A/N: First time playing in this particular sandbox, so any feedback would be greatly appreciated.
Disclaimer: The story of Senesino and Farinelli is very much true (you can see why the parallels would not leave my brain...)
The castrato Senesino was said to have led his patron Handel's music company to complete financial ruin upon its inception and been summarily dismissed. On a grey English evening he had fled to Siena in search of a reflective genius, and inscribed above his doorpiece a cutting remark to the folly of the country he had left . That legend above the mantel had remained there for seasons as the famous countertenor made Siena his: women with packets of potpourri tucked between their breasts, the true and clear toll of the clocktower at night and always the glorious gilded stage across which the cardinals walked, swinging holy smoke over the single platform in Europe where a man such as Senesino could ascend to heaven. As his fame and his girth grew, he covered the ordinary wood of his doorway with a golden knocker, an urn bearing the forms of the Three Graces, and a trellis of roses. Still, just before a visitor stepped into the inner sanctum she could have looked up and seen the harsh gashes of letters directly over the threshold, the final insult to a city that had spurned him, and, two years later, still lived in his priceless lungs like an acrid and burning dismissal.
After closing his mouth on the Teofane aria that earns him the last open seat in Peabody's opera program, Kurt doubles up in what the reviewers will report as a bow, shunts aside the lutenist, and makes it to the curtain box just in time to be sick all over his wing tips. He hears nothing but a violent ringing in his ears. The harp under his wrist is vibrating; he's sure it's an earthquake, and then he realizes it's applause. He grips the harp to keep himself upright and listens to his first standing ovation offstage and out of sight, pale-faced and trembling, his entire body thrumming with what feels like the aftermath of a deeply struck note. In the corner of his eye he seems to see a group of high school sophomores swinging one another around in a lineoleum-tiled green room. The tannoy system blares the raucous encore for Somebody to Love and they're so full of joy it spills over like liquid; they bang on the piano and make centrifuges of their uncomfortable shoes whirling them around by their laces. He doesn't understand why he keeps hearing their whoops. Still dizzy with the aftermath of sickness, he bends over and listens to the most polite applause in the world filter from the eminence boxes. Someone mops his brow. The stage manager says "Kurt? Kurt, come on, they're on their feet. You've gotta take a bow. You've gotta—"
He spends the entire next day in bed. He writes to his father that he hopes he could follow along with the translated English lyrics he emailed him before the showcase, and to Mercedes that he's sorry he won't pick up the phone, but he can't talk to anyone until he stops shaking every time he opens his mouth, which will probably take another day and at least two more marathons of Grey's Anatomy. His tutor leaves him an old-fashioned assortment of European sweetmeats, with a note reading Bravo, Kurt! Lotti would have sent you these himself were he alive today! The professor who sat Kurt's audition sends a card on Peabody stationery that says Masterfully executed, Mr. Hummel. We look forward to your arrival in Baltimore this fall. Finn changes his Facebook status to MY BRO IN THE NEW YORK TIMES CHECK IT OUT~! and even Puck sends a woefully hilarious email to the effect that he had him on NPR at the garage where he works, and all the guys thought he sang just like "one of those Italian guys with their junk cut off," and he is still in possession of said junk, right, because he really didn't know what to tell them. (Kurt sends a reply that castrati never technically got anything cut off—their testicles were usually crushed instead—and Puck pings back an entire email full of nothing but exclamation points.)
The day peaks and slides slant-eyed into a very blue, very Chicago twilight. He's got his duvet propped around him like sails; he's aimlessly stirring a cold cup of ginger tea and watching his name spangle another Google search. On the Youtube window he keeps running in his browser, Andreas Scholl and his golden vocal cords forge the Arthurian legend almost alchemically from a sea of stunned faces, slack-jawed mothers or college students or critics all voiceless as one voice fills them again and again. Kurt's seen pictures of him as a boy too, and heard recordings: singing Ave Maria to jeering military men who had fallen silent at the sound of his voice, standing with silver-rimmed glasses flashing in front of the Pope. The first countertenor ever to sing at the Promenades, the first man to stand in front of those faces without eliciting laughter or witticisms about severed testicles. Kurt imagines each critic sitting in front of the blinking cursor needing to write those words—first, honored, unexpected—and yet being able to remember nothing of the historic performance except the shaking fever dream of the last few chords as the man descended back into the English evening and the quotidian reality, taking his listeners with him. It had been more than a performance. The first time he had seen it, he'd thought it was six minutes and thirty-eight seconds of another world.
Kurt has been working in opera long enough to know how once, the perfect soprano voice was considered so close to God that boys were mutilated to produce it by the same Church for which they later sang hymns of mercy. He is familiar with the story of how Francesco Bernardi had shed his old life and become the legendary Senesino, and how before his selection for the surgery he had learnt his hymnals apprenticing behind his father, a barber. Locks of hair falling to the floor, notes of music escaping now and then. Customers would snap their fingers and he would bring another basin of water or lather of shave cream and between clinks and snips he would parse the theory of heaven in ordered arpeggios below his breath. In later years men would pay by the minute for the privilege of hearing those notes again, this time sung at the head of a choir of thousands, and later still completely solo, free of music or lyrics or anything save the silver line of flight created by those enormous lungs and that eerie, eternally youthful voice, rising like smoke in the rafters until it disappeared entirely.
So he's heard, anyway.
Kurt's done Senesino's signatures himself. He's sung Cesare leaning out his window and on stages and sockfooted in his father's kitchen while Finn scratches his head and Carole wipes tears with the heft of her palm, and in those moments he's allowed himself to think that perhaps he sounds like a legend as well, for a few measures at least. It's all right that he doesn't feel anything, because if someone else does, it means that he's doing what he's supposed to do.
He keeps waiting for some newspaper or radio commenter to report that Kurt Hummel doesn't make an "appropriate" lead or that his voice is too "unusual" for mainstream audiences, but the airwaves and textboxes are full of nothing but praise.
In retrospect, he realizes it's not surprising. Opera is another world, and in this world, the leads are written for him.
"You'll be okay if you get a pair of really hot curtains," is Mercedes' verdict on his Mount Vernon apartment.
Kurt takes one look out his window and is inclined to agree. "Tape my Roman Holiday poster over that entire window," he calls. "I don't want to see so much as a sliver of Penn Station's hideous granite ass. Were the architects affected by industrial fumes?"
"Doubt it. Maybe they were out to lunch. Permanently out to lunch. At—" she squints into the neighboring alley, "—Hair Belly Crab Shack."
"It's not too late to live in Chapel Hill with me, you know. The three-hour commute would be, um, good for you. Mix with the locals, do a little networking, who cares if it's two states away?"
"Hey. Hey. I might just take you up on that, and then I'd be a penniless loafer in your fabulous new nine-to-five life."
"That's kind of the point, dumbass," she shoots back, grinning, and docks her iPod next to the nauseating heating shaft. A grainy recording fills the space. It's an mp3 rip of their old Four Minutes; the horns sound like a train wreck, and he can hear the occasional Cheerio swearing as she misses her next step, but his hips start moving anyway. They bop in place for a few minutes, holding boxes and grinning at each other inanely, and then they turn away and simultaneously start belting the "uh's" at a volume that causes Kurt's neighbor to seemingly fling a bookcase against the adjoining wall. It's incredible how quickly the unpacking goes after that, and then just as Kurt's trilling out the second verse at a descant an octave above the recording, Mercedes slots a tray of nail files into their shelf and says, "When're you going to start singing something we can dance to again?" and Kurt drops his hair dryer into the wastebasket by accident.
"You wouldn't find me complaining if you stood up and busted a move in the middle of Carmen, not that I'm ever going to sing that either since I don't have a uterus," Kurt says, but she's not smiling. She's looking at his manicure set with an expression far too serious for someone staring at a nail file.
"Don't worry, they're Avon," he reassures her, but that expression doesn't budge.
"Honey," she says. "You know I love what you do. It's...exhilarating, in its own way, it just—doesn't really give you a lot of opportunity to do what you do best."
"And that is?"
She catches the tone he can't quite control and looks up at him with concentrated alarm for a second. Then she lowers her eyes and goes back to shifting nail files back and forth on the tray.
"Never mind," she says. "Just—I mean, I wanna be able to blast Kurt Hummel at my wedding, okay? What you do is great. It's just never seemed like what you're about."
"Okay," he says. "If we're done with the career counseling, can we finish unpacking?"
She stares at him for a long moment. He shoves the hair dryer back into the drawer harder than it should; it crashes against the water pipes and the metallic clang echoes.
"Okay," she says finally. "Yeah, let's unpack."
Baltimore is hideous. Kurt's pretty sure that if there were ever a city in need of an architectural facelift, it'd be the misnamed Charm City, with its dilapidated bus stands and schizophrenic, neurotically commercialized harbor district where he patronizes his first sidewalk cafe literally in the shadow of a giant, blaring ESPN sign that showers flyers on the striped awning during halftime. But on his third day one of the second-year students ushers him into the Peabody stacks, chattering away about how these same stacks were later animated and set to swelling instrumentals as Belle got an eyeful of the library in Beauty and the Beast,and he knows he'll be able to get through the next four years. On the steps of the church in front students sit drinking seven-dollar coffees. From one of the ventilation ducts off the side of the library he hears a pleasant soprano voice giving life to Handel's Cleopatra.
Everything about the Peabody Conservatory is safe. He writes to Finn's mother that it would be hard to hurt himself even if he wanted to, in this strange suspended place of gold-leafed safety railings and crushed velvet the color of dark chocolate. The programs the directors hand out for one of the last summer shows are wrapped in linen and sport tassels, one of which Kurt later dangles from his desk lamp in a fit of whimsy, watching as the light from his Macbook gilds it silver and violet and back again.
When he walks into his first ensemble room, he says, "Kurt Hummel. I'm the countertenor," and the others bolt up in excitement. The soprano, someone half Rachel's girth and twice her height, places a hand on his shoulder and says, "Come on in, then—we couldn't start without you."
In his second year at the Conservatory Kurt flakes out on his planned Ariosti piece and executes a panicky cadenza that he tries very hard to pretend doesn't crib completely random snatches from Moulin Rouge. He expects to have his scholarship revoked and be laughed out of the Conservatory. Instead, he gets fucking scouted.
"It's a commemoration concert," his voice tutor says. "They're calling it Broadway in Two Hours—not a show, but it's really very rare to receive a request for a voice like yours from that area of the business. Now, Kurt, I know that show tunes aren't exactly your thing, but this would be a marvelous addition to your portfolio. Think of it as outreach. Kurt? Are you all right?"
He's the star countertenor of one of Peabody's best ensembles. Professors introduce him to their families. He controls his voice the way professional athletes can only dream of controlling their bodies, and he still shakes a little over, "No, just—you're right, show tunes aren't exactly my thing, it's—"
—Defying Gravity with his heart in his mouth and Rachel's voice slicing his own like a knife-edged swathe of silk, Rose's Turn on a dark stage while his father applauded without lights to see by—
"—not something I'd ever thought I'd be doing again."
She raises an eyebrow. She is a buxom woman with every fold of her ample skin plucked, treated, and moisturized to best effect. From behind her enormous bosom her lungs expand and contract with a power nearly too strong for bones and flesh and the other accoutrements of a finely-honed voice.
"Again? I've always taken yours for a strictly classical background."
"I was a member of my high school glee club."
"How extraordinary. You sang lead, of course?"
"No," he replies. "I didn't. Our repertoire was mostly show tunes and popular songs."
She raises an eyebrow.
"In that case," she says, "I'm thrilled you decided to put your talents to the correct use."
He offers a close-lipped smile and says nothing to this.
"Well, then. Here's the contact information for the music director you want—"
The music director explains that she'll let her assistant handle the details of his arrival in New York City and two days later his phone lights up at the correct time.
The name on the screen makes him drop the phone in a gutter. Even when he's done scrubbing maniacally with an irreplaceable pocket square the screen's still glowing, pulsating menacingly like some vicious telltale heart with "Rachel Berry" emblazoned across it bold as brass, and about as obnoxious.
Whatever else she's become in the last six years, Rachel Berry has always been first and foremost a voice, which is to say that within five seconds he has to put the Amtrak tray table down and quietly, miserably start slamming his forehead against it. Luckily, she isn't actually as socially oblivious as she acts most of the time and as such spends only a few minutes circumnavigating the boundary of awkwardness before barreling onto center stage with, "I know you don't like me very much, but I'm really very excited to be working with you on this concert. I've Youtubed all your performances for the last five years, and I—"
"Rachel," he says, and there's a sharp squeak on the other end. "You sound exactly the same!" she cries. "I was expecting your voice to have matured and expanded to a suitable breadth for opera work, but it's still endearingly brittle—"
"—of course, they've chosen a repertoire that will hide that weakness, particularly some of the Williams numbers—"
"—and I want you to know, Kurt, that my familiar talents as an ingenue translate remarkably well to musical direction, probably due to my natural empathy with voice artists, so you can rest assured that—"
"It's seven forty-five, isn't it? I think you're going to miss your stop, Kurt," and she's right; NEW YORK PENN STATION is pulling into view outside the window. He scrambles out of his seat, makes a deranged dive for the door and his carry-on at the same time, and manages to somehow splash green tea under his cravat and his left sock.
"I'll see you at baggage checks," Rachel clips out over the line, and hangs up.
Technically, there's very little about Rachel that's different, but the differences are so obvious they stand out. Short hair, first and foremost, which blows up into his face and stabs his eyes with a million little needle-tipped blonde highlights as they're waiting for a taxi. Tasteful jewelry, with the exception of the most abominably hideous ring he's ever seen on her left hand. Despite the fact that he's resolved to ignore her until he is significantly caffeinated to handle her histrionics, he finds himself taking her hand out of morbid curiosity simply to examine the monstrosity for himself.
"I bought it," she says unexpectedly. "After Finn—well. After Finn."
He doesn't need anything more than that, really, because he's heard that story cover to cover the summer after college, when Finn cried into the kitchen island for two days straight to the point where Kurt actually had to get out the box of old Xbox games and a few giant pixie sticks and stay inside smashing buttons in masculine solidarity until Finn got his act together and fell asleep over Mortal Kombat II like any reasonable human being would. In retrospect, Rachel and Finn put on a good show—six years, four months, two days was a more than respectable run—but it'd changed a lot of things, for all of them. Some invisible light had flicked off. Slowly four AM skype conversations with Artie or Tina dwindled to paragraph-long emails and eventually Facebook comments now and again saying things like "Haha, no, not in Chicago anymore, I left a year ago—" They'd needed a central bond to orient themselves around. Once that had fallen apart—amicably, Rachel assures him now, although he knows that wasn't true—it'd been harder and harder to force themselves into one another's orbit, and harder still to find the desire to do so.
"It's a reminder," Rachel is saying brightly, "that relationships aren't worth the trouble right now, because I need to concentrate on my career."
"Is that why it's so godawfully tacky?"
For a moment she looks stunned; she has this horrible face that she could occasionally turn on them in the choir room—something of a cross between the "sad" version of the iconic drama masks and a stuffed dolphin known as Evita which Kurt had owned at the age of six. Then she swerves right back into the "happy" drama mask-cum-clown face which he knows and reviles so dearly.
"Well, of course," she tells him. "If it were actually attractive, that would defeat the purpose, wouldn't it?"
Kurt has a furnished apartment from the company. They were ready to give Rachel one, too, but "she didn't want to live in the Meatpacking District even though she knows they don't technically have any slaughterhouses there anymore but the concept is unpalatable to her vegan sensibilities and she doesn't want to be forcefully reminded of that every time she addresses an envelope." It kind of makes sense, but he insults her anyway, just on principle. They lounge awkwardly in the doorway for a few moments until someone on the further end of the gauche spectrum yells from a nearby apartment to kiss her already, so they manage to end on a good note by launching scathing vitriol in the offender's general direction.
The next day, she sends him a frigidly polite email asking if he would like to meet at Pinkberry to discuss his set list for the concert. Despite the fact that there is literally nothing he would like less than this, he goes, because he's getting paid for it, and, appalling as it is, she's his director's assistant. And as it turns out, it's a little easier to talk to her when her mouth is forcibly full of frozen yogurt half of the time.
Rachel is a Julliard graduate and is completing her post-doc in, of all things, musical directorship. When he hears this he gags on a raspberry. She slams him on the back so hard he nearly gets a faceful of parfait.
"I understand you may be daunted that someone with my natural inclination for performance would choose to guide others rather than occupy the stage myself," she blithers, in a sentence that is, incredibly, not sarcastic, "but I find that performances are vastly improved under my guidance. I'm an inspiration, actually. I'm sure I was at least in part responsible for your choice of vocal performance as your life pursuit."
Kurt opens his mouth, closes it, and ultimately pretends he's completely preoccupied with trying to count the little bits of granola in his parfait.
She's eyeing him expectantly, her new short hair whipped around her head in a frenzied Marion Cotillard bob and making her look like she should be rocking Lima's Montessori School, not a Pinkberry off Broadway. He wants to ask if she got the cut before or after Inception, but instead he says, "After my initial revulsion, I realize it's not at all surprising that someone is actually paying you to boss other people around. Fate has a miserable sense of humor."
"Thank you," she says, which just proves that she never listens to what anyone's actually saying and they all owe Puck money on this, because he's pretty sure they had a pool going junior year. "I used to think it was the ingenue that made the magic happen. When I came here, I realized it wasn't, so I changed tracks. Really very simple.
Really very simple indeed.
Rachel has finished her yogurt and is opening her mouth to launch into another diatribe about god knows what, so he buys her another. She gratefully sinks her spoon into its pink layers and says, "I saw your performance from Teofane in Chicago, on the night of your graduation recital."
"Yes, I think it was Carole who put it on YouTube to show her book club—"
"I was there, actually."
"I was at the hall. I was in Springfield, visiting Shelby, and I took the train to Chicago for the performance. You looked sick afterwards. I'm sure you must have been ill, but fortunately you were out of range of the ground microphones by then, otherwise—"
"You were in Chicago the night of my performance? Why didn't you say anything?"
She's sucking on her spoon with an air of guileless concentration and suddenly zeroes in that Rachel Berry focus on him, her pupils almost seeming to make the noise of a camera zoom as they hone in like searchlights on his face. "What would you have done if I had?"
She has a point. He goes back to the granola.
"Why did you choose Teofane?" she asks. "I've seen some videos of your other performances, and the bio I was given told me you sing exactly what Senesino did, which upon reflection is a bit unsettling since Senesino was a complete megalomaniac and it's uncontestable that Farinelli had the better song selection and public persona. Are you trying to brand yourself as the next Andreas Scholl? Because your voices don't sound alike at all. Just the fact that you're both promising countertenors."
He's a little stunned by her operatic knowledge, and as always, when she impresses him, he gets defensive. It's surprising how easily the old habit falls to his lips, like muscle memory on a much-rehearsed song. "Maybe. I don't understand how a jukebox like yourself became so acquainted with opera. And why is it any of your concern, exactly?"
"You're not an opera singer, Kurt," she says, with such shocked simplicity that it takes him a few seconds longer than it should to be offended. When he realizes what she's said, he sets the plastic carton down and tries to clamp down on his shaking fingers. It's one thing for his best friend to say it. It's another for—
"I beg your pardon," he says, "I am the prize countertenor of the Peabody Conservatory. I'm a guest of honor at your concert. My voice was made for this, and I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Finn would be disappointed to hear that you're equating yourself with your voice," she says in a sanctimonious tone, and for the first time since high school he actually walks out on someone, leaving her sitting on the silver stool with her melting frozen yogurt and walking so fast, turning random street corners, so that even if she wants to follow, there's no way she'll be able to.
Kurt swims laps and does forty-five minutes of cardio each day to increase his lung capacity, which had been so weak when he'd expressed interest in opera that his first voice tutor had actually smashed his beloved Cheerios headset and told him there was no way he was getting on that stage until he could fill an auditorium on high F without passing out or shattering anything in the process.
He remembers standing in the ballroom above his dormitory in a plush bathrobe with a train (a train!) that had been a gift from Mercedes. Down the hallway after hours there had sometimes been the sound of a vaccuum like a distant roll of thunder, and the blue twilight in the windows made the old room a stained glass chapel like the churches where the first sopranists must have sung. He'd taken enough music theory classes that he knew not to romanticize them, but he still felt a shiver when he thought of it, their time-capsule voices in a grown man's body. He'd thought then that he should sing the bridge from Akhnaten or even the largo from Xerxes that he would be able to sing professionally some day, but when he opened his mouth what had come out was the same Mr. Cellophane he'd done for his glee audition.
And even then he'd known: it wasn't a good song, he wasn't the right voice type, he wouldn't be taken seriously, he was a professional singer now and couldn't get by with what he'd done in high school—
—but when he strained towards the know that had stunned Mr. Schuester at the end of the song, he'd been fifteen again, shoulders still aching from being slammed into one too many lockers, slushie ice prickling down some uncomfortable place in his jeans—but glowing with the reassurance that he had, unquestionably and irrevocably, owned that damn stage, and as Mercedes would have put it, haters could just go to hell.
He sings leads now, it's true, but he hasn't strutted off a stage like that since New Directions' last Regionals.
It's so easy to ignore her at rehearsal that he's sure it's some kind of bizarre trick, until he realizes that she's probably ignoring him too. She bobs along behind her boss with a clipboard and some of the more seasoned performers actually pat her on the head (surprisingly, no one's fingers end up filleted between Rachel's pearly whites, but he guesses six years of honing one's ability to unconditionally suck up to someone have probably served their function as Pavlovian conditioning). The music director is a short blonde who spends almost all her time with her hands on her hips and peppers her speech with so many musical references even Kurt finds it entirely impossible to follow her instructions without a Blackberry open to Wikipedia at all times.
Rehearsals aren't bad, exactly, but Rachel turns out to be so good at her job it makes him want to projectile vomit.
There follow two weeks of nothing at all, really, while Kurt learns his vocals quickly and waits for the ensembles and orchestra to catch up. He's been chosen to do what he's always privately called "Rachel songs"—On My Own, Memory, Take a Chance on Me—because, as the musical director assures him, the aim of the concert is to commemorate various Broadway hits while introducing an interesting spin on them. The spin, presumably, is his mutant voice, although when he says this the musical director simply laughs and assures him that his wonderful sense of humor is only one of his many talents.
People are interested to learn that he's from opera and make jokes about how he's probably a wallflower at cast parties. Someone asks him if he ever gets tired of doing such regimented roles. He shoots back that Senesino once tore up Handel's sheet music in the seventeenth century and Handel mainlined it to another country to have him back anyway—and when you're in demand like that, you don't take orders from anyone in the business.
When that doesn't work, he replays Andreas Scholl blithely making history in a major key and concentrates with demented focus on the rapt faces of the chamber musicians behind him.
When that doesn't work, he puts on the grainy, shit-quality Four Minutes and only occasionally kicks the speakers over and screams.
He falls into a somewhat humiliating routine of watching Rachel during rehearsals and trying to pick out a crack in the facade. It's not actually that different from the neurotic concentration with which he used to analyze her voice after school each day, listening for a shake or nasal stuffiness or anything that would mean that he'd maybe get a break and be able to sing a song he liked once in a while. The only difference is that then she had repeatedly given him the opportunity to overanalyze her—usually via a constant stream of texts to Mercedes—because of her affinity for things like barrettes and mothballs as acceptable forms of ornamentation.
Six years, though, mean that she's tucked in her edges, presumably consigned her kick-pleat skirts to the incinerator where they rightfully belong, and learned how to look like the kind of person who people will gladly pay to do things like fling a clipboard into the orchestra in a fit of pique. Juilliard sweatshirt, denim miniskirt, clogs; sometimes he barely recognizes her for the complete lack of anything to fixate on. Sometimes she does reading glasses—thin, red-rimmed, appalingly nineties—and this last startles him; he wonders if she actually needs them or if they're an affectation.
In rehearsals they're divided by their mutual obligations. He meets with his duet partners and accompanists, and she runs around the orchestra making notes on her clipboard and offensive jokes about violists. The single flaw in Rachel's artistry has always been her ruthless efficiency; even in the midst of a ballet or a solo she would sometimes give him flashes of a mechanized object calculating with precision the exact degree of emotion she would need to execute whatever she was doing. Here that same quality is amplified and cast like a net over others, so it's no surprise, really, that she inhabits this role, too, with finesse and the accolades he admits she deserves from her peers and her boss, who describes her to Kurt as a "lovely girl, reminds me of myself at that age, and she really is quite the friend to have if you'd like to shop or sightsee—"
By the third week of doing this Kurt understands that what he's actually trying to do is ascertain for himself if she's happy or not. He has that flaw too, after all—like her with her inhuman perfectionism he makes a living out of putting an exact value on emotion. Happiness is something that can be calculated by facial tics and voice fluctuations as well, so he watches her and tries to figure it out; if she's really understands what she's done with herself and doesn't mind the fact that when she shouts a bewildered vocalist off the stage, it's not her in the spotlight.
They break new ground on a Saturday late rehearsal when she brings him cupcakes. The cupcakes don't say anything on top, but it doesn't really matter, when there are cupcakes all is right with the world and they eat them sitting on the stoop outside the props bay so that none of their fellow performers find them and take what is rightly theirs. The cupcakes taste like glee club surprise parties and licking frosting off his fingers during the Regionals busride for the sole purpose of making Finn uncomfortable. It tastes better than it should. They both eat about six cupcakes each (Kurt nearly tosses them all afterwards. Rachel seems unaffected, proving in his mind that she is an alien that subsists solely on a diet of glucose-based products and hysteria).
"These aren't a complete train wreck," he says after.
"I know," she says, because thanks would probably kill whatever nascent good feelings he's starting to have about her existence.
Despite the sliding scale of pointed silence to catty verbosity that functions as their conversational range, they have a surprisingly hard time finding things to say in the moments when they actually end up maybe sort of kind of a little not totally hating each other.
Another week, another round of cupcakes, and Kurt feels like he's swallowing rather than burying the proverbial hatchet when he looks anywhere but at her insane magnet eyes and mutters, "If you wanted to run through my songs with me once in a while, I wouldn't totally discard your untoward enthusiasm and self-centered, largely unhelpful feedback."
They don't even try to pretend it's not a peace offering of sorts, so when she turns to him during one of their lunch breaks and bravely holds forth with, "Does this mean you're not mad at me anymore and would like to go to dinner?" he thinks to hell with it and says, "No, but that doesn't mean I'd say no if you asked."
Because she can't accomplish anything without acting certifiable, she shows up at his doorstep with a boring handbag and an armful of Christmas lights.
"I thought you might like them," she explains.
"For the record, I prefer calla lilies."
"Because they look good in a buttonhole or because they're a symbol of lesbianism?" she asks.
He decides that the sooner they get some food in her mouth, the better, and doesn't dignify this statement with a reply. "Christmas lights? In August?"
"You can put them in your window," she says defensively. "They're nice. And I don't understand what they've done to you at the Conservatory, because in all honesty I didn't think I'd ever hear you question the validity of glowing multicolored objects at any time of the year."
That said, she puts the Christmas lights on his shower curtain.
"Are you trying to electrocute me?"
"Of course not," she says. "I'm alleviating the horrific tedium of your life so that you perform better at my concert."
"I don't recall advertising for a manic pixie dream girl, Rachel."
"But that's the optimal role for an ingenue. If you were heterosexual, we would be destined to have an epic will-they-won't-they courtship of outrageous proportions that would probably end in tears or Paris. Maybe both. Probably both."
Kurt is already regretting his momentary spasm of generosity or nostalgia or whatever the hell it was.
"Come on, then!" she says, ignoring the fact that he has just undergone irreversible trauma. "We have reservations."
They do have reservations, as it turns out. Then she gets in a fight with the manager over table placement, stating that she needs Kurt's face to be seen from the front window lit by candles as backlight to provide publicity for the concert, and they don't have reservations anymore.
Rachel says, "New York has really good pizza."
"If you want your pores to swell to the size of manholes, maybe."
They end up at her apartment, drinking protein shakes while she chirpily orders sesame noodle salad and banana wontons and eventually puts the phone down and stares at him with her huge, black-hole eyes in the look that signals that she's trying to be apologetic and sucks at it but is determined to approximate the physical symptoms anyway, and the problem with old acquaintances is that you never really forget things like this, even if sometimes you really, really want to.
"Let's watch your conservatory videos," she says. "That sounds like it should be enjoyable."
"Okay. We can have a soul-searching conversation."
They watch his conservatory videos.
As far as Kurt can tell, his performances change depending on the person sitting next to him as he watches them. When his father watches them he feels a little ashamed, because Burt inevitably says something like "That was good, right? I mean—I didn't really get it, to be honest, but it was pretty good?" When Carole watches them she cries, because she feels like she has a son on the stage and it doesn't really matter what the stage is or what he's singing or what he's doing; he's one of her own, and this realization inevitably affects him more than whatever she may or may not think of his singing. When Mercedes watches them he prickles, because they both know she doesn't like them but they've come to an agreement after some years not to talk about it, although they've never named this agreement and he's sure he'd deny it if they ever did.
With Rachel's new hair jabbing into his shoulder he feels like he's holding the edge of a bright light in his vision; he can feel her eyes on the screen as intensely as if he's on stage instead of encapsulated in the small browser window. The years that separate them from the last time they were in a room together make their distances all the more evident; for a moment he sees what she sees: a boy in a waistcoat or breastplate or other gilt-edged costume, opening his mouth to the sound of centuries-old songs. He is adored at last in the middle of his own stage, the way he always wanted at McKinley. The way they always wanted, actually, because as much as it pains him to admit it, no one had understood that absolute lust for the spotlight the way she had. From her tinny speakers his small voice rises up like a streamer. They sit on the sofa with their legs drawn up, listening to him navigate the notes with correctness and poise.
Ruthless efficiency, and he hasn't noticed it until he sees the look of recognition in her eyes.
"Kurt," she says, so quietly he almost misses it. "I've been meaning to ask you since you got here. Why are you doing this?"
He doesn't want to have this conversation. He swings his feet down and as they touch the floor he says, "I've heard this, and I—"
"You should pay attention, then," she says, and points to the screen. "Look at you. Who would recognize you?"
"Anyone in the United States who knows anything about opera? It's unbelievably elitist of you to complain about me singing what you think is the wrong kind of music, Rachel."
"It's not about the wrong kind of music. It's about fame-grubbing."
Coming from her, it's so ridiculous he actually laughs.
"Are you even listening to what's coming out of your mouth, or are you past self-examination at this point?"
"I know exactly what's coming out of my mouth," she retorts, unwavering and with her hands folded in her lap, a pose that would look wrong on anyone but her. "Maybe you should look at what's coming out of yours."
He gets to his feet. The blood's rushing to his head; he can't stop seeing it now, the elegant man on the stage, when he had set out to dazzle the world with something else entirely. Sequins and shouts and occasional wrong notes and whatever it was that let him spur an auditorium of kids to dance, whatever it was that allowed him to get through eighteen years of miserable Lima and lockers and slushies—whatever it was, it's not there on that stage, and he knows it, but the fact that she knows it too hurts him like a sliver of glass lodged somewhere behind his chest.
"You hypocrite," he says, between gritted teeth. "Do you remember Don't Rain on My Parade?"
Of course she remembers. They both know that a high school solo is completely unforgettable for the desperation that pervades it, the sense that someday in the future behind a cubicle or desk or computer screen or prison bars those flawed acoustics and Vaseline-smeared teeth would be the only sensory memories left that could slice open the boundary between the quotidian world and the stardom they had once believed was their entitlement. Rachel will never forget Don't Rain on My Parade and he'll never forget Defying Gravity and those ending chords will be reverberating in their waking spaces for the rest of their lives, the only difference being that after hers, there will be applause.
"Fame-grubbing?" he's yelling. "Is it so wrong of me to want that too? Rachel, after you did that song wasn't it like the entire world was on its feet for you? I have that now! People do that for me! And no choir teacher from Ohio tells me how my voice should or should not sound, because as far as they're concerned I was custom-made for this!"
"Was that what you wanted to do?" she's saying, and she's so goddamn quiet that it makes the blood go to his head; she has no right, no right. "Fit into a role that was custom-made for you?"
"Isn't that what it was always about?" he screams. "You were Streisand! Mercedes was Aretha! What was I? I did circuits too, did you know that? I wanted to come to Broadway. I would have been here too, singing backup for Jesse or Finn or someone who had the right kind of voice—"
Even Will Schuester had taken him aside at McKinley's graduation and told him to work on classical music if he wanted leads, because on Broadway the only roles that existed for him were jokes and backups. He'd gone from institute to institute demonstrating his range, his accuracy, his stage presence, and the slots had gone to boys who looked and sounded the way a Broadway star should have looked and sounded. He'd wanted to scream, you don't understand, I was born for this and what I can do to an audience, if only you knew what I can do. He'd forced himself to read Senesino losing his roles to the younger and better-looking Farinelli and languishing in other countries, circling the boundary of his home and collecting art and women and wines and dying a little every day—and across the country Rachel Berry had tossed away her Juilliard chance on a whim, although she had always been exactly what they wanted and sometimes, sometimes Kurt the individualist and free spirit and proud soul would have given anything to be what they wanted too, to trade whatever quality it was that spurred him to perform if he could only trade it for that stage, a single spotlight, and a note to hold like it was the end of the world.
"You were just Kurt," Rachel is saying. "You always sang exactly what you wanted. I thought that was what it was always about."
It's there, the invisible line never to be crossed in an old friendship, and although he won't cross it for Mercedes or Finn he'll cross it for her, because who is Rachel Berry, ultimately?
"Actually, I think I understand what it's about," he snaps. "When was the last time you actually sang anything on stage, Rachel? Does it really bother you that much that I've become successful and you haven't?"
Her hands fly to her shoulders and hold them, crossed over her chest; he's never seen her cry but he knows he never will, and the fact makes him hate her even more.
"Please leave," she says in a tiny trembling voice, as if he's hearing it ricochet off a tin can from miles and miles away. "I don't think I want to talk to you right now."
He leaves, and as he does he hears himself on the computer soar up to high C, an endless note like flung silk that brings tears to his eyes when Andreas Scholl sings it, but in his own voice sounds like nothing so much as a scream of pain.
At home, he feels haunted. His sixteen-year-old self fingers the shoulder lines of the expensive tweed coats he takes on tours and says Really? Tweed? Please tell me you've got a colorful scarf or two, at least but he doesn't, really, just plain knits to keep his perfect throat warm. Younger and looser, he sings with one hip canted out and chin tilted at an angle most flattering to stage lights, wrapped in materials that snag and shine. His younger self tells him that he should open the window and stand on the fire escape and look out at the incandescent chocolate smear of headlights flashing by on the flyovers above the Lincoln Tunnel, and then he should wrap himself around the pole leading to the apartment above his and yowl out something sticky and inappropriate from RENT until his voice is grating, until his Peabody professors would weep at what he's doing to his silvery soprano that sounds like what they say a dead legend's must have, and when he can't sing anymore he should dance wild-limbed and beautiful until the moon has to hide its own face. He whips his hair and snaps his head over one shoulder to spot a turn and reaches out a hand to twirl a dance partner who hasn't existed in years. He shouts backup whoops for Finn, whose notes are muddled but so enthusiastic he only notices when he tries; Rachel's eyes meet his in the synchronicity of two people doing exactly what they need to be doing, exactly the way they need to be doing it, and Mr. Schuester shouts, "Five, six, seven, eight—"
Kurt stands on his fire escape with arms thrust to the sky, secondhand orange light and smoke from a thousand cigarettes, and as the spotlight wavers back into an uncertain puddle of moonlight he puts his head in his hands—genuinely surprised, as he hasn't been since high school, to find the ground still firmly under his feet.
They avoid each other at rehearsal the next day.
Fortunately, it's their first rehearsal with accompanists for their solos, so Kurt is able to vent his frustrations by insulting the technique, qualifications, and matrilineal pedigree of his pianist—which is completely deserved abuse, because he doesn't understand how any instrumentalist who's so much as heard of Les Miserables can fuck up the chords for On My Own.
When he starts to sing, people talking in other parts of the hall fall silent. He sees looks he hasn't seen in years but remembers very well from glee club assemblies—people uncertain of whether they should say "that's gorgeous" or "what the fuck?" But this audience is older, and some of them recognize Countertenor Kurt Hummel The Future Greatest Sopranist in the World and The Next Andreas Scholl, so no one makes any overt expressions of shock.
He gets all the way though and every day I'm learning— before breaking down and going completely silent. The chords continue for a few moments until the pianist stops. In the rehearsal lighting he can see the rows and rows of audience seats, something never visible in the glare of a spotlight, and he finds himself unable to make a sound.
"Take five," yells Rachel from somewhere in the seats.
He opens his mouth, finds nothing to say, and eventually gets off the stage. His shoes clack on the floorboards and tape to mark center stage. They're hideous shoes. He doesn't understand why he bought them or why he didn't see they were hideous at the time. He's so preoccupied with the shoes that he doesn't register where he's going until he finally gets there, out in the wind outside with his phone pressed so deeply into his cheek he can feel each individual button of the keypad.
"Well, hey!" says his father on the line. "It's the middle of the day! Shouldn't you be working?"
"I'm on break," he says.
"Ah, okay, okay. So, what's New York like? Did you go to the Statue of Liberty?"
He hasn't, and it was never part of his itinerary, but as his father says it, he feels an irrational desire to do it anyway. "I will."
"You don't sound good. They working you too hard over there, or what?"
"Not at all. It's been quite humane."
He listens for a while as Burt tells him about putting down mulch and the fact that Carole bought a blouse on sale at JCPenney's, but he's not to say anything to her about that because she likes it and it looks nice on her, but everything looks nice on her, and anyway if he brings her back something from New York she'll wear that all the time. He asks if he's been keeping up with his swimming, because he read that a sixteen-year-old boy passed out singing "something classical" at Carnegie Hall and Kurt is twenty-five but he looks sixteen, so he should make sure he's taking care of himself. He asks him if he wants some old issues of Cosmopolitan that have piled up at the house; this is always his excuse to call because it's been years and he still hasn't canceled Kurt's subscription.
"Dad," says Kurt, interrupting his father's soliloquy about a zoning law and rerouted ice cream truck, "Can I sing something for you?"
His father sounds surprised. "Sure," he says. "What do you want to sing? One of your concert numbers?"
"No. Pick something."
Burt appears to deeply consider this. "Okay," he says finally. "How about—how about that song from the movie with the dancing seaweed guy—"
"That's the one. How about it?"
"Dad, how do you even know that song?"
"It's the one you kept singing when you were involved with that Dalton boy."
That was six summers ago, Blaine and whispery-shivery phone calls and stomping up and down the basement with the belt from his bathrobe acting as a makeshift boa, the song on repeat until Finn had come down and physically soundproofed the room himself. It had seemed appropriate for that feeling—ice cube melting under spangled sunshine, bright spots of light in his vision and bouts of handsy fumbling in the green room at Regionals while New Directions and the Warblers tried not to shoot each other glares in the lobby outside—and he'd played it all the length and breadth of that grassy sky-blue summer, because nothing else made him want to strut and shout and hopscotch the rooftops of his neighborhood, knowing with complete certainty that he was larger than life and everything was working out. That was how he'd felt, then, even on the worst of days. That was how he'd felt all the time.
Senesino was a man who sang like an angel and went to his grave cursing the family who had sold him to hell. The legend had always seemed dramatic and tragic and the sort of thing an opera could be written about, but his life wasn't an opera, and never had been. They had everything in common: men who went through life mutilated for the chance to be loved by everyone except themselves.
So he presses his shoulders into the side of the building, closes his eyes, and digs his fingers into the the phone as he 's a smell of gyros further up the block from a roadside stand. A girl in a green coat aims her phone camera at him. Cigarette smoke, pigeons. Glowing critical reviews and a professor's card on formal stationery. He sighs without lo-o-o-o-ve like he's being paid to scrape the word along the wall, like fingers trailing in wet paint, and in some space that doesn't exist he's sure he hears Rachel tapping her fingers in syncopation, the way she always kept the beat.
When the song ends, he swipes at his eyes with the cuff of his blazer and says, "You didn't really need to hear that, did you?"
His father says, "Kiddo, you needed to sing it, so—yeah. Yeah, I did."
He goes back in. Rachel notes his expression and makes him run Memory first, and when he's shaken and white afterward, as if he hasn't sung a note in years, she doesn't seem at all surprised. The entire auditorium is completely silent—the only sound in the performing world, he knows, which is superior to applause. Afterwards, the music director asks him what the hell he's doing in opera.
As he's taking the red line home he gets a text:
Followed by another:
Welcome back, though.
He gives himself a day to cure himself of what is probably a bout of masochistic idiocy. It mostly doesn't work.
So, standing in his bathroom doorway watching the hazardous Christmas lights blink innocuously at him from their newer, safer location above the towels, he types:
You told me so.
They're so miserable at civilized conversation that they've had to invent their own shorthand, so she'll probably know that that's damn better than a sorry.
She does it right this time: calla lilies, Reese Witherspoon movies, and takeout eggplant parmesan. They do one of those classic New York things that she assures him never actually happens except in said movies and sit out on the fire escape, bashing their heels against the black metal and waving calla lilies at points of interest on the skyline. He doesn't even tell her that they shouldn't try to pretend they're friends.
"Santana barreled through here a few years ago for med school," she's saying.
"You haven't really kept in touch with anyone, have you?"
"Finn's still in Lima. So is Puck. I talk to them. Mercedes, too."
"Well, when she first got here, I took Santana to the shops on Fifth, and—"
"You went out with Santana? And no one died?"
"She got me drunk after," she says, in the same tone of voice someone else might use to say she pulled my hair. "I'm not really very fond of alcohol, so we had an interesting night."
"I never actually thought I'd want to hear a drunk Rachel Berry story, but I must admit that's partly because I never thought there would ever actually be a drunk Rachel Berry story."
"We sang Take Me or Leave Me on a subway grate. Clothing may have been removed. To preserve the authenticity of the musical!" she cries, noting his choke of laughter. "Maureen always takes off either her pants or her top—"
"Oh my God, there are naked girls in it, I'm no longer interested in this story."
"I was trying to tell you something else!" she sniffs, and returns to her ranting. "Anyway, I took Santana to the shops on Fifth, and we were talking—"
Without her actually having to say it, he knows she was the one who extended the invitation, just as he knows that if she hadn't made him those cupcakes they wouldn't have gotten past from the top again. He wonders if she made it easy to dislike her so that they would never take her seriously, and so that when the time came they'd go along with whatever she wanted just because she was Rachel Berry and the normal rules didn't apply. Normal rules about the proper distance between twelve people who used to comprise an entire universe; normal rules about the sensible thing to do. Normal things about settling like a mature adult.
She tells him Santana had been a cheerleader during her undergraduate years and freelanced gymnastics competitions in her spare time, and she'd said that whenever she faced an opposing team, no matter who the head cheerleader was—a brunette, a redhead, a boy—it'd always been Quinn who stood in front of her, with McKinley's fifty-yard line under her feet. They'd barely spoken after high school. Quinn followed Shelby to Springfield; Santana became Dr. Lopez. Still Santana was unable to move past slammed heads into lockers and the strange jealous rage that seized her whenever another girl was the subject of Quinn's ire; the minute sensitivity to the movements of her body atop the pyramid. The shallowness of the triumphs that had come once or twice in their time together, the way that she spat and spat afterwards as if trying to purge herself of the taste of disappointment.
"There's something about a high school rival," says Rachel in that voice that's still musical, even if it no longer makes music. "I suppose. I never found any of you worthy of my rivalry."
"Are we ignoring Sunshine Corazon, now, or did we all swear to stop talking about her when she won that Grammy two years ago?"
"I have no idea what you just said," she says airily, and stretches her legs straight out so her chipped neon toenails are up right against the last few clouds in the sky. "What's it like, singing leads like that?"
"It's another world," he tells her. "In school, I'd keep hoping someone would write a gay kid or a crossdresser into a script, and now it doesn't even matter. I get to play Caesar. I get to play Akhenaten. I get to play Gandhi, and no one cares."
"I imagine you look quite distinguished bald," she says, apparently not knowing what to say to this. "But you never seemed like you were enjoying yourself. Even when that ponderous Italian critic was roaring bravo, bravo after your Cesare duet with that hussy who played Cleopatra—"
He wonders why she has all his performances so neatly codified. "He'd have said bravi. That's what you say when there are two people."
"It—never mind. I had my own spotlight. It had a name on it, okay, in masking tape? It said Kurt Hummel."
This is language she understands, so he's surprised when she says, "That's it?"
"That's—I guess. It wasn't the wrong kind of music, Rachel. I just got into it for the wrong reasons."
It's unthinkable that this sentence can even leave his lips without the universe imploding, but it does, and strangely, he doesn't really care.
"You're not technically in competition with any of us anyway, Ms. Director," he says, to get past the strangeness. "You run the shows now, right? It's your stage and we just sing on it?"
To his surprise, she suddenly looks far more uncomfortable than she should.
It turns out that the reason Rachel's direction degree was delayed was because for a year after graduation all she'd done was attend auditions.
Nothing, she says. Not a bit part. Not even a part in the chorus or as a stand-on or dancer or anything.
Haphazard six AM makeup and straightening her hair and pursing her lips and trying not to look at the calendar, ignoring her rent, lying to her fathers that it was going wonderfully, fielding calls from schoolmates, waiting in the best theaters in the country and then the marginally good ones and then the mediocre ones and then the ones so bad she'd had to pry gum off the soles of her shoes afterwards, theaters where competitors asked for her parents' names and theaters where they spit in her hair, portfolio and mental sight-reading exercises on the metro, too-tight shoes, criticism that she could tell no one about, living meal to meal, and at the end of the day there would be a note in her inbox from the last week, we wish you the best of luck in all future endeavors.
A professor who had taken care of her at Juilliard told her that her voice was too ordinary to distinguish itself.
No more Celine Dions, Rachel. There are a hundred of them in this city alone.
And that was fine, but the problem, of course, was that in Lima there'd been only one.
Her tears soak through the tweed blazer and the collared shirt under it and the thin flap of skin that he's sure covers his heart; she's got her hand fisted in the Viennese cravat, and she shakes so hard he's sure she can't feel him shaking too. They've never touched one another before, but rocking silently on the fire escape feels correct. They're theatrical people. They do things by extremes.
"Why didn't you tell anyone?" he asks.
"You hypocrite," she sobs, echoing him. "Would you have?"
She reads him still, like he's a solfeggi exercise and she's the greatest of her generation, peeling his essence from yellowing parchment as if it isn't the most exacting art in the world. He tightens the circle of his arms around her and he says that no, no he wouldn't, but maybe now he would.
"Will you stay in New York when the concert's over?"
"You could come to Juilliard, maybe."
"You're not serious?"
"You wouldn't sing leads. But you'd be—"
"—if the words defying gravity so much as leave your mouth—"
"Well, now that you've said it."
"It's unthinkable how someone as single-minded as you ever got into a school like Juilliard. Who'd give me a role, anyway?"
"My Fair Lady is going to be my senior showcase. I haven't cast my leads."
"And you want me to—"
"As much as it pains me to admit, yes."
"...I can't commit to that. I just can't. Voices like mine still don't get roles here, and to uproot everything—this concert was a fluke. I can't count on things like this."
"It wasn't a fluke."
"How do you know?"
"We needed an interesting soprano. Who do you think suggested your name?"
He's done so many opening nights by now that they shouldn't register at all, but when the concert opens he finds himself acting like a novice. He turns up his Andreas Scholl recording and looks at the great man in his silver-rimmed glasses, and then he closes it and stuns his fellow performers by dancing single-mindedly to Four Minutes in the sluttiest, most unprofessional manner imaginable.
He doesn't see her before the show, probably because she's busy in her seat in the pit orchestra making vicious, underhanded remarks to the conductor and biting her nails off.
He's heard that Senesino wanted to best his rival so badly that when Farinelli joined a company he would quit, but stay in the same city, making rounds of the same opera houses until he drove the other man out of business entirely. Kurt is familiar enough with the feeling and with what Santana said; high school is Rachel and her voice and seeing her face swim in the darkened theater after every standing ovation he'd ever received. Listening to the ghost of a glee club sing off-key and off-rhythm and heartbreakingly perfect as he stepped out onto the stage again, waiting for the sound of applause to drown out the sound of teenage laughter.
The stage director raps his gavel nervously and in the sliver of the house he can see through the curtains, Kurt watches the lights slide to dim as the master of ceremonies ends his flourishing speech.
You can't always get what you want—sing twelve phantom voices.
Kurt stands straighter, flicks his hair to the side, and walks twelve steps forward into the single spotlight.
He's encored after Memory. When he bows, he blows a kiss.
He does Do You Hear the People Sing and he can hear the thrumming rumble of the audience singing along, the pit orchestra shouting out lines even as they play, the crew and directors singing as well to that old song that everyone knows. His palms are sticky and the metronome in his chest is pounding out a regular bass line that nearly deafens him, and there aren't any golden tassels or lead roles or critical reviews that laud him as the next anything, but he is where he wanted to be when he was sixteen years old: not singing a hero's part or receiving an award, just singing something he wants to sing. He catches Rachel's electric eyes, her flushed face, and abruptly he knows what he wants to sing for his final encore.
"I'm afraid I can only do the duet part to this one," he says. "Assistant Director Berry, if I may."
When he hauls her up onto the stage, the damp hollow of her palm slaps against his like a handshake, sealing the future. He knows he'll never sing another lead role again. He also knows he doesn't particularly give a damn.
"Well?" she asks. Her eyes are shining. They're breaking about a dozen rules, the way they used to do in high school, and he knows she's not asking about what to sing.
He says, "Happy Days Are Here Again."
The castrato Senesino was said to have performed with his enemy Farinelli on a cloudy night in Venice for the first time, singing Handel on one of the greatest stages in the world. He played the villain—it could be no other way, Farinelli was loved by composers in those days, although he would later develop a reputation that dwarfed Senesino's own—and Farinelli played a captive hero. Midway through their duet Senesino had stopped dead at the very height of his glory and actually listened to the voice of the man he had hated, and, breaking character for the first time in his illustrious career, ran to his side and wrenched off his bindings in a torrent of furious tears. They would never sing together again. But legend had it that it was the greatest standing ovation either of them would ever receive for the rest of their lives—and at that time, standing together dizzy in the lights and leaning on one another's shoulders and singing as though they could break and mend every heart in the audience, they must have believed, as they did when they were children, that they would never need another again.