Why is this ship called the Persephone, you ask? Ah. There is a story behind that, if you have the time and the inclination to listen.
Backstage in the opulent opera houses of New France, they tell a story. It is a story, of the opera, of course, for while everything else changes, the opera remains the same. Oh, there are new machines, microphones, more astonishing effects, new dances and new songs and new stars, but the opera itself is constant.
The petit rats still tell ghost stories in the dark as they did over two millennia ago in the Opéra Populaire of Paris, back on Earth. One of the stories they tell is of a mad composer and an chorus girl who became a diva.
It was in the day of the famous diva La Carlotta, she who some say made her way to the Opéra Populaire by way of Spain, dancing on tables in Barcelona. Others say she was the daughter of an Italian merchant, groomed for the stage from birth. Some say the chorus girl's hair was blonde, others dark. The details of the story are immaterial.
I? I prefer to think that La Carlotta was Spanish. There is a certain romance to it, is there not, the poor girl singing in bars and seedy taverns?
Oh, the chorus girl. I have not thought much on the color of her hair. It is her voice that is important.
This half-trained chorus girl had what could have become the voice of an angel. She was something new, fresh and unsullied by the fads of the time. Had things been otherwise, she might have started an operatic revolution.
Her name is lost to history, but we know she had no mother and no father. She lived with the other petit rats in the cramped dormitories and grew up on the stories of the opera. She knew the story of the diva who had hanged herself in her dressing room after a triumphant performance of Bizet's Carmen, the story of the jealous patron who had murdered his ballerina lover on the roof of the Opera, beneath Apollo's Lyre. She knew the ghosts of the theatre and they seeped into the weave of her life, as ghosts have a habit of doing, to join the ghost of her dead father.
Naturally, she soon acquired a reputation for being not all there, for she collected ghosts as other girls collect admirers or trinkets, and she had a habit of wandering about in a daze. She was waiting, you see, for her father had promised to send her the Angel of Music.
It was a foolish promise from a dying man to his beloved daughter, and one that no one would have expected him to keep. No one but this young chorus girl, that is.
And one night her dreams were fulfilled, or so she thought. She had fallen asleep in the chorus' dressing room after a show. The other chorus girls returned to their dormitories, but ours remained, hidden in a corner.
She awoke to singing from behind the walls, a beautiful, ethereal voice. It sang the male part of the famous duet from Tosca, and she, entranced, began to sing the counterpart.
When they finished in a glorious rise of song, she asked the voice, in her innocence, if he was her Angel of Music.
Who was the voice? Accounts differ. Some say he was one of the original architects, a madman who took up residence underneath the opera house. Others say he had come by way of the courts of Persia, and had been executioner for the Shahanshah. All agree that he wore a mask, for he bore the face of a monster--from birth, from acid thrown in his face, from an accident--no one knows. The world ostracized him for his face and so he lived beneath the opera and wrote music. He was a composer unequaled, a genius with mechanical things, a murderer, a madman, a brilliant architect. Had things been otherwise, say some of the earliest accounts, he might have had the world at his feet.
And he was in love with the chorus girl. What else could he do, in love, afraid to let her see his face, but agree? He was the Angel of Music.
He taught her for months from behind the walls, and she, innocent romantic that she was, fell half in love with him. Perhaps if matters had continued so he would have won her in time and his face would not have mattered to her.
But he, for all his genius, was impatient and capricious. He disliked La Carlotta intensely, and using his knowledge of the secret passages of the Opera, he drove her to nervous collapse. The opera then was Faust, and there was no one to take the role of Marguerite--no one until the ballet mistress suggested our young chorus girl. I do not know if she did it for him or for the girl.
She sang always for him, performance after performance, but she gave her hand to another to kiss. And in the end, when they performed her teacher's opera, he forced her to choose.
Choose, he told her, choose me or your lover's death. And she, sobbing, embraced him and kissed him. I will stay, she said. He had never been kissed before, never touched except in anger, never been looked upon but with revulsion. He wept as he freed her lover, told them to forget him and flee. Her lover looked upon him and was moved; that day he left boyhood behind. She looked at her hand, at her teacher's ring, and then back at the pitiful man who knelt before her, the man who had given her music, who had brought her painfully into womanhood that night. She looked at the ring again.
Who did she chose? That is the question, indeed. The end of the story has been lost to time. Perhaps she left to live happily with her lover, never again to think of the Opera Ghost. Perhaps--perhaps she stayed; perhaps she learned to love the man who had been both ghost and angel to her; perhaps she had always loved him. Choose what ending you like. They are all true.
I first heard this story when I was ballet mistress at the Opéra Magnifique in New Paris. We were performing Hades and Persephone. The score to the opera had been found after the Second World War back on Earth, in the basement of the Opéra Populaire, hidden behind a panel in a secret room. The room was furnished as a luxurious lady's bedroom. The bed was made, the closet full of fine gowns, the dressing table littered with jewel-boxes and hairpins. On the pillow lay a dried rose that crumbled to dust as soon as the explorers touched it. The score to Hades and Persephone disappeared for decades, only to reappear in a back room of the Royal Museum in London. It was not actually performed until nearly two hundred years after it was written.
The composer? The entire score was written in red ink, and across the first page, under the title like a splash of blood, was scrawled Erik. There are no other known operas by anyone of that name, although I have found references in the oldest texts to a lost opera called Don Juan Triumphant. Supposedly it was only performed once, and it was accompanied by tragedy and fire. I have my theories, but no scholar would lend them credence.
Years later I found the origins of the story that Hades and Persephone told, an even older myth of an ancient underworld god and his bride, but once I read it, I knew how I wanted the story of the Opera Ghost to end.
We will never know the truth of it, if there is any, for history becomes legend and legend becomes myth and myth becomes nothing more than a ghost story told by petit rats when they ought to be concentrating on their dancing, or by ship's hands when there is work to be done.
But that is why I named this ship the Persephone. I suppose I, too, collect ghosts.