Sarastro. The word is barely a sigh.
My Queen. He does not acknowledge her by name.
Passion spews forth from her lips, coloratura, acid bright and bitter as poison. Arpeggios twist, snake-like and unconstrained. Staccato points of fury score the bright air like sharp and glittering stars.
Tear drops glisten, but the voice glides effortless in its anger from one climactic peak to another.
His deep, dark counterpoint roots her rage; creates the harmonies of her hatred. The very vibrations of it ripple upwards, supporting her notes or fighting against them, and it is all she can do to keep singing, to keep breathing. How dare his notes contain and define hers so.
She sends her voice soaring higher, higher, until the notes are barely pitch at all. She opens her throat, absents her self, and pours out broken arpeggios to define their own chord, trying to escape the fundamentals of his control.
Pamina remembers being sung to, as a child.
She remembers a man with a voice as deep as the foundations of the earth. She remembers leaning her head against his chest, feeling the vibration of it all through her body; the sound of him a physical presence in the world, soothing and sustaining. She remembers being rocked to sleep against the soft fabric of his robes, her face warmed by love, or the light of the sun.
Her mother did not sing her lullabies. From her mother, she learned another way to sing.
The man with the face she barely remembers sang Austrian folk tunes in a weak, breathy tenor voice.
She hears those songs in her dreams still sometimes, just outside memory. She could not sing them today; but she remembers the tone and texture of his voice, has a sense of the rough and ragged edges of it.
She asks her mother about the man, once, and the songs. Her mother’s eyes get all narrow and angry; not unusual, but a bad sign.
There were only two things that that man could sing about, she says, and one of them was betrayal. Her hand strays to her throat. Pamina remembers, all in a flash, the borrowed glory of his blazing sun upon her mother’s skin, as the cascading ripple of coloratura power flowed from between her lips.
Who did he betray? She does not ask the question.
By the time she is old enough to fill in the harmonies for herself, both men are nothing more than memories. Her mother’s cadre of women make their own music. If Pamina feels at first a shifting uncertainty in the sound of it, unanchored by basso profundo, she does not say.
Look, my daughter, to the beauty of the night sky. Remember to breathe. Remember to stand straight and tall.
You must rely, always and only, on the strength that comes from within. Her mother jabs a sharp, cruel finger into her diaphragm; Pamina tenses against it, trying to keep her breath even and sustained. Here. Here is the source of your power. Where no man can take it from you.
Her mother’s voice is her mother’s power; she cannot escape it. It worms its way through her, until she can hear it in her dreams, until she can all but sing it with her breath.
Emotion makes the breath catch, makes the voice break. Keep control, my daughter. A sob will spoil the line; will strip the magic away. Keep your back straight, and your heart hard.
Self-mastery does not come easily. Self-hatred is more easily learned.
She listens to her mother’s women sing. Sometimes voices tangle, too close in pitch and tone, and the tension of the dissonance makes her hair stand on end. Sometimes one voice is left behind to sustain the harmony while the others tumble and twirl about it; she feels the imbalance as an affront to her soul. Sometimes – most often of all – the voices cluster and curl together as if they have lost their identities.
Pamina thinks, I want to be heard.
Her mother is heard, when she sings with the women. Her voice dominates, insidious and insistent.
Pamina thinks, there must be another way.
Once, just once, when she was little, her mother had tried to sing her the old familiar songs. Vibrato overpowered the pitches of the simple melodies; bel canto legato stripped away the jauntiness. She broke off before the final chorus, tears glistening in her eyes; as if she listened to the ghost of a breathy, raw tenor voice that would never sing again.
I wanted to sing with him. He could not hold his line against mine. I would have stayed silent, for a time, if he had only asked.
Years later, Pamina looks back and thinks, you cannot have been an easy woman to ask.
Later still, she thinks to wonder if that were always true.
I took you away from a bad man, who would never have wanted you to know your own power. That is how she explains it, sometimes. And Pamina wonders whether she means the man with the bass voice deep enough and strong enough to support the world, or her own dead father.
The young tenor has a voice as clear and soft and sweet as honey in sunlight. Pamina is entranced. A voice that locks with her own; not overpowering it nor undermining it. She shimmers the golden thread of her tone all through it; accenting and shaping. Her breath catches with the joy of it, but the line does not falter; punctuated by emotion, but solid, held by her support, and his.
She cannot hear herself, not truly. But she knows from his face that together they have created something beautiful.
She wonders whether her mother and her father ever sang together like that, before his voice became the raw-ragged thing she remembers.
Learn the lesson of silence, Sarastro demands. Space for another to sing.
She thinks about the songs her mother sang. A cycle, a circle, like the sun Sarastro wore; complete and unending, but with room for growth and change. Tamino places the Sevenfold Star of the Sun upon her breast, and it blazes glory as she sings. Her voice crackles with power; borrowed, or created, or shared.