It was the day before the Paris Opera was to hold it gala, celebrating the retirement of the old managers, Debienne and Poligny- for us, a day that occurs within that nebulous space known as back-story. The reader would not join us until the night of the gala, when Christine Daaé would take my place and make her triumphant debut. However, like most novels, ours was based upon a series of events that must take place with any audience present. Somewhere in the basement of the opera house, Joseph Buquet was breathing his last, while Erik arranged for my inexplicable absence from the evening's entertainment.
I passed by the doorkeeper's table as I entered the opera house, and lightly brushed my fingers across the horseshoe that Sorelli had left to protect us all from the evil eye. Granted, Sorelli was a typical dancer, and by that I mean that she was about as intelligent as a chipped brick, so I didn't share her faith in the power of cold iron. All the same, when you for a fact that there is not merely a ghost present, but a ghost with homicidal tendencies and a twisted sense of humor, you don't risk offending the spirits. Although I felt foolish every time I did it, I touched the filthy, rusted metal each time I passed it.
It was business as usual at the Paris Opera. Of course, when you're trapped in a detective novel about a disfigured lunatic who falls in love with your understudy, usual is just another kind of strange. I left my hat and coat with the doorkeeper, since I would not be singing tonight and had no need to go tromping through the corridors to my dressing room. I would not be wearing a costume tonight, so there was no need to put one on now. There was a small pier glass at the side of the doorkeeper's box, which showed enough of my reflection for me to assure myself that my hair was still neatly in place and my dress was smooth and tidy. I am not as young as Christine Daaé, but I am not so very old either and one does not become the reigning diva of the Paris Opera by looking as bad as all that. I may not be twenty, but I am still attractive enough.
The new opera directors had scheduled a rehearsal for the gala tomorrow night- the gala I would inexplicably fail to attend. No one really knows why I don't show up, but it's absolutely critical that I'm absent. I usually spend the evening having a nice long bath and reading a good book. Not this book of course. I've had about as much of this book as I can stand. As I understand it, the reader is meant to assume that my absence has been somehow arranged by Erik, the opera ghost. However, Gaston Leroux never saw fit to specify precisely what happened, so we'll never know whether I am recovering from some mischief of Erik's devising, or what form that mischief might have taken.
Up until the gala evening, most of the characters in The Phantom of the Opera are at liberty to do as they please, provided it won't interfere with the events of the plot later on. For example, Joseph Buquet cannot opt out of dying by torture, nor can I chain myself to my dressing room in protest. Rather than rock the boat, so to speak, we always spend the time before the gala having rehearsals, just to make sure that there won't be any problems other than my disappearance and subsequent replacement by Christine Daaé.
I walked down the dimly lit corridors, on my way to the stage via the wings. It's no wonder that rumors of ghosts flourished in a place like this, without or without help from a flesh and blood phantoms. The gas lights provided dim light that flicked in the open areas and cast ever-moving shadows in the corners and out-of-the-way places. I passed by property rooms where a menagerie of plaster animals stared at me with malevolent glass eyes and by the costume rooms where seamstresses added the final details to Marguerite's rather sumptuous peasant dress. The costume was supposedly mine, but I was not the one who would wear it onstage. From that, you can surmise that Christine Daaé and I must be close in size. In fact, we might well be interchangeable, except that she is blonde, innocent and twenty years old and I am … not.
The wings were crowded with people, although I didn't think anything of it. The Palais Garnier is always teeming with human life. There was a time when the government saw fit to dispose of a good portion of the unemployed populace by creating work for them at the opera house. You never know when you are going to run into someone who has been hidden away for the last several years, just in case someone might absentmindedly leave a door open. From time to time, they open the doors themselves, so that they can go back and shut them again. I suppose it passes the time.
For whatever the reason, the corps de ballet had decided against rehearsing in the ballet room. Apparently, they felt that more could be accomplished by standing about in the wings and getting into everybody's way. The scene-shifters were beside themselves because it seemed that whichever way they turned, there was a dancer loitering about where she ought not to be. Although I've never had a high opinion of the ballet rats, they were usually somewhat more professional than this. I threaded my way through the throng and took center stage.
I greeted the other principal singers and gave a nod to the maestro. Tonight, Gounod himself would be on hand to conduct his Funeral March of a Marionette, as well as excerpts from Romeo and Juliette and Faust. Romeo and Juliette is not part of the repertoire at the Paris Opera, but it was to be transferred to us from the Opera Comique and La Daaé had been assigned the page's song, since the selections from Faust did not include her part, Siebel. However, for the time being, the rehearsal would be conducted by the chorus master, Gabriel. Well, you can hardly expect a famous composer to make a cameo appearance in an episode that doesn't even appear in the finished book.
At Gabriel's signal, we began the "Jewel Song", just as we had done innumerable times before, but something happened that had never happened before- something that would initiate a series of events that would change the course of our plot, perhaps forever!