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Clement's Corner: Donna Maria's Burning Desire

Owen R Clement tells an intriguing tale of a singer whose voice fails to reach the heights of her ambition.

Twelve-year-old Donna sat bored and drowsy at the rear of the theatre. She awoke to the sound of what she thought were the voices of angels. Peering over the seats she saw three young people, two women and a man making the most wonderful music on an ill-lit stage.

She rose and wandered down the aisle until she stood below them, her huge dark eyes watching their every move. Noticing the pretty child, all three automatically directed the aria they were rehearsing to her.

Donna’s mother Anna, who had been cleaning the theatre, rushed down to apologise and to collect her wayward daughter but before she reached her, the young man moved to the front of the stage.

“Well young lady, did you enjoy that?”

Donna looked over to her mother for approval before nodding.

“What part did you like best?” he continued.

“I liked all of it.” Her voice carried clearly to the others on stage.

Roger reached down and pulled her up onto the stage. The two women smiled in welcome. One asked, “What songs do you know?”

Donna shrugged her shoulders.

Roger Coles said, “I’m sure you know ‘Doe, a deer” from ‘Mary Poppins’, hmm?”

Donna nodded.

“Why don’t we all sing it? How about if you start?”

Donna once again looked at her mother who smiled encouragingly.

“Ready!”

Donna sang the first line and then stopped, lowering her eyes in embarrassment.

“That was lovely”, Roger said, “It really was.” Turning to the others he whispered, “Pianissimo.” He drew Donna beside him and said, “Come on, let’s all sing it this time.”

Anna stood enthralled listening to the beautifully blended voices coming from the three opera singers and her young daughter. It had to be the loveliest sound she had ever heard.

They followed with two more numbers from “Mary Poppins”.

“My name’s Roger, Roger Cole. What’s yours, Honey?” Roger said when they had finished.

“Donna Martin.”

“Donna Martin,” Roger swung around and with a grand gesture said, “I think you should be called Donna Maria Martinez. It’s much more theatrical don’t you agree? Anyway, I’m sure we’ll be seeing you up on stage one day.” He hopped down held out his arms and lifted her down.

“Au revoir, Donna Maria”, he said, chucking her chin.

Donna’s mother now convinced that her daughter’s fate was determined, scrimped and saved to have her daughter taught singing.

Fifteen years later Donna, now Donna Maria, floated onto the stage with her pink pearl-coloured floor-length gown swishing back and forth occasionally revealing the toes of her low-heeled matching slippers. Her tinted honey-blond perfectly coiffed hair bobbed gently as she moved. Her captivating brown eyes seemed to make direct contact with every member of the audience,

Her mellow mezzo voice conveyed the deep emotions of the simple Italian songs chosen for her repertoire by her agent.

Roger Coles seated in the audience sat enthralled by her presence. Donna noticed her admirer and flirted with him for rest of the recital. After the performance, Roger sent a message inviting her to join him and his party at the Hotel Le Grande after the show. His car would be at her disposal.

She gracefully declined. The fish was only nibbling. This was not the time to set the hook; besides, she first had to find out more about this man. Her mother, also her dresser, was charged with the responsibility of doing the investigating. They were delighted to learn that he was the Roger Coles they had met all those years earlier and that he was now both wealthy and one of the most influential men in the operatic business.

Roger was equally surprised and delighted to find that she was the same beautiful child he had met all those years ago. He decided that he would make her a star. It wasn’t long however before he discovered her fatal fault. Donna was disconsolate, as was Anna.

Despite this, Roger and Donna’s attraction to each other blossomed during this difficult period and soon they were married in a grand ceremony befitting anything in grand opera.

Life quickly settled down with Roger producing operas at various venues. However Donna, who always accompanied him, never lost her yearning to perform.

Roger, fully attuned to his wife’s burning desire, talked to his colleagues and fellow musicians and, as a wedding anniversary present, decided that a production of Verdi’s “La Traviata” would be staged with Donna Maria starring in the lead role as Violetta. At first she balked at the idea, but with the encouragement of Roger and his friends, prepared for the role.

And so it was, three months later in a nearby regional theatre billed as a gala event with a large eighty-member cast and orchestra a single performance took place. All the seats were free with the proviso that the audience wear evening dress.

The performance was going well until Donna inevitably failed to reach the high notes. Members of the dismayed audience gasped, booed and began walking out.

The local paper summed up the night in an article the next day, "Donna Maria Martinez's singing as Violetta was completely inadequate. She was often out of tune, in fact, she was terrible. What is more, she appeared to be aware of her failings. Her bravery in going for the high notes was almost poignant but unfortunately largely in vain. Her arias were greeted with boos. And members of the audience walked out. There has been a lot said about this $2million production. Given that it was a single performance, the question has to be asked: what else might have been achieved with all this effort and money?"

Roger hid the article from his wife and instead praised her courage saying that no one could ever take away the fact that she had sung a leading role in grand opera.

A recording was made of that evening’s excruciating performance and ironically, sold by the thousand around the world, more than covering the cost of the one-off production.

© 2005

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