my fingers crossed the whole way. Recycled airplane air can be hell on your high notes. And my pieces have a lot of high notes and runs. But I know it's going to be fine. I have a great teacher and I've been doing a lot of performing lately to work up to it, and I even have a technique for handling the stage fright."
"You do? What's that?"
"Well, I learned it in my Centering Group. You see, you have to give the fear a shape. So mine's a nag. An old, swayback, dirty black plug of a horse with a voice like Mr. Ed's.
And whenever it says, "Miranda Lyme, you untalented half-wit, what makes you think you can sing this piece? Who do you think you are anyway?" I just try to push the old nag as far back in the theater as I can get it. Try to get it out through the exit doors. Although, sometimes, it's right there on the stage with you, but as long as it still has its shape, and isn't stepping on your toes or anything, the anxiety isn't too bad."
"That's a new one on me."
"It was on me, too. Four years ago."
"Well, then ... I really wish you luck, Miranda."
I yelped, "No, you can't say that. It's bad luck to wish me luck."
"In opera we say toi, toi. Or mille fois merde."
"Toi, toi then. And mille fois merde."
"Thanks. I'm so excited about being able to do the audition right there in that theater. There's nothing like standing up on a real stage where the great stars have sung and letting it rip into that huge space. It's the most incredible feeling. It's electric. It's better than sex."
She opened her eyes wide. "Really? Maybe I should give it a try."
We both laughed, then I said, "I'll be back in a few weeks to get my ticket."
I was tempted to stay and tell her about the other things that were taking me to London. Like my father, the baritone Sebastian Lyme. And Kurt Hancock, the conductor/composer who was suddenly cutting into my practice time.
Kurt hadn't been part of my strategy, but when he'd strolled into the rehearsal hall two weeks earlier to conduct the Madama Butterfly, all the chorus women were immediately in heat.
To be honest, he wasn't really my type. I prefer darker, heftier men. Kurt is slim, blond and blue-eyed. But there were women in that chorus ready to poison their families and run away with him, and I guess, in trying to figure out what it was about him that was making them all unhinge, I let myself be carried away by the Kurt Hancock psychosis, too.
After that Butterfly rehearsal, everybody went out to Mimi's, a Gastown restaurant where opera singers often showcase their talent. The place is decorated in Chocolate Box Gothic with rich dark heavy drapes and tablecloths edged with a fatal amount of flounce. It's a home away from home for the opera bunch. Sometimes the singing is really fantastic, the performances glow, and sometimes the singers leave you feeling that it might be more fun to be slapped in the face over and over with a fresh cod than to have to listen to their talent. But I guess it's a question of how everybody's feeling.
That night was a fresh-cod night at Mimi's, my fellow chorus singers all trying too hard to impress Kurt.
My defective tights had been slipping down all evening and eventually were clinging to my knees. I wanted to yank them up again without doing a striptease in front of the entire opera company, so I went looking for a private place to sort out the matter. The tiny bathroom was occupied but I opened the door next to it, which was a big broom closet, and stumbled onto Kurt.
He froze like a startled deer caught in headlights. I'm not sure what he was doing in there all by himself before I came onto the scene, but I'd heard a series of rhythmic thuds just beforehand, and now I thought he might have been punching or hitting something or someone. So I said (I was a little drunk), "Don't mind me, Mr. Hancock. This won't take long. You can go back to whatever it was you were doing in a second. I just have to take care of something." And then I hitched up my dress and tugged everything into place.
He stared at me the entire time and I stared back. Then I noticed that the wall near his foot was covered with little black crescent-shaped marks. It wasn't the first time I'd seen this sort of thing. Music training had taught me early on that pianists never use their hands when they have to punch something.
But then Kurt started to smile. And appreciatively, too. He looked quite sweet, even a little forlorn, and I began to get a glimpse of his charm.
I smiled back. He smiled even more broadly, then sat down on a bucket and started asking me all about myself. I told him the basics, that my name was Miranda, that I was a lyric mezzo-soprano from the illustrious cow town of Cold Shanks, B.C., and that I'd done my voice degree in Vancouver but was going to London in December to do an ENO audition. And then I added that my father also lived in London, and was a well-known baritone.
"Oh, really?" asked Kurt. "What's his name?"
Kurt stood up. "Sebastian Lyme? I have a Don Giovanni recording with your father singing the Don. A fine voice. A very fine voice indeed. I've seen him perform. He had great charisma on stage."
"Really?" My heart began to race.
"Yes. He did a stunning Figaro in the Barber. Apart from his technical ability, the man had wonderful presence. Quite exceptional acting. He had the audience in stitches. Not an easy feat."
Excerpted from Performance Anxiety by Betsy Burke Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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