Book Bytes–Bel Canto

 

“He had not left, he had barely started to turn away from the house when Roxane Coss closed her eyes and opened her mouth. In retrospect, it was a risky thing to do, both from the perspective of General Alfrado, who might have seen it as an act of insurrection, and from the care of the instrument of the voice itself. She had not sung in two weeks, nor did she go through a single scale to warm up. Roxane Coss, wearing Mrs. Iglesias’s slacks and a white dress shirt belonging to the Vice President, stood in the middle of the vast living room and began to sing “O Mio Babbino Caro” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. There should have been an orchestra behind her but no one noticed its absence. No one would have said her voice sounded better with an orchestra, or that it was better when the room was immaculately clean and lit by candles. They did no notice the absence of flowers or champagne, in fact, they knew now that flowers and champagne were unnecessary embellishments. Had she really not been singing all along? The sound was no more beautiful when her voice was limber and warm. Their eyes clouded over with tears for so many reasons it would be impossible to list them all. They cried for the beauty of  the music, certainly, but also for the failure of their plans. They were thinking of the last time they had heard her sing and longed for the women who had been beside them then. All of the love and the longing a body can contain was spun into not more than two and a half minutes of song, and when she came to the highest notes it seem that all they had been given in their lives and all they had lost came together and made a weight that was almost impossible to bear. When she was finished, the people around her stood in stunned and shivering silence. Messner leaned into the wall as if struck. He had not been invited to the party. Unlike the others, he had never heard her sing before. Roxane took a deep breath and rolled her shoulders. ‘Tell him,’ she said to Gen,’that’s it. Either he gives me that box right now or you will not hear another note out of me or that piano for the duration of this failed social experiment.’

‘Really?’ Gen asked.

‘I don’t bluff,’ the soprano said.”

~From Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett


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