Bel Canto

Singing opera in the morning, before coffee - cruel scheduling for an entrance audition. It's ten a.m. Marylebone Road, London, at the temple of music. Five ancients, once singers, now teachers, sit here in judgement. Their table is big, bigger than the one in our family dining room, with the extension leaves out for Christmas lunch, when we kids have to sit on stools. No seat today. I stand, eighteen years old, my teenage sunset, wearing a school suit, even a tie, collar subtly loose, belt not too tight, throat throttled by fear. The pianist grim-faced - she's bored. Not more Donizetti. We nod, gauntlets dropped. Her fingers flex, the noose pulls tight.

I'm naked here by the grand piano, exposed to a committee of old-time singing stars, survivors from battles on stage and off. A fearful tribunal: bowties and waistcoats, strings of pearls on powdered necks, fur coats slung over the backs of chairs. Their job is to recruit a few virgin soldiers. Singing's not for cowards, there's nowhere to hide - I'm tied to a post. The judges take aim with their rifles.

This aria is ambitious for a naïve college boy alone in London on a midweek morning. The opera's
hero is just as naïve, desperately in love. I am desperate too. I have dreamed myself here.

Cielo, si può morir! (O heaven, I can die!) Di più non chiedo. (I can ask for no more) I've hit
that top A and I'm dodging the bullets.

Last notes sung, blood floods my head, I burst onto the street, shell-shock-stunned.

Soon I'm singing again, it's spring, noon, the sky is blue.

Cherry blossom in Regent's Park,

avenues of pink,

fluting birds.

It's time