Angel of Music
In the Palais Garnier, there are many secrets to be held. Every performer, orchestra member, manager, and servant had their own secrets, never willing to tell them to anyone unless there was liquor around. However, there was always one secret that has become a legend among the members of the Palais Garnier: the Phantom of the Opera. Now, before you predict what the story is about, this Phantom is different. It's a woman. She has lived in the catacombs of the Palais Garnier ever since the kind-hearted Madame Giry, who saw her as a person and not as a freak, saved her from the traveling hell, or circus as her handler told her. Despite her new freedom, the scars never left her. She called herself "The Devil's Child" because of the hideous right side of her face. It took her a long time just to say that she didn't deserve the torment she endured.
Now ten years later, she has listened to the majestic music of the orchestra and watched the dancers and singers perform on stage. She had a favorite place to watch the shows: Box 5. No one was allowed to stay at that box! That was hers alone. She would creep through the shadows when spying on the performers. She laughed when they said that they felt hideous or their makeup wasn't done right. They have no idea what true ugliness is until they have to hide it behind a mask. Her satin black mask hid the right side of her face, but despite that, she didn't want to be seen by anyone to avoid questions. She saw how forceful men can be toward women, pulling their dresses and touching areas that weren't meant to be touched. A curious man might have grabbed her mask just to see that "pretty" face, but would be shocked to discover what lied beneath. The last thing she wanted was to be sent back to that circus.
One day, she sneaked around the kitchen, grabbing some leftover bread and wine. She was sure to be as careful as possible; no noise and no traces of her presence. She filled up her basket with haste, but was interrupted when she heard a familiar voice. "What are you doing here, Erika?"
She turned around quickly and saw her savior Madam Giry. She exhaled in relief. "I'm glad to see you right now."
"Mon chéri, you need to be more careful around here. What if someone saw you? You wouldn't have known until it was too late," she said with motherly concern.
"I know and I'm sorry, but I was hungry. I'm out of food at home and it's not a good time to buy some. Everyone else is in the middle of practice for Hannibal."
"That would be the case, but today, lunch is scheduled earlier than expected. That why I'm here: to make sure you weren't here. You should leave now before the chefs come and see you."
"All right. Thank you," she said as she quickly grabbed her basket and left. Luckily, most of the actors were still on stage while others were too busy talking to or flirting with their co-workers.
Erika escaped to an abandoned dressing room near the male dressing quarters. She took out her gold key and unlocked the door. She checked to see if anyone saw her and luckily, no one was around. She entered quietly and locked the door behind her. She let out another sigh of relief. As much as she liked sneaking around and being the Phantom, she had to admit: she really enjoyed being home. She put the basket down on a recently dusted vanity and took out a loaf of bread. She heard rumors that a male opera star was arriving to the Palais Garnier soon and he would be using this dressing room, but she hoped it wasn't true. This was the only access to her home which was deep in the Parisian catacombs. The seven-foot one-way mirror on the wall was a secret entrance to her realm and sharing this room with a stranger, not to mention a man, would be very uncomfortable and troublesome. After eating the loaf of bread, she brushed the crumbs off of her slightly puffy red dress and went downstairs through the mirror. She had to practice her violin at least once today then she'll watch some rehearsals.
Afternoon rehearsals were fun to watch in the shadows of the upper level boxes where no one could see her, but she could see everything. She watched the chorus sing the opening number, later joined by the entire cast. And then her least favorite part of the show appeared: the diva, La Carlotta Giudicelli. Although she has the power to fill the entire Palais Garnier with just her voice effortlessly, she didn't have an angelic voice. It sounded as if she was screaming her notes rather than singing them.
Today, they introduced their new male opera star: Ubaldo Piangi. He was a rather round fellow, but nothing seemed bad about him . . . until he opened his mouth. My god, she didn't think they could find a worse singer than Carlotta, but apparently they found someone. He was slightly out of tune, screamed his notes and worse of all, he had no passion in his voice. At least with Carlotta, there was some emotion, but his voice seemed monotone. For some reason, the manager said he was amazing, or maybe Carlotta got him the position somehow. She heard about their love affair and whatever Carlotta wanted, she got. The manager, Monsieur Lefèvre, would do anything in order to keep his fickle diva happy.
Then the dancers practiced their number for the second act and one always caught Erika's eyes. He was a tall handsome fellow with brown hair, emerald green eyes, fairly tanned skin, and toned muscles from all the dancing he has done over the years. He was surrounded by the female dancers and he was their ring leader. He danced very well for a man whose father was the famous violinist, Gustave Daaé. Madame Giry told her that his name was Christopher and he came here a couple of years ago after his father died. Poor guy. She just wanted to give him a hug, but that would be impossible. For now, she had to stay amongst the shadows.
While rehearsals were still under way, Lefèvre rudely interrupted as he showed two older gentlemen around the Palais Garnier. "As you can see, we are rehearsing for Chalimeau's Hannibal and we recently hired Italy's finest: Ubaldo Piangi to play the title role."
"Monsieur Lefèvre, we are in the middle of rehearsal! Would you kindly refrain from interrupting," an angry Reyer said. There was nothing that he hated more than interruptions during rehearsals.
“I’m sorry, but I have an important announcement to make,” Lefèvre said as he tried to gather the cast to hear his latest news. "Ladies and gentleman, can I have your attention please? As you all know, I am retiring today and I'm happy to report that I have found two men who can fulfill my duty. May I present to you Monsieur Richard Firmin and Monsieur Gilles Andre!"
The cast clapped with little enthusiasm. Lefèvre said he was just retiring, but they believed that he wanted to escape from the Phantom of the Opera. Erika had to admit, she was a bit mischievous when it came to the legend surrounding her. Ever since some dancers spotted her in the kitchen, her secret turned into a ghost story amongst the cast members. Some say she was the spirit of a woman who died when the Palais Garnier was first built. Others say she was a mysterious woman who can only be seen when least expected. And then her favorite: the Phantom of the Opera. These people believe that she was just a woman who lived in the shadows and was hiding a dark secret that she would kill for if anyone figured it out. Despite all the names, she remained a mystery to all and nuisance to those she toyed with. Whether it was a misplaced brush, holes in Carlotta's costumes, or using her ventriloquism to get guys to fight with each other, she liked playing tricks on people.
"We're honored to accept our new roles as managers and hope that our future will bring us all good fortune," Firmin said to the crowd.
"That is if the Phantom doesn't get to you first," a chorus girl mumbled.
"Ah, yes, the ‘Phantom’," Andre said with sarcasm, "We have heard the rumors about this 'Phantom' and we assure you that he won't be interfering-,"
"The Phantom is a woman, monsieur," Meg, Madame Giry's daughter, said. "She is very much real. Most of the cast has seen glimpses of her."
"Well she won't be interfering with our business," Firmin said with annoyance.
"I'm afraid she already has. I have a message from the Phantom herself," Madame Giry said, handing them a note with a broken wax seal on it. They quickly scanned the note and were shocked at what they read. "She welcomes you to her opera house-,"
"Her opera house? Who does she think she is?"
"She is a kind spirit who might retract her welcome. Anyway, she wants you to leave Box 5 empty for her use. She likes watching our shows and if someone sits in that box, she won't be happy," she said as she pointed at the closest box to the stage on stage left.
"Are you saying that this Phantom is watching our shows in one of our most expensive seats for free?! That's absurd!" Firmin exclaimed.
"She's not a freeloader. She does pay for the box and speaking of which, her salary is due."
"It's only 1000 francs-,"
"1000 francs?! Why on earth is she getting paid?"
"She makes sure that nothing goes wrong in the Palais Garnier and sometimes makes a cameo in our orchestra when someone is missing. She is a gifted violinist."
"Well, let's see how she'll handle the new rules around here. First, that box is open to the public and she can have it as long as she pays for it like everyone else. Second, she has to show her face if she wants her salary. Third, this is our opera house, not hers. If she doesn't like the rules, she'll have to go somewhere else," Andre said.
Madame Giry sighed. "She's not going to like this."
Erika didn't like the new rules. At least Lefèvre followed the rules if he wanted everything to go without a hitch. She got up from her seat and descended down backstage.
"All right people! Enough fooling around! Back to rehearsal," the conductor, Monsieur Reyer, said as he continually tapped his music stand with his baton. The cast scurried to their positions while orchestra members straightened their posture and prepared their instruments. "Piangi, we left off on your aria-,"
"I know where I am!" Piangi said with arrogance. The music started playing and he screamed out his notes, but before he could progress much further, a sandbag fell, inches away from hitting him right on the head. All the dancers and chorus girls screamed and cast members shouted.
"It's the Phantom! We told you she was real! She's not happy with the new managers!"
Suddenly, a note slowly fell onto the stage from the platform above them. Many tried to grab the note, but it was Christopher who proved victorious. He handed it to Madame Giry who quickly scanned it before the managers grabbed it from her hands.
"Who is responsible for this?!" Piangi yelled to the stage men above him. They all looked at each other in fear, yelling that it wasn't any of them.
With rage in his voice, Andre said, "Listen to this! ’I see that we are not in agreement. If you want to ensure that your shows run smoothly, I suggest that you follow my rules. A happy Phantom makes a happy manager.' When we find her, we'll make her regret messing with us!"
"Or you can keep to her rules so she won't ruin our upcoming shows," Christopher said timidly.
“I think that’s all I can do for you, gentlemen. Good luck and if you need me, I shall be in Australia,” Lefèvre said as he rushed off the stage and out the door, happy to be away from the Phantom menace.
"I don't care how any of you deal with this 'Phantom girl', but I don't want to be part of this! I will be staying far away from here if I have to until this menace is gone," Piangi said, leaving the building. Some cast members tried to stop him, but he was too much for them to handle.
"Bloody hell!" Firmin exclaimed.
Erika escaped to her dressing room. How dare they change the rules on her? She's been here longer than they have and they act like they own the place. Well, technically they do, but that's beside the point. Lefèvre was more than happy to accept her requirements because he knew how well she kept the place when his employees were lacking. Just wait until they get a piece of her mind on the opening show of Hannibal. The next two weeks will be hell for them.
She angrily picked up her violin from the vanity and slid the mirror door open. In case one of the maids decided to clean the room, she would remain hidden. She slid the mirror back into position and sat on the floor with her back facing the mirror. No one will see her through the one-way mirror and she was not in the mood to go down to her home, especially when there was mischief to be planned. She got into position and slid the bow on the strings. The notes that came out were beautiful, but not perfect. She knew she had to tune the instrument, but she was full of so much anger that she didn't care. She played a piece she memorized since she was a child and it seemed to relieve her rage.
Suddenly, she heard the doorknob move and the door opened behind her. She immediately stopped and looked. She swore she locked the door, but apparently she didn't.
"Hello? Is anyone in there," a male voice asked. Erika remained as quiet as possible with her heart pounding. "I heard a violin in here. It sounded quite lovely." The man walked in and she was surprised to see who it was. It was Christopher Daaé! He looked all over the room, but couldn't find the beautiful violin he just heard. Then he looked straight into the mirror, almost like he knew she was there, but he turned away. Erika stood up from the ground and was about to leave, but then she heard him say something peculiar. "Angel of Music, are you here?"
Angel of Music? Out of all the things to guess, he chose the Angel of Music. She heard that name before in her childhood when her own father told her stories of an angel that showed people their full musical potential. It was her idol even to this day, even though now she viewed it as more as an inspirational character rather than an actual being.
She saw him sit on the chair by the vanity and he looked distraught. "Father, when will you show me the Angel of Music? Even at your deathbed, you said you'll talk to her personally," he said with sadness in his voice and a tear rolling down his cheek. Erika stared at him closely. His Angel of Music was a woman? "You've told me to be patient, but I've waited this long and I thought I found her, but it must have been my imagination." He got up from the chair and was about to leave, but was interrupted by the sound of a violin. He knew for sure that this wasn't his imagination.
Erika was playing that violin. She felt his pain somehow and thought that he needed his Angel of Music. She played her heart out for him and he was ecstatic. "Angel, is that you?" Christopher asked, but he received no response. "You don't have to be scared. It's just you and me. Please talk to me." He said it so sweetly that she couldn't refuse his request. He'll never see her, so what harm could be done?
"Here I am Christopher. I'm your Angel of Music," she said, trying to sound like a stereotypical angel.
His eyes lit up and he was in glee. "I knew I found you! I haven't heard someone play a violin that beautifully since my father passed away. Has he reached you?"
"Yes he has. Your father came to me directly and asked that I teach you how to reach your full potential as a musician. He's a very kind man and I'm happy to know he was your father."
"That's great to hear. He said he saw you when he was dying and you looked very beautiful. Can I see you for myself?" No response. Erika didn't know how to respond. "Was that too much to ask?"
"No, not at all. It's just . . . our relationship must be kept secret. If people saw you with a 'beautiful' woman around the Palais Garnier, they would ask questions. I don't want them to know who I am or else things will get complicated. After all, your father sent me to be your personal teacher."
"Just a quick question: why did you come to the Palais Garnier?"
"Well, after my father died, I thought that I could find you through a place that is surrounded by music. I was hired here because of my name, but I didn't get my dream job."
"And what would that be?"
"I want to be the next big male opera singer that all of France would know and love. After all, my father was loved by many people in Sweden with his violin. I would sing along side him when he played and people said I had a lovely voice."
"Really? I want to hear you."
"I-I-I don't know about that. I was a little kid when people said that. You know people say those things to make the kids feel special," he said nervously.
"I want to hear you sing. You can't be anywhere as bad as that noise they call Piangi," she said.
He laughed. "You don't like him either?"
"Not the slightest bit. Pitch and volume are things I can overlook, but there is no passion in his voice; no desire for the melody he is attempting to sing. Instead, we have a soulless performance that makes my ears bleed, but enough about him. You said you wanted to be an opera star, so I must hear you sing!"
"Fine, I'll sing for you, but don't laugh if I'm terrible."
He took a deep breath and sang:
There you are my Angel of Music
Your violin playing in my ear
Proves to me that you are near
Show me the way to eternal happiness
For as long as time permits
Please be my angelical guide
Throughout the journey of my life
Erika couldn't believe what she was hearing. The pitch was lovely and his tenor voice was angelic. No other words could describe it. She felt like fainting and landing on Cloud Nine, but he stopped. "How was that?"
"Christopher, you have a voice sent from the heavens! Far superior to anyone I have ever heard! It only needs a few little tweaks and then it will be perfect," she said.
"Really? Well, I'm glad you like it," he said with a smile. She smiled too. He has the gift to become the greatest opera singer ever. All he needed was a few lessons and he'll be good to audition for the lead role in the upcoming show. She'll find a way to make him the star. "So, when will I see you again?"
Erika thought about it and said, "Whenever my door is open. All I ask is you keep this a secret and lock the door behind you."
"All right then. See you soon, my Angel of Music."
"I'll be waiting," she said as he left the room and locked the door. She didn't know what just happened. Did she make a friend or was this all just a dream? She'll see if he comes back to her in the future. If he does, she'll know.