Opera Populaire 1870
“Look I can see Michaela and Jane!” exclaimed seventeen year old Katherine Hemway as she went straight to the edge of the opera box. She waved to the occupants of a box across the opera house, delighted when her two best friends waved back. The young lady looked over her shoulder and asked, “Papa, does the music start soon?”
Indulgently, Henry Hemway nodded with at his excited daughter, smiling at her eagerness. “For heaven’s sake, Katherine, do sit down!” his wife, Madame Carolina Hemway protested. She waved her fan frantically in front of her face. “You look like a hoyden leaning over the rail like that. Sit down before someone sees you!”
Turning away from the splendor that was was the Opera Populaire, the young lady went to her seat and perched on the edge of the velvet cushion. “I am so glad you brought me tonight, Papa,” she said as she looped her arm companionably around her father’s. Her hazel eyes shone with anticipation. “Do you think we will hear Christine Daae sing tonight?”
“La Carlotta will be taking her rightful place as leading lady tonight,” her half brother, Pierre Everson, informed her as he took his seat behind her. He tugged on one of her curls when he saw the disgusted look on her face. “Carlotta Giudicelli is a diva, unlike that upstart of a ballerina you so admired the last time we were here.”
Twisting around in her seat, Katherine stuck her tongue at him. “Katherine!” Madame Hemway exclaimed in horror. “Really, Henry! Do something with your daughter. What will people think? She is not even out yet and she is acting like a child.”
“Katherine, if you do not behave as your mother says a young lady ought, I will take you home. Is that what you want?” Mr. Hemway asked sternly. Widening her eyes at the threat, Katherine shook her head. The gray haired man laughed and winked at her as the curtain rose. “Good girl.”
Quickly forgetting her annoyance with pierre, Katherine leaned affectionately against her father as the play began. She couldn’t help but flinch every time Carlotta sang, but became engrossed in the story in spite of her dislike for the Italian woman’s voice. She was so focused on the play that she jumped when a deep voice interrupted.
“Did I not instruct Box Five to be kept empty?”
The play came to an abrupt stop and murmurs of anxiety spread through the audience. Like everyone else, Katherine and her family turned to look at the box in question. There the Vicomte de Chagny was seated, looking around in a puzzled manner.
“Why, Pierre! Is that not an acquaintance of yours?” Madame Hemway asked in astonishment. “Whatever can be going on?”
Onstage, Carlotta took charge of the situation and prepared to begin once more, commanding everyone’s attention. Sitting back in her seat, Katherine searched the opera house curiously. It was when she looked up that she saw him: a figure all in black near the ceiling. “Papa, look!” she exclaimed. She turned to tug on her father’s sleeve. “Do you see that man?”
Mr. Hemway turned to look in the direction she pointed but the figure had vanished from sight. On stage, Carlotta began to sing once more. “There is no one there, Katherine,” Mr. Hemway said in a hushed voice. “You must have been seeing things. Pay attention.”
Frowning, Katherine glanced once more at the ceiling and then turned her attention back to the stage. At that very moment, Carlotta’s voice gave an inelegant croak. Surprised, the audience first gasped and then laughter began to ring out. As the now uncertain singer began again, Katherine giggled, but changed it to a small cough on seeing her father’s look of disapproval.
Once again, just as Carlotta was gaining confidence her voice gave out with a croak. Laughter filled the opera house from both the audience and many of the others on stage. Wailing for her mother, Carlotta rushed off the stage and the curtain hastily fell. Letting out a strangled cry of disbelief, Pierre sprang to his feet and ran out of the box.
“Love sick boy,” Mr. Hemway muttered as his wife called in vain after her son. He focused on his daughter and asked, “How do you suppose the managers are going to fix this mess, Katherine?”
“Mess?” Katherine repeated, her eyes dancing. “It is a miracle! They will have to use an understudy in her place.”
“There’s no need to be unkind, Katherine,” her father chided, though a smile took the edge away from his stern words. “But yes, this ought to make the opera more enjoyable to our ears.”
The two managers rushed onstage and announced that the performance would continue momentarily with Christine Daae as the lead. Applause broke out. Begging for the audience’s indulgence, the managers brought the evening’s ballet forward early and then, they too left the stage.
“Monsieur Hemway.” An icy voice from the doorway behind them drew the Hemway family’s attention. John Arden, tall and blond, bowed to them. “I trust Madame and Mademoiselle Hemingway were not distressed by the interruption to the performance? I passed Emerson in the hallway.”
“Of course we are, Monsieur!” Madame Hemway declared. “Such things never occurred in my day.”
“That is a bit of an exaggeration, my dear,” Mr. Hemway responded. He eyed the newcomer with dislike. “However, I can assure you that while my wife may be distressed, Katherine is not. My daughter is made of stronger stuff than French girls!”
Arden’s eyes narrowed at the implied insult to his country. “Sit by me, Monsieur Arden,” Madame Hemway exclaimed, holding out her hand. “Perhaps you can tell me what is going on?”
The Frenchman bowed and took a seat. Katherine bit her lip to keep from snickering as her father rolled his eyes. She moved once more to the edge of her seat as she focused on the chaos that had filled the stage. Ballerinas were rushing to get into place as the music played.
A very subdued Pierre returned to the box. “She refused see me,” he said morosely as he slumped into his seat.
Mr. Hemway shook his head at that. Entranced by the twirling ballerinas, who were finally in unison, Katherine was caught off guard when a body fell into view over the stage. She gasped as it remained suspended for a moment and then tumbled to the stage. Screams came from the ballerinas and the audience.
Cursing under his breath, her father lunged out of his seat. Grasping Katherine’s arm, he pulled his daughter up and then pushed her to the door. “Come along,” he snapped at his wife who had gone into instant hysterics. The hallway was empty, everyone else apparently still in shock over what had just happened.
“Papa, was that-?” Katherine asked, trying to look back.
“You mustn’t think about it, Katherine,” her father told her firmly. He kept his arm around her all the way out of the opera house where he demanded that his carriage be brought.
Like a dutiful son, Pierre had escorted his mother out, though he remained behind when the left in the carriage. “Cannot a man have a peaceful evening at the opera with his wife and daughter?” Mr. Hemway muttered as the carriage set off. With a sigh, he set himself to calm his wife who had yet to calm down. “Carolina, there is nothing to fear.”
As she stared out the window, Katherine’s thoughts went to the man she had seen. “Who was he?” she whispered. She tried to look back at the opera house but it was already out of sight.