Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gabriella's Voice

(The Serial Novel)

Thanks to the kind permission of John Rutledge and Dead End Street, LLC, I will be printing the entirety of my opera novel, Gabriella’s Voice, on this blog over the next few months, with photo-illustrations culled from the archives of Opera San Jose. You will find a more detailed account of the novel’s process in the archives of this blog (the “Confessions of an Opera Addict” series), but for now let me say that Gabriella was a natural outgrowth of my ever-increasing passion for opera, and that, within its pages, I attempted to capture the real-life existence of a young opera singer, not the stereotypical (and often obnoxious) world-famous divas frequently used in fiction. In doing so, I spent two years camped backstage at the Bay Shore Lyric Opera in Capitola, CA, soaking in the quirks and wonders of a small opera company, and frequently picked the brain and voice of Jennifer Der Torossian, a remarkably talented and eloquent soprano. That leads me to my dedication, as follows. Enjoy!

To my father, Harold J. Vaughn, for his quiet faith
and to Jennifer Der Torossian, for the voice that rises to heaven

Chapter One, Part I

Screaming Lessons

“Una voce poco fa: Qui nel cor mi risuonò”
(“I heard a little voice just now; it has marked my heart!”)
–Rosina, “Il Barbiere di Siviglia,” Rossini

One day she woke up screaming.

She could not be sure why she screamed, but the screaming gave her pleasure, small vibrations gathering force in her tiny frame and throttling out into the far-too-large world, seizing territories of the air by their very resonance. Soon her mother came to comfort her, and she quickly made the connection. When her mother left the room, she began to scream again, and this time her father came. She’d found her occupation.

For years, the screaming continued. At the slightest irritation, the little girl would lift up her large walnut-colored eyes, suck in the air with a great sobbing breath and set the beast free, ringing the room in ever more blood-curdling tones.

From the psychologist they received the fashionable comforts – dramatic tendencies, an elevated need for self-expression – and so they were forced to ignore it. They sent the screaming girl upstairs and trained themselves not to hear the spearing glissandos shaking the sheetrock. They also learned to negotiate the questions put to them by friends and relatives, the most common of which was, “What is that child doing?” which always seemed to carry the converse accusation, “What are you doing to that child?”

“Oh, don’t worry about her,” they would say. “She is our screaming child. Screaming is her hobby. She’s really quite good, don’t you think?”

One day the screaming child realized she was being ignored and opened her window to set the beast flying into the neighborhood, a gargoyle on the wing. She screamed for five hours. Her neighbors two doors to the south suspected child abuse, and called the police. When she saw the flashing lights pulling into the driveway, the little girl stopped screaming and smiled, proud of the growing reach of her voice.

The next day, her mother sat with her at the piano and opened up a tattered book of Italian art songs. She told the little girl that the dots on the page stood for notes and she could play them on the piano, or sing them with her voice. These notes stood for small divisions of time, she was told. And these divisions were called rhythms.

Blessed with a voice strengthened by screaming, an ear conditioned by the songs her mother played on the stereo or the piano, or sang over the kitchen sink, the little girl learned quickly. By the end of the morning she had memorized an entire song complete with bouncing foreign syllables, and that night she hummed it to herself as she faded off to sleep.

After the little girl had learned the songs in her mother’s tattered book, her mother brought home a music teacher, a woman who wore brightly colored scarves and spoke like a character in a movie. For her first lesson, the little girl learned a song by a man named Monteverdi. The teacher was impressed by the speed of the girl’s learning, by the power of her voice, and decided, much to her mother’s consternation, to teach her a more difficult piece, an aria by Puccini called “Vissi d’arte.” The title of the aria meant “I gave my life for art,” said the teacher, and came from something she called an “opera.”

Photo: Joseph Wright and Deborah Berioli in Opera San Jose's 2004 Tosca. Photo by Pat Kirk.

Find Gabriella’s Voice at:

Next: A Child of the Soprano Voice

Copyright 2008 by Michael J. Vaughn

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