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Fat Tuesday
by Mary C Legg
02/22/04
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Hoffnan's Tales, Merry Widow and Gypsy Baron didn't appeal. Volksoper was too frothy for her taste. Three-Penny Opera, she knew was sold out. Woyzech at Burgtheater. How dismal! Staatsoper? She scanned the small print before calling.

"Liz, do you have time to see Arabella on Fat Tuesday?"

"Let me check. Oh, I have an audition that morning with the Rundfunk. Nothing in the evening. What time?"

"Curtain at seven, meet me at five the backdoor for Stehplatz"

"Let me mark it in. We could get a little something to eat. You know I have to keep up my carbohydrates. Treat's on me. Rum pudding, yum."

Liz pattered on, "Been real busy lately. My schedule's so full that I'm lucky to find my nose. in the morning."

Liz swept off into a long description of chorus rehearsals. Sue waited until she was finished. Different worlds for different people. She hung up. Strauss's opera was beautiful. Rarely played, it was composed for Fat Tuesday. Maybe it was even better than Rosenkavalier or Ariadne. She didn't like Elektra.

The week passed. Scrubbing floors and cleaning toilets offered little variation. Josef wasn't interested in going to theater as much as drinking beer. She didn't want a grubby life forever.

Sunday came, Sue met Liz descending from the organ loft. "Ugh," she said,"you're right, it's always the same people. Politics in the church," and tittered. "How she controls him, I don't know, but George is her puppy."

"You know, she tried to recruit me for her group?" Liz went on. "I don't have time. I've got a bit part for the upcoming production."

Rivalry was hot between the two sopranos. Relieved, she wasn't involved, Sue believed the best means of survival in a catty world is to keep paws out.

"Tuesday?" Sue asked instead.

"In my book," Liz giggled. "promise, can't miss Fat Tuesday."

- - -

Tuesday, Sue agonized her way through the Four Last Songs. The first was a killer requiring sustained pianissimo with a high tessitura. With the Salzburg Fest audition looming, music needed the final grooming. Nothing easy about the repertoire: either learn it or quit. Hiding in a chorus must be nice, but Brunnhilde is a soloist. Impossible to explain the poverty she endured, she made sacrifices for the instrument. Her teacher, infuriated with small mistakes, threw music. The lesson ended without temperamental incident. The audition was at the Musikverein, on Saturday. Only life would tell.In the meantime, back to cleaning flats.

At four-thirty, Sue checked her clothes in the broken hallway mirror.

"Woo-woo," Parveneh called, as she exited, "Who's the lucky guy?"

The usual gang stood at the backdoor of the opera when she arrived--their faces long familiar from standing in line. Chummy groups gossiped over the latest scandals, comparing programs and autograph books. They knew the repertoire as well as the management.

The line swelled. Liz was late.The ushers led them inside, pairing them in the hallway to allow newcomers inside. Already a hundred had gathered. Sue watched the doors. Late, Liz knew Stehplatz rules. Either step in, or step out. Stepping out meant losing her place and ticket. Excited students chatted moisily. Others dozed standing, while the weary sat cross-legged.

The buzzer rang. The ticket box opened. Surging forward, students grabbed standing tickets: Parterre, Balkon or Galerie. Taking her ticket, Sue followed the flying feet up the red-carpeted stairs. Hanging her scarf on the rail, she left the house. Sue crossed the street to the Mozart Cafe. Babbling enthusiasts crowded the booths. Too old, and a foreigner, she didn't blend in.The air was chill.

At a telephone box, she dialed. Five rings later, she hung up. A two-room flat is too small for nine. The curtain bell rang.

At intermission, Sue called again. No response. Upset, the opera was no longer beautiful in its lush setting. Nothing ever happens in life like onstage. The show ended. Downcast, she left, returning to her room with the two Iranian girls and their live-in boyfriend.

"Oooh, who was it?" One of them chirped. The comment was politely brushed aside.

She stared at the grungy walls. What was the price of dreams worth? The snub hurt.

Salzburg audition ended with, "We'll get back to you." Sunday arrived. Liz tumbled down the choirloft stairs.

"Oh, Sue, I had the most dreadful headache. Why I even skipped the audition that day."

The words fell on dumb ears.

Sue turned away, "It was my birthday."


pogomcl@catholic.org

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