The stage was set. The violins readied themselves, despite being slightly out of tune due to overuse. Candles decorated the edges of the stage, showing themselves to be the only light in the otherwise motionless hall. The silence echoed through the walls of the grand, old place and not a voice else was heard.
All at once, suddenly, the candles beneath the stage burst into a higher flame and the lights of the set illuminated the back of the stage, breathing life into it. This light carried its way round until the whole stage was completely lit and a lone figure entered from the right side of the stage. His stance was once of arrogance that one could possibly mistake for confidence and the rich reds and vivid greens of his tunic did not seem to suit his face, which carried an almost permanent scowl. His lack of care in his actions seemed to speak of one who didn't really wish to be here, as if the grand old hall of splendour and beauty was rather beneath him.
Regardless, he approached the centre of the stage and threw a glare at the orchestra to his right, as if telling them to hurry up and start. He then turned to the nonexistent audience, readied himself and broke into song, with a clear, trained voice that no doubt held talent, but lacked the sweetness and grace that would complete the performance;
This trophy from our saviours
From our saviours
From the everlasting force of Rome!
His voice echoed through the silence and amplified itself off the walls. It was a well trained voice, no doubt about it (and the tinge of his Italian accent that he could not quite shake while singing somewhat added to the performance) but it lacked the innocence and charm of the part he was playing. His voice was fitting; his own self wasn't.
Upon finishing his last note, he quickly moved back and the orchestra started to let itself play fully, having been slightly intimidated before by the less than friendly-looking singer. As they warmed up, many other performers, some men, some women, moved from the left and right sides of the stage to join the sole performer on the stage. They began to move in time with the direction of the orchestra, flexing their arms in accordance with the music and spinning frantically when the violins called for it. The broke into song as they whirred past each other, some voices coming in a little late as the concentration of keeping their toes perfectly pointed was too great;
With feasting and dancing and song,
Tonight in celebration
We greet the victorious throng
Returned to bring salvation!
Colours flashed as the dancers skidded past each other, all trying to keep up with the routine (some with success, some in vain). Tunics and skirts of red and greens clashed with each other in an attempt to replicate the Roman tragedy of the set story. The voices of the dancers caught up with each other and finally managed to produce a harmonious blend now everyone was on the stage and knew where they were supposed to be;
The trumpet of Carthage sound
Hear, Romans, now and tremble!
Hark our step on the ground
Hear the drums
The singing was then halted and the dancers all swept to different sides of the stage to make a clear space for another performer to enter via the middle of the stage, leaving only the male solo singer from before to be in the middle of the stage. As the last performer entered, it was obvious he was playing a position of power. Instead of bright colours which radiated joy, he bore a roman suit of armour, clutching a spear in one hand. His face was joyful yet determined and he carried a certain aura of pleasantness with him as he entered and positioned himself beside his companion in the centre of the stage. He lifted his arms triumphantly and addressed the empty seats in front of him and belted his verse with a proud boom;
Sad to return
To find the land we love
Threatened once more
By Roma's far-reaching grasp…
"No, no, no, no!"
The music ceased and everyone turned their attention to the left of the stage where another man had shown himself. Unlike everyone else though, he himself was not a performer. His attire, instead, consisted of a pressed-tweed suit with a triple cravat poking out around his neck, along with an elegant pair of glasses firmly placed onto his face. He held a stack of musical notes in his hand, some of while fell onto the floor of the stage, as he strode up to the amour-clad singer.
"Signor, please! We say 'Rome'! Not 'Roma'! That is not how the line goes!"
Everyone sighed and the dancers all slumped from their position. Another ruined rehearsal. How on earth, they all thought, was this show going to be ready for tonight? It was already hard enough without them having to keep stopping. The performer who had been stopped looked more disgruntled than the rest of them.
"Rome? Rome is very difficult for me to say-"
"Well, we'll just have to do it once again!"
"- I am from la Spain, it is very hard for me to pronounce!"
"Oh, just skip to the ballet then, we'll work on it later!"
Everyone sighed and a cluster began between them of everyone trying to get into the right place for the ballet section of the performance. Just at that moment, the large entrance at the back of the stage flew open. Everyone glanced over and saw the owner of the opera house, known as Roma Vargas, entered the rehearsal hall, along with two other gentlemen they had never seen before. He appeared to be explaining something to them.
"The rehearsals, as you see," he gestured to the cast currently on the stage "are underway for tonight's production of Hannibal. Now, everybody! Can I have everyone's attention?" The cast on the stage all turned as he walked up the side of the stage, with the three gentlemen following close behind. Roma walked up to the centre on stage and smiled around at everyone.
"Now, as you all know, for some weeks there have been rumours about my imminent retirement. I can now tell you that these were all true and it is now my pleasure to introduce you to the two gentlemen who now own the opera populaire, Monsieur Gilbert and Ludwig Beilschmidt!"
This news was greeted by some shocked whispering among the dancers. Roma Vargas, retiring? They had, of course, heard the rumours but only few believed them to be true. Roma himself, though, seemed unfazed and turned to the two gentlemen behind him, both of whom nodded to the dancers in approval.
"And, of course, I must introduce you to Lovino, our leading male soprano for almost nineteen seasons now!"
Upon hearing this, the young man who had sung at the beginning revealed himself from behind the cluster of dancers, his face now wearing a pleasant expression as he moved forward to greet the two gentlemen.
"Ah, of course!"
One of the two laughed as he moved forward to greet him. Upon further inspection, one would notice his appearance as rather unusual. His hair was almost chalk white and his eyes were such a bright bronze, they almost looked red. His face was one that was quick to smile and his hand one that was ready to greet. Next to him, the other gentleman looked far more normal, with bright blue eyes and blond hair which had been vigorously scraped back. He seemed to be far more serious than his companion, making it rather hard to believe the two shared the same name. The first of the two, Gilbert, shook the hand of the Italian singer, who smiled pleasantly at him in return.
"I have experienced all your greatest roles, signor! And I look greatly forward to working alongside you! And of course signor Antonio as well, a pleasure!"
He also turned and shook the hand of the other previous singer, who smiled in gratitude of the praise. In comparison, his companion, Ludwig, seemed less enthusiastic but he still nodded in acknowledgement. "Yes, a great honour sir."
Gilbert then turned to the dancers, who were currently rehearsing their ballet after being shooed away to the back of the stage by Roma, as him and his two companions began to walk around the stage as commotion began to arise around then with preparations. One of the women from the wings of the stage emerged from the side. Roma turned to greet her.
"Ah, Madame Héderváry! May I introduce the fine gentlemen who will now be taking up my post? Madame Héderváry is in charge of our dancing troupe, I trust you haven't met before?"
She moved towards the two, a firm smile gracing her features. She was a pleasant looking woman, with long mahogany hair and eyes that told of many things without saying any of them. She joined the men.
"Non, monsieur. A pleasure to meet you both. As you can see, monsieur, we take particular pride, in the excellence of our ballet performances." She gestured to the practicing array to the left.
"Oh, I can certainly see that!" Gilbert laughed. "Particularly that little one over there. What's his name?" He pointed to once of the dancers to the left, a small, slight boy who bore a striking resemblance to Lovino. Madame Héderváry smiled.
"My adopted son, Feliciano."
"And that exceptional one over there," Gilbert pointed to the dancer beside Feliciano. "No relation, I trust?"
"Non, monsieur. His name is Arthur Kirkland. Promising talent, monsieur, very promising."
Ludwig looked up and over at the man, a flash of recognition crossing his face.
"Kirkland, did you say? No relation at all to the famous English author?"
Madame Héderváry nodded in acknowledgement. "His only child. Orphaned at seven, when he came to live and train in the ballet dormitories." She glanced back at the two. "I also consider him my son."
The attention of the four was turned back to Lovino, who was currently shooing away the make up specialists and sneering at the dancers beside him.
Gilbert turned to Roma, his excitement evident in his eyes. "If I remember rightly, the role of Elsie has a rather fine aria around act three of Hannibal. I wonder, signor," he turned back to Lovino, who looked up at him "if as a personal favour, you would treat us to a private rendition? I'm sure we'd all love to hear it."
Lovino laughed falsely and turned to the conductor in charge of the orchestra, his accent much more prominent in his normal speaking voice.
"Only if my manager allows it?"
The conductor sighed and smiled begrudgingly.
"Only if my singer wants it."
To this, Lovino smiled, then clicked his fingers as a signal for everyone to scatter as the piano began to play the beginning of the first aria. He took a deep breath in and began to sing;
Think of me,
Think of me fondly, when we've said goodbye
Remember me, every so often
Promise me you'll try…
His singing was cut short, however, when a snapping noise was heard and the enormous backcloth of the set suddenly loosened and crashed on top of Lovino. This sent everyone into a panic as people flew past each other in fright. The lights flashed and flickered as Lovino shrieked and shouted in Italian.
"Oh, he's here!" A voice was heard over the shouting and everyone turned to see Feliciano. He shrieked and clasped his hands over his ears as Arthur, beside him, placed his hands protectively on his head. "The Phantom of the Opera, he's here!"
All at once, the lights returned once more and everyone began to breathe heavily in order to calm themselves. Several of the dancers rushed forward and managed to pull the heavy backcloth up so that it was no longer crushing Lovino. Lovino, himself, stood up, his eyes blazing. Roma quickly composed himself and waved his arms in an attempt to calm everyone down. He then turned to look up above the stage and shouted up.
"Allistor! For gods sake man, what's going on up there?"
The red-headed prop manager glanced up from over his engineering to look down at the stage. "Dun look at me, sir. With god as ma witness, I was not at my post. There's nothing up here! Or if there is," he smiled "well then… it must be a ghost!"
Roma sighed and hurried back to Lovino with Gilbert and Ludwig following him. Just one look at Lovino told him this was going to be tough.
"Signor, you must understand, these things do happen." He smiled to soften the words but to no avail. Lovino was having none of it.
"These things do 'appen?! For the past three years, these things do 'appen! And did you do anything to stop them? No! An' you two-" he pointed at Gilbert and Ludwig behind him "-are as bad as 'im! These things do 'appen!? Well, let my tell you, as long as these things 'appen, this thing-" he gestured to himself "- does not 'appen! Antonio! We're leaving!"
With that, he stormed past the three with Antonio running after him, telling him to wait. The three of them exchanged awkward glances before Roma decided to break the silence.
"Oh, he'll be back soon enough! You'll see!"
"You think so, monsieur?"
The group turned to see Madame Héderváry, standing behind them with a knowing look on her face. It was obvious she something strange to tell. She held up a letter in her left hand. "I have a message, sir, from the Opera ghost."
Gilbert sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. "What's this 'Opera ghost' everyone's on about? Good heavens, you're all obsessed!" Madame Héderváry smiled and replied "He simply wishes to welcome you to his Opera house, commands you to remember to leave box five empty for his use-" she pointed towards one of the wings to the right of the stage "- and reminds you that his salary is due." Gilbert laughed in response. "His salary? Who does he think he his?"
He received a glare from Madame Héderváry. "Monsieur Vargas paid him twenty thousand francs a month. Although-" she raised an eyebrow "- perhaps you could afford more with the Vicome de Bonnefoy as your patron."
"Madame, I had hoped to have made that announcement myself tonight when he would actually be here but it looks like we shall now have to cancel as the star seems to have stormed out! Is there no understudy?" He turned to the conductor of the orchestra. The man scoffed in response. "Of course not sir, the production is new! And Lovino was the only male soprano we could afford! It's hopeless."
"My friend Arthur could sing it, monsieur!"
All attention turned to the back of the stage where once of the dancers, whom Gilbert recognised as Feliciano, called out in their direction, silencing everyone. Beside him, the slightly taller man stuttered and looked over at him, as if he couldn't believe what the man had just said.
"Feli… what are you doing?"
"It's okay, Arthur!" Feliciano grabbed the others hands. "I know you can do it. I've heard you sing to yourself while at night time in our dormitories. Oh-" he turned to the front to look up at Gilbert "- and he says he's been taking lessons from a great tutor!" Gilbert cocked his head to one side.
Arthur looked up at him nervously.
"I… I really don't know who it is-"
"Let him sing for you, monsieur." Everyone turned to see Madame Héderváry, who looked at Arthur reassuringly. "I assure, he has been well taught."
Silence echoed through the hall as Gilbert looked back at Arthur, as if surveying him. After a few moments, he broke the silence. "All right, let's try from the beginning of the aria then!" The conductor sighed and assigned the musicians in their places as Feliciano jostled Arthur forward to the centre of the stage. As the piano began to play, Arthur cast one more helpless look at Feliciano, who simply squeezed his hand tightly and jumped into the back of the stage, leaving Arthur totally alone. He sighed and cast in a deep breath while trying to calm his shaking nerves. He closed his eyes and his voice took flight;
Think of me…
Think of me fondly when we've said good bye
Remember me, every so often
Promise me you'll try…
His voice was hesitant and his hands shook. Ludwig sighed. "Bruder, this is doing nothing for my nerves…" "No, wait." He was cut off by Gilbert. "I want to hear this." It was ever so slight but as Arthur began to sink into the song; his voice took on a new strength. His eyes opened and he stood up straighter, as he began to lose himself in his part;
And 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…
As Arthur opened his eyes, he looked and saw the seats of the audience in front of him filled with many different faces, all transfixed on him. He could see the rest of the cast watching nervously out of the corner of his eye and he could see the upper wings filled to the brim. This image would have terrified him before but now he barely gave it a thought. Instead, he let the music carry him through as the gentle piano and the louder violin accompanied him. And he smiled with the joy of the beautiful aria.
And though it's clear, though it was always clear
That this was never meant to be
If you happen to remember,
Stop and think of me
His arms opened to encompass the audience, his face radiant and his voice filled with sincerity and passion.
Think of August, when the world was green
Don't think about the way things might have been…
Think of me, think of me waking
Silent and resite
Imagine me, trying too hard
To put you from my mind…
Think of me; please say you'll think of me
Whatever it is you choose to do
There will never be a day when I won't think of you!
As Arthur let the music carry him across the stage, a man in the right wing nearest him stood up, a look of recognition crossing his face. Francis Bonnefoy, also now known as the new patron to the Opera house. He leaned forward and his face broke out into a smile. "Can it be-" he said to himself "-can it be Arthur?" He then broke into applause, shouting his congratulations down to the stage as a wave of nostalgia washed over him. "Long ago, it seems so long ago. How young and innocent we were," he laughed to himself. "He may not remember me but I more than remember him."
Being far too lost in the song, Arthur remained unaware to this. He had reached the final part of the song. The orchestra grinded to a halt as he inhaled deeply. And as he bellowed the final note and the crowd erupted into applause to deafen the ears, a lone shadow from Box five, stared down in approval then disappeared into the darkness.
A/N: So, uh… hello to you all. Ah, who am I kidding, hey everybody! Goodness me, did that take a while! I was planning to update this much sooner but them exams, injuries, hospital, everything you can imagine happened all at once. But I am recovering now and have a small amount of free time to work on this.
In terms of this story, Phantom of the Opera has always been one of my favourite ever musicals and one day, the idea of a US/UK/France crossover came into my head and wouldn't leave it. There will be a few alterations to the story but I promise they will be minor. I'm just really glad to have got this chapter out of the way since after it is where the really good stuff happens.
One thing I would greatly recommend while reading this story is to listen to the soundtrack while doing it. Musicals are very hard to bring to life in fanficton and it really adds to the experience. So, from now on, at the top of every chapter, there will be a youtube link to, what I consider to be, the best versions to listen to while reading. I will mostly be following the structure of the 25th anniversary concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London, since that is my favourite version of the musical. I may borrow some things from the 2004 movie as well though (yes, I know it is one of the weaker versions but I thought there was some really good stuff in it). So, without further ado, I hope you enjoy this little work of mine and a big, big thank you to those who reviewed. Hearing your lovely words of encouragement really motivated me to get off my butt and get this out. See you all in the next chapter and take care! ^^
Links to the songs for this chapter:
watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=ncvnA8p4lww - Think of me (Arthur's version)
watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=ZqPBZr8MliQ - Think of me (Lovino's version)
watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=DEkoV_ozN1U - Hannibal Rehearsal
(And on a side note, yes, the prop manager is Scotland. I just couldn't resist sneaking in my own country somewhere ^^).