1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 19



          Marla stepped into her study and pulled her lighter out of her pocket to light a lamp. She and Franz hadn’t been able to afford a generator package yet, so they were still making do with lamps and candles. After getting the light started, she stared down at the old stainless steel Zippo for a moment. Odd how something that had belonged to her cigar-smoking grandfather and had almost been thrown away by her non-smoking dad was now something that never left her possession, especially now that someone was producing up-time style lighter flints. She’d heard that the stuff they made it from came from India. She didn’t care if it came from Antarctica, as long as she could keep using the lighter.

          She looked around the room, knowing without hearing them that the guys were asking Franz how she was doing. Truth was, she didn’t know how she was doing, so how was poor Franz supposed to know?

Some days Marla felt almost back to normal, that the miscarriage was past and over and done with; others, it was all she could do to get out of bed. And mood swings, oh my — on a bungee cord, it seemed like.

The worst thing was that she couldn’t seem to focus. That was perhaps the most frustrating thing of all to her, that she just could not seem to finish anything. The room was filled with music books, all open to pieces that she had started to learn or review, only to drift away from them when something else caught her attention.

She didn’t want to be that way. She was tired of being that way. She could feel a dull knot of anger forming in the pit of her stomach; anger partly at her circumstances, at the unfairness of life that had robbed her of her daughter, but also anger at herself, for drifting and not standing firm to start again.

Marla felt a snap of decision. “Enough,” she said out loud. Order would return to her life, beginning with this room. Before she retired to bed tonight, this room at least would be clean and orderly again.

With that resolution, she began. Each book was picked up, place marked and closed, then returned to the waiting shelves.

As she worked, Marla’s mind kept returning to what Mary Simpson had told them earlier in the evening, and some of the things she had heard from others about what was happening in Berlin. It worried her. She didn’t want to live in a place and time that was ruled the way the reactionaries seemed to be headed. She definitely didn’t want to . . .

Marla realized she was standing stock still, frozen, hands locked on the last book she had picked up, unwilling to complete that last thought. She definitely didn’t want to . . . raise children under such a regime. The very thought made her angry.

Funny how finishing that thought gave Marla some release. Hard and painful as it might be to think about at the moment, she knew there would be other children. She even could see herself holding them. What happened with Alison would not be the end of her story as a mother.

She turned to put the book away, and the cover illustration caught her eye. The young waif on the cover with her blouse sliding off her shoulders morphing into the Tricolor always sent a chill through her. Les Miserables the musical had had a huge impact on her when she was first studying voice. She still loved it, and hoped one day to stage it at the new opera house, for all that Andrea Abati, her mentor, looked askance at it.

Opening the book again, Marla flipped through the pages slowly. I Dreamed a Dream, Castle on a Cloud, Master of the House; the songs flipped by one by one, until her fingers stopped seemingly of their own accord. She stared down at the title and the first line of the song, transfixed.

A slow fire began to burn within her as her mind raced. Yes, this is the one.

The fire bloomed. Yes, it had the message she ached to throw in the teeth of the Swedish chancellor.

Blossomed. Yes, the lyrics would need some adjustment and translation. Surely there is a poet in Magdeburg.

Brighter. Yes, although it was a man’s song in the musical, she would make it hers.

Hotter, surging. Her hair seemed to float away from her head, the feeling was so strong.

Marla snatched up the lamp so quickly the oil sloshed. A moment later the study was dark and empty.


          “So, we have The Lemminkainen Suite by Sibelius, Mazeppa by Liszt, von Suppé’s Light Cavalry Overture, the Schubert Military Polonaise, Procession of the Noblemen by Rimsky-Korsakoff, and Stars and Stripes Forever.” Franz looked up from his notes. “What else can we add to our concert slate that we can polish quickly?”

“We need a symphony,” Thomas Schwartzberg responded.


“Beethoven’s Third,” Josef Tuchman said.

“Good thought,” Franz replied as he noted it down.

“I know we’ve already got Sibelius on the list, but his Third Symphony is beautiful,” Herman Katzberg said, “and it has some stirring passages in it.”

“I like that,” Franz said. “It’s a beautiful piece, and since Finland is connected to Sweden here and now, that would suit our purpose.”

“Shostakovich’s Fifth,” Thomas countered.

“Too dissonant,” one of the others said. “Even Frau Simpson’s backers aren’t ready for that one yet. It’s way more dissonant that the Sibelius, or even the Vaughan Williams and Barber pieces we did back in ’34.”

“I agree with that,” Franz added. “In a few years, maybe, but not now.”

Thomas crossed his arms and leaned back in an exaggerated pouting pose. “But the fourth movement is so cool!”

“Bide your time, Thomas,” Franz laughed, “bide your time.”

Before any of the others could respond, the door into the back of the house flew open and Marla strode through. Franz managed to refrain from jumping, but some of the others didn’t.

“Sorry to interrupt, guys, but I need something now.” By then she was standing directly in front of Thomas, and she thrust an open music book into his hands. “Thomas, I need two arrangements of this song as soon as you can produce them — one for our Green Horse Tavern group, and one for full orchestra accompaniment.”

Franz looked at his wife as Thomas scanned through the song. Her posture, the way she held her shoulders and her head; they spoke of resolution, of determination. A sense of excitement began to build in him. She looked at him and grinned, and his heart soared to see the fire in her eyes.

Thomas looked up. “A piece of cake, as you say. Two days for our group, two weeks for the orchestra, less if you have a recording for me to hear.”

“I have the recording,” Marla said. “You can hear it at the school tomorrow.” She lifted her head and almost danced as she looked around at their friends. “Gentlemen, we are going to give Mary and the emperor all the support they could ask for, and we’re going to give old Ox more than he bargained for.”

“So what is the song?” Franz asked over the snorts and chuckles of the others.

The fire in Marla’s eyes seemed to blaze even brighter. “We will give the people a voice with Do You Hear the People Sing!”

Franz could only nod in agreement.