The Dwarf Soprano

(An extract from A Life in the Book of Monsters, a nonsense novel about a failed romantic poet I have been working on for many years…)

As a result of her condition, the dwarf possessed the unfortunate gift of being able to hear what was happening several moments before it actually occurred. She made her living first on the stage, correcting actors for errors that they were about to make, and later in political negotiations, smoothing over difficult moments that may otherwise have led to war.

Above all, she is most famous of all for her great love of opera, which although unrequited, was one of the driving inspirations of her long life. At the tender age of ninety she was banned from the opera theatre in her home town for singing, in her unique voice, the soprano part of the aria while the preceding recitativo was still in progress, and also because of her great ugliness. In search of an outlet for her passion, she toured many lands, and was similarly banned in the opera houses of all of them, until it was said that she had been to every such house in the land but could return to none.

Finally she decided to go into business and establish an opera house of her own, in which she was to be the one and only soprano, and the other chorus and orchestra would be specially trained to ignore her while performing. Her opera toured the mainland some nineteen years later, a tour short-lived but well-remembered; she even performed in front of the King.

It is this performance that was best remembered by our poet, who had the fortune to be present in an official capacity, ushering the many courtiers to their seats with an aplomb noted by many. He describes at length her final aria various times throughout his collected works, and often refers to it elsewhere in passing, mentioning each time the great emotional effect that it had on him. Here is one such passage.

Great was the shame that hung over me that day, I know I should not feel it, but to stand and witness such a creature be so enjoyed by that crowd, who I had treated so graciously, I challenge any one to bear it, although I would wish it on none. It is a great blessing to me that most of the marvels that are my art are not subjected to the common gaze as was the Dwarf. 

The mundanity of her circumstances seemed to have affected her reasoning, if we can judge the intellect of such a creature by our own standards. She had no idea of the real nature of her appeal, and was quite delighted by the attention that she and her troupe were receiving, although many of them took clear steps to distance themselves from her artistic hegemony, by denying strenuously any credit for the performance.

Towards the end of the evening I almost began to feel some sympathy for her, although I struggle with the word, and have often wished for the use of another form of pathos that one could properly feel for such creatures. I took it upon myself to she that she would be well fed at least while at our theatre, and tried to comfort her, but she seemed to need no food. She thanked me haltingly, somewhat in advance of my offer, smiling merrily, obviously carefree of her revolting appearance.

And so I sat and talked with one of our world’s last great literary monsters, and she with me, and although the conversation was slow and rather awkward, I cannot help but feel a certain sense of pride in this, despite the accompanying shame. Of course, our words themselves meant little and would read poorly, as she spoke largely in advance of the real matter of the conversation, and would insist on contradicting me no matter what position I took.

Published by sjmckenzie

Writer. Celticist. Banjo picker. Family Man.

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