Act I: Hannibal Comes!
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I'm back in the PotO fandom! I was originally inspired to write the Three Acts series by Ace of Gallifrey's Don Juan Triumphant, in which the opera DJT finishes without interruption. Ace of Gallifrey has graciously allowed me to write my take on what could have happened if DJT the opera finished. I then decided not just to focus on DJT, but on Hannibal and Il Muto as well. These operas are rarely written about, so I decided to explore them and look closely at Hannibal and Il Muto.
History lesson for the day: Hannibal the opera (or at least the two scenes we see in PotO) is set in Carthage, Tunisia. Elissa (renamed Dido in Virgil's Aeneid, and also known as Alissar) found the city of Carthage. She was an exiled princess of Tyre, and ruled over 300 other cities in the Mediterranean. Her brother, King Pygmalion of Tyre, killed her husband, a high priest, who also happened to be her uncle. Pygmalion didn't want his uncle to get more powerful than he was, so he killed the priest and lied to Elissa about her husband's death. No wonder she left.
Most operas are in German, Italian, and French, and rarely are in English. For some reason, operas are rarely sung in the language of the country they are performing in. I know that Chalumeau (the "composer" of Hannibal) is a French name, but Mozart, an Austrian, wrote operas in Italian. Don't ask me why. So Hannibal could have been written by a Frenchman but sung in German. It happens.
For Hannibal, I have translated the lyrics into German. For Il Muto, I will translate the lyrics in Italian. And for those of you who don't speak German or Italian (like me), I put an English translation after the German or Italian, as the case may be. For those of you who do speak German or Italian, I didn't count out every beat or syllable, so it won't be a translation that works with the score. I merely put in the English lyrics into Google translate.
Sierra Boggess as Christine, Ramin Karimloo as the Phantom, Hadley Fraser as Raoul, Daisy Maywood as Meg, Liz Robertson as Madame Giry, Wendy Ferguson as Carlotta, Wynne Evans as Piangi, Gareth Snook as André, Barry James as Firmin, and Nick Holder as Buquet.
"Yes, Angel?" Christine said, looking up. She held a ballet shoe in one hand, a needle and thread in the other. Her long, dark curls hung down her back, a golden headdress studded with false rubies and emeralds on her head. She wore the red and green slave girl costume, trimmed with gold braid, marking her as a chorus girl. Thin red and green ribbons fell from the gold belt at her waist, pooling around her ankles. She was unaware of the image she present to Erik, who stood behind the mirror of the chorus girls' dressing room. The slave girl costume fit her slender frame as if it had been made for her alone, instead of an entire ballet corps, accenting her lithe dancer form. He had to remind himself that to Christine, he was an angel, and celestial beings didn't feel like this towards humans.
"Christine," he said, throwing his voice to her ear as if he stood behind her, "remember everything I taught you."
"I know, Angel," she said. "But what chance do I have? Carlotta's not gong to suddenly croak onstage-"
"Trust your Angel," Erik said, fighting to keep frustration from his voice. "Remember, I will be watching over you, my Christine. You will make your debut, have no fear. Carlotta will soon be gone, and you will take her place as prima donna."
"How do you know? Carlotta isn't just going to pack up and leave," Christine said, finishing stitching her ballet shoe. As she cut the thread and put away the needle, a slender figure with golden curls burst through the door. As they were interrupted, Erik thought, Today will be the final straw for Carlotta. And then you will shine onstage in her place.
"Christine! Hurry! We'll be late for rehearsals!" Meg said. She wore a slave girl costume identical to the one Christine wore, her golden curls falling around her shoulders.
"Is it that time already?" Christine asked. She hastily tied her ballet shoes as Meg paced, eager to leave.
"Yes! Come on!" Meg said. Christine stood and clasped the other ballerina's hands.
"How do I look?" she asked.
Meg's brown eyes scanned her friend quickly. Christine stood a full head taller than Meg, but they were alike in personality and temperament; however, Meg tended to be more bold and adventurous than Christine. "You look fine," the ballerina said. "Let's go!" She pulled Christine out the door, but as they reached the doorway, Christine paused.
"Christine, come on!" Meg said, exasperated. Christine turned and ran out the door with Meg as the orchestra was heard tuning.
"Focus, girls!" Madame Giry ordered, banging her cane on the stage. Christine jumped slightly and continued dancing, trying to make her movements fluid. As the ballerinas crossed the stage, a dancer slammed into Christine, causing her to lose balance and nearly fall. "Daaé!" Madame Giry called out sharply. Turning red, Christine looked up to see Cecile Jammes watching her, a smug expression on her face. "Jammes, watch your steps!" the ballet instructor said to Cecile. Meg and Christine exchanged a smile, glad that the proud and haughty Cecile was reprimanded.
As the interlude for the ballet ended, the dancers knelt downstage. The stage began to shake, as if an enormous creature was backstage. "Bieten Sie begrüßen zu Hannibals Gäste - die Elefanten von Karthago! Als Leitlinien für unsere erobern Gaeste, sendet Dido Hannibals Freunde!" The full company sang, trying not to be affected by the movement of the stage. Bid welcome to Hannibal's guests – the elephants of Carthage! As guides to our conquering quests, Dido sends Hannibal's friends! Carlotta and Piangi stepped forward. The stage shook, and Carlotta reached out to steady herself on Piangi.
An elephant walked slowly onstage, the animal wrangler leading it center stage. It wore an elaborate silk cloak, a huge leather saddle on its back. It swung its trunk, blinking slowly as chorus girls darted out of its path. "Girls! It's not going to bite!" Madame Giry said, but her words were lost on the ballerinas.
"Einmal mehr, meine Arme," Carlotta sang, her soprano filling the auditorium, "einladend meine Liebe zurück in Pracht!" She began to sing a descant as Piangi stepped forward. Once more to my welcoming arms, my love returns in splendor!
Piangi began to sing. "Einmal mehr für diejenigen süßesten Reize, mein Herz und meine Seele Kapitulation!" He looked to Carlotta as the ballerinas hurried into formation. Once more to those sweetest of charms, my heart and soul surrender!
"Die Elefanten trompeten klingen!" the company sang as they tried not to get in the way of the elephant. "Höre, Römer, und jetzt zittern! Horchen, um ihre Schritt auf dem Boden! Die Trommeln hören! Hannibal kommt!" As they sang, Piangi was lifted onto the back of the elephant. The trumpeting elephants sound! Hear, Romans, now and tremble! Hark to their step on the ground! Hear the drums! Hannibal comes! Carlotta knelt before the elephant, the ballerinas moving into their final positions as Piangi pulled out his dagger. The company held their positions for a moment, and then Reyer walked onstage. The company broke the formation as the elephant was led offstage, Piangi dismounting.
"Very good!" Reyer said, raising his voice. "We're doing that all again!" He ignored the sighs and groans of frustration. "Signor Piangi, you still need to work on that phrase," he continued. Piangi followed Reyer to the piano, and the music supervisor played the starting note. "Remember, Signor, we are in France, not Italy, and the lyrics are German!"
As Piangi rehearsed, so did the ballerinas. Madame Giry stopped every so often, banging her cane on the stage. She fixed minor details that the chorus girls were convinced she invented merely to humiliate them. As they practiced, three finely-dressed gentlemen came through the seats and to the stage. Christine recognized Lefèvre, the manager of the Opéra Populaire, but she did not know the other two.
As Lefèvre raised his hands for silence, the noise level on the stage rose. The ballerinas talked and laughed amongst themselves about handsome young patrons as the chorus complained about the length of rehearsals. Carlotta's voice rose above the din as she complained in Italian to Piangi. Exasperated, Lefèvre turned to the ballet instructor. "Madame Giry," he said. She banged her cane once on the stage, and the stage fell silent immediately. "Thank you," he said to Madame Giry. She nodded curtly as he continued.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he said to the company, "I wish to congratulate-"
"Is it true you are retiring?"
Erik made his way through the passageways in the walls of the Opéra Populaire, passing the mirror leading to the chorus girls' dressing room. By replacing the glass in every room of the opera house, he was able to see into the rooms, but anyone inside the room would only see their own reflection in the glass. Erik made a mental note to move Christine's lessons to a private area. People were constantly coming in and out of the dressing room, making it nearly impossible to tutor Christine. Erik turned his attention to a latch in the wall of the passageway and lifted it.
The door swung open to reveal the flies of the Opéra Populaire only a few feet before him. As he walked above the stage, he saw a group of stagehands standing in the wings. As he passed above them in the shadows, he heard a few of their vulgar and highly inappropriate comments about the ballerinas. Erik nearly gave in to the desire to make quick use of the Punjab lasso and end their worthless lives before they knew what happened, but thought better of it. He could not reveal his position and jeopardize Christine. Still, anger coursed through him as comments about Meg Giry reached his hearing. True, the daughter of Madame Giry was not his student, and he had no connection with the ballerina. But he did not wish for Meg to be pursued by the crude, uncivilized stagehands. Erik made another mental note to keep an eye on the crew workers.
As he looked over the edge of the flies to the stage below, he could hear one of the new managers, André, talking with Carlotta. "Your reign at the Opéra Populaire is legendary," André said, flattering the diva. She stood before him in the full Elissa costume, a large crown on her curls, and the train of the red, gold, and green skirt behind her. The Italian prima donna was a larger woman, with determined brown eyes, pale skin, and thick red hair piled elaborately on her head. "It is an honor to meet you, Signora Giudicelli," André said. He kissed her hand, and Piangi stepped forward, an angry look on his face as he put a hand on Carlotta's shoulder. To the tenor's surprise, she swatted his hand away and turned her attention to André. Piangi backed away, hurt. "I was there when you did Faust," the manager said. "Your Marguerite-" Firmin coughed loudly to interrupt André's rambling.
"André," Firmin said. "We need to go."
"One moment, Firmin," André said offhandedly, ignoring his business partner. "Could you sing an aria for us? A private audience with you is precious, Signora." Firmin rolled his eyes and drank from his flask.
"Well, I must talk to M. Reyer," Carlotta said, smugly pretending to be hesitant.
"Ah, but I am the manager," André said with a smile. "Reyer answers to me, Signora."
"I think you are forgetting yourself, André," Firmin cut in. "We are the managers." André ignored him.
"Oh, I will sing," Carlotta said, pretending to give in, though everyone but André knew she had been planning to show off the entire conversation. "What would you like me to sing, monsieur?"
"What about an aria from this opera?" André said. "Denk an mich, Think of Me, from act one-"
"Act three," Reyer called out.
"Yes, yes," André said. "That one."
A props' assistant approached Carlotta with a silk scarf, and the diva snatched it from the woman without thanking her. The prima donna began to sing warm ups and lip trills to ensure her voice was in working order, and Carlotta moved upstage, chorus members scattering out of her way. Reyer began to play the introduction to the aria on the piano, and Carlotta's soprano filled the auditorium.
"Denk an mich, von mir liebevoll zu denken, wenn wir Abschied habe," Carlotta sang. "Erinnere dich an mich, jeder so oft, versprich mir, Sie werden es versuchen." As she sang, she approached André and tossed the scarf over his shoulder. She slowly pulled it away, and he reached out to let it trail through his fingers as she moved away. Think of me, think of me fondly, when we've said goodbye. Remember me, every so often, promise me you'll try.
"An diesem Tag, der nicht so fernen Tages," she sang, "wenn Sie weit weg sind und frei, wenn Sie jemals einen Augenblick, denken Sie einen Moment für mich!" She strode upstage, chorus members hurrying out of her path. On that day, that not so distant day, when you are far away and free, if you ever find a moment, spare a thought for me! She turned, eyes fixed on André. "Denk an mich, der mich herzlich denken-" Carlotta smiled confidently as her voice rang out. Think of me, think of me warmly-
A backdrop suddenly fell inches from where Carlotta stood, and chaos erupted.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: So, good, bad? I would love to hear what you think! Sorry if the German is confusing. The whole thing between Carlotta and André is from Phantom 25 – I swear, Wendy Ferguson's Carlotta was flirting with Gareth Snook's André. Why use a live elephant, you ask? Live animals are actually used in opera productions, and Andrew Lloyd Webber considered using a real elephant in The Phantom of the Opera. But imagine having to house an elephant on a tour? Hardly practical. And the liabilities involved if the elephant spooked… Way too much trouble. But, whatever, I decided to use a live elephant in Act I: Hannibal Comes! because I felt like it. Why not?