1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 48

“I wouldn’t do that,” Marla protested, in the face of everyone else’s smiles. After a moment, she smiled as well. “All right, but I need more coffee first.” She leaned forward and held her cup out for Mary to refill.

          Settling back with a freshly filled steaming cup wafting warm vapors past her nose, she began. “My main observation is I think it needs more passion and tension, especially between Merlin and Guinevere early on and between Guinevere and Nimue in the last act. Second, the vocal styling is too . . . too restrained, too soft. It needs more bite, more edge to it. The last thing is, am I correct you are thinking of me for the role of Guinevere and Master Andrea,” she nodded at him, “for the role of Nimue?”

“Yep,” Amber replied, “you called it.”

“The music is too similar for those roles,” Marla said. She sipped at the coffee again, trying to get the butterflies in her stomach under control. Despite her acquaintance and friendship with Amber, she felt intimidated by Schütz. She was still getting used to the idea, even two-plus years after she arrived in Magdeburg, that someone who was in the encyclopedia as “The Father of German Music” would value her opinions. “There needs to be a distinct differentiation between the styles, the themes, and the timbre of their music.”

“What do you mean?” Heinrich spoke up, gaze intent on Marla.

“As I read the libretto,” Marla began, then interrupted herself with, “and that’s a near-brilliant piece of work, by the way? Who wrote it?”

“I worked with Johann Gronow,” Amber said. “He’s the editor of –”

Black Tomcat Magazine,” Marla interjected. “He’s also the friend of Friedrich von Logau, who just worked on a small project for me. They’re both good.”

She finished the coffee and put the cup down, holding up her hand in negation when Mary pointed to the coffee pot again. “Anyway, as I was saying, when I read the libretto, I was hearing Guinevere as earth and fire: very emotional, all strings and brass and percussion. Nimue, on the other hand, came across to me as air: ethereal, not particularly passionate, with woodwinds as her sound.”

“Ah,” Heinrich sighed. He sat in thought for a long moment, then said, “That is what I was missing. I need to contrast those two women more. I see it now, and I see how to rework it.” He gave a seated bow to Marla. “My thanks, Frau Marla. You have been of great assistance.”

Amber flashed a smile at Marla, and she relaxed a bit.

“My turn,” Amber said. “Any thoughts on staging?”

“You’re asking me?” Marla asked in confusion. What is this, pick on Marla day, or something? Where does it say, I’m the expert here? “You’re the professional director and stage manager. I should be asking you.”

“Come on,” Amber insisted. “I know something had to have popped up in your brain. Let me have it.”

“Okay.” Marla thought for a moment. “Only two things at this point in time: first, I think Nimue needs to be played in a very androgynous manner.”

“That won’t be difficult,” Andrea observed from his chair with a chuckle, joining the conversation for the first time. He looked toward Amber. “Much the same thought had occurred to me — make a virtue out of necessity, as it were.” His grin flashed for a moment. “I just hadn’t had time to bring it up yet.”

“Noted.” Amber actually did write it down in a small notebook. “What’s the other thing?”

“Please don’t make the costumes too heavy.”

From there they descended into a detailed discussion of costume designs, proposed staging, etc. It was nearly an hour later that Mary finally brought the conversation to a close.

“All right, we’re good to go then. Master Heinrich will make his revisions as soon as possible, and we’ll get the parts passed out as soon as he does. We’re shooting to begin rehearsals by February 5th, and we have money from a supporter that will get the sets and costumes under way.”

There was a general bustle as the others stood and took their leave. Marla remained seated, staring at the coffee table where the manuscript had been, tired and numb.

There came a touch on her shoulder. She looked up to see Mary there, looking down at her. No words were spoken, but she could see the expression of sympathy on the other woman’s face, and the tears began welling up in her eyes to match the sudden surge of grief from the void under her heart.

Mary took a white linen handkerchief from a pocket and handed it to Marla, then sat down in the chair next to hers and wrapped an arm around her shoulder.

Marla wept. She bit down on the handkerchief, but still small moans of grief escaped her. The tears coursed down her cheeks, and she trembled as if she were badly chilled. The thought touched the edge of her mind that she was chilled; not to the bone, but in the soul.

She had no idea how long she mourned within the curve of Mary’s arm. It felt like hours, but doubtless was not more than a few minutes. The tears slowed; her ragged breathing calmed.

Taking the handkerchief from between her teeth, Marla unfolded it and wiped the moisture from her face, rubbing fiercely to remove the feeling of the drying tracks of the tears. Then she clasped it between her hands in her lap.

Mary took her arm from Marla’s shoulder.

“Not many people here know it,” Mary said, “but Tom could have been a second child. I had a miscarriage before I had him.”

Mary’s voice was quiet. There was no sense of claiming some identity in a sisterhood of suffering; no sense of one-upmanship in her words. Just a simple statement of fact. But it was enough that Marla released her clasp and reached a hand out to Mary, who grasped it tightly.

“How . . .” Marla husked, “how do the down-timer women bear it, seeing half or more of their children die?”

“The same way I did,” Mary responded. “One day at a time; one hour at a time; sometimes one minute at a time.”

Marla looked at the older woman, saw the strength in her, and drew on that strength to stiffen her own resolve. She was going to make it through this torrent, some way, somehow.

“Thanks, Mary.”

“Any time, dear. I have lots of handkerchiefs.”