July 17th 2015: Memory Loss
The Great Giorgio Fabuccini
, by Aliki Waller

Paolo watched the make-up girl fuss over Giorgio as he sat in his chair staring admiringly at the mirror. It was obvious that he was enjoying himself, and yet Paolo couldn’t help but feel worried for him. He still wasn’t convinced that he was doing the right thing by allowing Giorgio to be in this situation. Despite the fact that everything seemed to have gone to plan so far and that during all of the preparations leading up to this there had only been a few minor hiccups, he was still extremely vulnerable and ill-prepared for any potential fallout if this went wrong. Having been in his service for many years, Paolo knew him better than he knew himself and took the responsibilities that came with that very seriously. Giorgio was just so adamant that this was what he wanted to do, and he could be incredibly stubborn when he’d set his mind to something – a diva to the core. Besides, it was hard to deny an old man his wishes, particularly when that man had had as accomplished a career as Giorgio Fabuccini’s.

Giorgio, however, shared none of Paolo’s concerns. Tonight would be the greatest show of his life, he was sure of it. When he looked in the mirror he didn’t see the sallow, sagging face reflected in the glass, with its tufts of grey hair sprouting from its ears and its wild, bushy eyebrows; he saw the dapper, fine featured man that he had been in his youth, with a luscious mane of black hair gelled back and eyes twinkling with a confidence that made the ladies swoon. Already his body was tingling with excitement and he felt a familiar sense of anticipative exhilaration. It was as if no time had passed at all, and yet he knew he had been waiting for this moment for far too long.

In his last few performances, the critics had said that his voice wasn’t what it was, that it lacked the deep, velvety darkness that it once had and that there were touches of hoarseness when he approached some of the higher notes, but they all agreed that he was still a majestic showman and that it was an honour and a privilege to watch him. Then his health had meant that he’d had to cancel the last two shows of a tour, then take a break for a few months. A few months had turned into a few years and before he knew it he was completely out of the game, an historic relic that the press only ever talked about in the past tense, if they mentioned him at all. One day a few years ago he’d been watching a popular daytime chat show on television where they were discussing how opera fitted into modern culture, and the topic of conversation turned to his work. He’d been thrilled to be mentioned on such a far-reaching, topical show until one of the guests had asked whether he was still alive and no one there had been able to answer them. Eventually the presenter had got her producer to confirm that Giorgio Fabuccini was indeed still alive. That had been a major blow to his self-esteem and yet he had had no inclination to do anything about it at the time.

It wasn’t until about a year ago that he’d started to feel increasingly restless, as if he had much, much more to give before finally resigning himself to death and oblivion. It seemed as if the mental fog that had slowly been descending on him as he grew older had partially lifted, and his present dreary existence paled in comparison to the fond memories of his heyday, when he’d performed almost nightly to theatres full to capacity and still had the energy to celebrate after every show until long past dawn. Although his body was undoubtedly not up to such punishment anymore, he suddenly felt imbued with a sense of vitality that he hadn’t felt for a long time. Perhaps it was a belated midlife crisis, he reasoned, or perhaps it was him putting all his remaining energy into his swansong. Whatever it was, he was ready to sing again. Once he’d come to this realisation, he was impatient to get started and he couldn’t understand why it had to take months and months of planning just for a handful of performances. But he had borne his frustration as stoically as he could and now, finally, it was time to start the show once more.

There was a knock at the door and the stage manager respectfully announced that they were waiting for him. The make-up girl stood back so that Giorgio could get up but he made no move to do so. He continued to stare at himself in the mirror, his eyes glowing with a self-assured eagerness. Paolo leant forward and quietly said in his ear, ‘It’s time.’ Giorgio gave a decisive nod. Gripping the arms of his chair tightly, he eased himself in a standing position and let Paolo gently lead him down the narrow corridor towards the stage. He kept his head down, ignoring the stagehands who tried to catch his eye and wish him good luck. He continued to hold onto Paolo’s arm as they waited in the wings for the house lights to go down. At precisely the right moment, Giorgio strode out onto the stage with unexpected speed and confidence. Paolo was struck by how comfortable he looked and was reminded what a truly fantastic performer his employer was.

Giorgio smiled benignly at the crowd. He let the thunder of applause die down and savoured the silence between the last clap and his first note.

‘Nessun dorma!’

Even now, the notes and feeling flowed out of him so naturally, so beautifully that it seemed as if everything melted away into nothingness apart from the present blissful moment.

‘Nessun dorma!’

It was apt that he was opening with this, the piece for which he was best known and with which he was rocketed to fame after his legendary televised concert in Barcelona in 1971. He remembered his 1982 performance of the same song in Vienna, where the audience had called him back for five encores. They had roared so loudly after the final one that he thought they would deafen him. He remembered seeing tears of joy running down the cheeks of some of the people in the front row and feeling such awe and astonishment that he had the ability to affect total strangers so deeply.

‘All’alba vincerò!’

He remembered the forests of flowers that would be left in his dressing room, the adoring followers that would shamelessly flatter him and cater to his every whim just so that they could be near him and vicariously bask in his glory.

‘Vincerò!’ He raised his arm expressively as he approached the crescendo, as if his passion were so great that he had to physically carry it, and felt his very soul being lifted with the final, powerful, elongated, ‘Vincerò!’

There was total silence.

Giorgio stood there, his arm still raised and a triumphant grin plastered across his sweating face as he waited expectantly for the applause to begin. A full minute passed before the crowd recovered from its shock and people started to murmur to each other, trying to fathom why he had only sung the opening and closing lines of the song and completely missed out the middle.

With a graceful movement that belied his arthritis, Giorgio swept his arm down in an extravagant bow, rose and strode purposefully off stage. The murmuring turned into progressively louder rumbling as the stage lights dimmed and it quickly became apparent that he would not be returning. In Giorgio’s mind, the crowd cheered and whistled in appreciation, calling him back for more.

Without waiting for the atmosphere to turn any nastier – as it inevitably would, considering how much the audience had paid for their tickets – Paolo took his arm and briskly shuffled him back towards his dressing room while considering how he was going to manage this from a PR perspective. Would he have to tell people the truth about the great Giorgio’s deteriorating condition, something which Giorgio very clearly stated during his more lucid moments that he did not want to happen, or could he somehow pass this episode off as some kind of artistic statement? Perhaps he could say it was a reflection on the pace of modern society, or a comment on the woeful transience of collective musical consciousness?

Giorgio continued to smile broadly, oblivious to chaos that he had caused. He felt elated and light-headed, like he was drunk. All the memories of his performances came flooding back to him in a dazzling whirl of sights and sounds and emotions. He was revelling in the strength of his own voice as he belted out an aria. He was being presented with an award for his contribution to opera. He was clinking champagne glasses with a beautiful woman with dark red lips. There were so many spectacular notes hit, so many adoring crowds, so many transcendentally perfect moments that he couldn’t quite pick them apart enough to pinpoint which ones were happening in the present and which ones had happened long ago. Although something about this caused a distant feeling of irritation in him, he decided that it didn’t really matter and that he wouldn’t let it ruin his moment, because one thing he was certain of was that he’d just given one of the greatest performances of his life. The audience had called him back for five encores.

He looked around the room for his entourage but saw only Paolo standing there, pinching the bridge of his nose. Beaming in anticipation of the praise he was about to receive, he said, ‘So, how do you think it went?’

Paolo looked into his twinkling, expectant eyes and tried to mask his despondency as he truthfully replied, ‘You were magnificent.’

*

Aliki Waller travelled a lot when she was growing up and finally settled in a town just outside of London. These early experiences left her with a lot to say and an urge to travel more. Find her at AlikiWaller.com


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