The Road to Redway (Pt.3)
Colonel Nathaniel Ackley first meets Mrs. Helena Andrews at a dinner party. When I decided to write that scene, I wondered, What always happens at dinner parties? My answer? Ladies perform.
Harriet Wyndham decided she would persuade Helena to sing while she played. The trouble was that Helena is not the performing kind. Who would inspire her to perform? What would she sing? I would need to describe a song but wasn’t sure how—I would need a piece with a story. What about an aria from an opera?
Enter the wonders (and there are some) of Facebook.
Dear opera-loving friends. Who knows about operas from the early 1800s or before? Looking for an aria someone can sing at a Regency dinner party ~ May 2014
With a little help from my friends, my choice ended up being the aria Abscheulicher! (Abominable One!) from Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio, known at that time as Leonore. Helena explains—
“This is Leonore’s aria and will be sung in German. It is from Beethoven’s opera, Leonore. Leonore’s husband is wrongfully imprisoned, and she dresses as a man to pose as a guard and set him free.”
Once her singing began, the colonel was lost. It’s important to note here that I mention Genevieve’s recollection of singing to Alexander. There are several times when I reference a thought, throwaway remark or event that I must then deliver on in future books (more on that in another blog).
Nathaniel stared at her, utterly mesmerised, for she was looking directly at him. My God, the woman’s voice was glorious, her range incredible, and she seemed lost in the character of Leonore, who was rescuing her husband. Being fluent in German, he appreciated how Mrs. Andrews showed nervousness over what Leonore was doing, the love she expressed for the man she hoped to save, and the duty she felt in rescuing him. As she sang, he translated her words
Though I utilised Google to translate the German lyrics, I am lucky enough to have a German friend who gave me a more relevant translation—a sincere thank you to the brilliant Patty W.
As Gennie had already pinched Nathaniel for laughing at Harriet and Helena earlier, I couldn’t resist adding Gennie threatening to do so again to bring him out of his stupor over watching Helena. I like to have some humour throughout my books.
To my mind, that was it for arias, but the writing gods had other ideas. I needed Harriet to have a reason for meeting Nathaniel at Bainbridge Hall, where his cousin Lady Grace lives. Lady Grace had already been mentioned to Helena twice. Once when Nathaniel’s mother tells her that Lady Grace has a superior singing voice to Helena's (as if), and the second time when Mrs. Ridgefield points out to Helena that Nathaniel’s family is eager for him to marry Lady Grace.
I wondered whether, given that Harriet knows Nathaniel asked Helena for the first two dances at the upcoming Eastease Christmas ball, she might make a little mischief and try to get him to sing Florestan’s aria from the same opera. Gott! welch Dunkel hier! (God! What Darkness Here!) It did make for a sweet moment between Harriet and Nathaniel.
“You play magnificently, Harriet,” Nathaniel said with a smile of pride on his face.
Grace called over to them, “You need to practise more, Harriet.”
“Quite so, ma’am,” she replied genially. “That is why I brought the piece with me. It is a tenor piece, and I told Nathaniel that I was sure he could sing it. What do you think?”
Harriet smiled sweetly at him, and Nathaniel rolled his eyes.
“I think you should, Nathaniel. You could cover up Harriet’s mistakes with a voice like yours.”
He cleared his throat and replied, “I think that might be the other way around, but as I am outnumbered, I will try my best.”
I didn’t want to repeat the dinner party scene, so I only mentioned the aria and its link to Helena’s during the ball chapter. I had no intention of putting the translated words into the book until Nathaniel’s imprisonment in France. It perfectly describes Nathaniel’s desolation after Duarte’s murder.
Back in his cell, Nathaniel had never felt more alone. He lay on the floor and cried. Though he tried to summon Helena to soothe him, he could only wonder why he would want to bring her to such a place, even if only in his mind. The music came to him then. The aria Harriet had made him sing. The song’s words flowed in his mind, and he spoke them softly in English, replacing Leonore’s name with Helena’s.
Lastly, we come to a dinner party more than a year after the last one. There are a few differences to the guests present, but it seemed the opportune time to bring back Beethoven’s opera and the Florestan and Leonore duet at being reconciled. O namenlose Freude! (Oh Nameless Joy!)
Reaching up Helena gently wiped Nathaniel’s cheeks, and he brushed away her tears with the back of his fingers. Then he caught her lips in his for a quick, but passionate, kiss.
The mirroring of Helena’s and Nathaniel’s journey with that of Leonore and Florestan clearly causing some emotion.