Prologue of Singing Montana Sky
Chicago, Illinois 1896
Wearing her Brünnhilda costume, complete with padding, breastplate, helm, and false blond braids, and holding a spear as if it were a staff, Sophia Maxwell waited in the wings of the Canfield-Pendegast theatre. The bright stage lighting made it difficult to see the audience filling the seats for opening night of Die Walküre, but she could feel their anticipation build as the time drew near for the appearance of the Songbird of Chicago.
She took slow deep breaths, inhaling the smell of the greasepaint she wore on her face. Part of her listened to the music for her cue, and the other part immersed herself in the role of the god Wotan’s favorite daughter. From long practice, Sophia tried to ignore quivers of nervousness. Never before had stage fright made her feel ill. Usually she couldn’t wait to make her appearance. Now, however, nausea churned in her stomach, timpani banged pain-throbs through her head, her muscles ached, and heat made beads of persperation break out on her brow. I feel more like a plucked chicken than a songbird, but I will not let my audience down.
Annoyed with herself, Sophia reached for a towel held by her dresser, Nan, standing at her side. She lifted the helm and blotted her forehead, careful not to streak the greasepaint.
Nan tisked and pulled out a small brush and a tin of powder from one of the caprious pockets of her apron. She dipped the brush into the powder and wisked it across Sophia’s forehead. “You’re too pale. You need more rouge.”
A rhythmic sword motif sounded the prelude to Act ll. Sophia pivoted away from Nan and moved to the edge of the wing, looking out to the scene of a rocky mountain pass. Soon the warrior-maiden Brünnhilda would make an appearance with her famous battle cry.
She allowed the anticpaptory energy of the audience to fill her body. The trills of the high strings and upward rushing passes in the woodwinds introduced Brünnhilda. Right on cue, Sophia made her entrance and struck a pose. She took a deep breath, preparing to hit the opening notes of her battle call.
But as she opened her mouth to sing, nothing came out. Caught off guard, Sophia cleared her throat and tried again. Nothing. Horrified, she glanced around, as if seeking help, her body hot and shaky with shame.
Across the stage in the wings, Sophia could see Judith Deal, her understudy and rival, watching.
The other singer was clad in a similar costume to Sophia’s for her role as the valkerie Gerhilde. A triumphant expression crossed her face.
Warwick Canfield-Pendegast, owner of the theatre, stood next to Judith, his face contorted in fury. He clenched his chubby hands.
A wave of dizziness swept through Sophia. The stage lights dimmed. Her knees buckled. As she crumpled to the ground, one final thought followed her into the darkness. I’ve just lost my position as prima dona of the Canfield-Pendegast Opera Company.