Chapter 1: Orchestra Tuning
It’s not that Theon, right now, is entirely, absolutely regretting having said yes when Lannister called him in a rush a month ago and said that Brandon Stark was miraculously back from India and they could squeeze in Don Giovanni if they’re quick to stage it and since Brandon and Ned aren’t really talking to each other because of the usual family drama all over again, wouldn’t he mind playing Leporello.
After all, it was one of his dream roles. He’s learned it years ago but he never actually had the guts to volunteer for it, also because Don Giovanni, until now, has been securely the field of their older generation of singers, at least for the main five roles. But man, didn’t he want to sing it. And so… he said yes.
But now —
It’s been a month of rehearsals, the only two people his age or close to it in this production are Edmure Tully and Roslin, who, since they play Masetto and Zerlina and don’t really need to be around too much, always run off whenever they can, but he can’t because he’s pretty much the second lead. So, he’s stuck in the middle of Brandon Stark being his usual self (meaning: honestly thinking the entire production is at his service, and he’s not a bad guy per se, but man if he can be obnoxious – he certainly can’t blame Ned Stark for not talking to him for stretches of months) and Barbrey Dustin who has agreed to play Elvira on such a short notice because she has an excuse to clock Stark in the face a few times and who hates him because they had a fling back in the day and he left her fairly unceremoniously, and she also hates Theon for reasons he doesn’t even want to know. That’d be bad enough, but then there’s also Rhaegar Targaryen who has agreed to be Ottavio as a last minute choice because no other tenors around who had the right range and knew the part could do it and who is obviously bored as hell and also doesn’t get along with Stark at all, and everything is made even bloody worse by the cherry on top of the cake, as in, Elia Martell playing Anna after years of refusing to co-star with Rhaegar. But she also was the only free person available for it and her brother’s staging (it’s an old production but he’s re-hauling it as much as they let him get away with), so he must have begged her to.
Long story short: another week of being in the middle of digs, subtle sarcasm, people looking at each other like they’d claw their respective faces off if they could, Stark showing up at rehearsals whenever he wants (Robb really hasn’t taken after him, Theon is really thankful for), stuffy Enlightenment-era costumes that Oberyn hates but relented to when he realized that Stark outright refuses playing in modern reinterpretations because they ruin the entire thing and if I have to sing I’m not doing it in one of those lousy contemporary nonsense things, whatever the hell it means and he’s going to flip.
He really should have said no.
And to top it all off, he’s not even the worst off in the middle of this entire mess, because if he is really done with everyone else’s drama, there’s someone who’s even more done than he is.
“Brandon,” Oberyn says, stopping the singing in the middle of the Act One finale rehearsal for the fifth time since six in the morning, “believe me, I’m not criticizing the singing because it’s flawless as usual, but — you’ve just thrown a party. You said everyone is welcome to join. Everyone including peasants. You cannot go around the stage without mixing in between everyone who’s on it and keeping your second-in-command at arm’s length, and don’t give me any bullshit about noblemen and so on because you know it’s in the text.”
Stark looks like he wants to argue but rolls his eyes and doesn’t, thankfully. “All right, all right,” he says, “but I wasn’t doing that on purpose.”
“Maybe it’s because he thinks he’s better than everyone else,” Barbrey Dustin says, not even trying to keep her voice down.
“Why, Barbs, I don’t remember you behaving any differently — when was that the last time, twenty years ago?”
“Are you two still arguing about the time you had that one-night stand?” Rhaegar Targaryen groans openly, and if Theon is agreeing with him about one-night stands, the apocalypse must be imminent.
“Listen to who’s talking,” Elia says, and okay, Rhaegar does look chastised at that, at least, but —
“You never said it wasn’t supposed to be —”
“Oh, fuck you all,” a voice no one would have suspected uttering those words, never mind saying them out loud, interrupts them from the conductor’s pit.
The hell —
A moment later Stannis throws his baton to the ground, takes off his neatly ironed suit jacket and walks (no, runs, almost) on stage, moving Oberyn out of the way, and wow, doesn’t he look pissed off.
“I can’t bloody do this anymore, all right? You’ve been here a month, and I’ve dealt with you, all of you, in this same fucking production more than once already for some twenty damned years, and back then you already couldn’t behave, but then again you were young and stupid and whatever, fine. Now what, you’re almost all past forty and you’re still behaving like high school children? You’re almost making me miss Cersei Lannister, at least she fucking shows up on time!” He’s shouting by now, the vein on his forehead throbbing, and Theon moves out of the way very quickly. “It’s been a month of — barely rehearsing and me having to go through your whole high school charade again, and there’s a fucking limit, so either you all start being professionals at least on stage or —”
“Or what, you fire us?” Stark interrupts with a shit-eating grin, and fine, he’s born for this damned role, but honestly, Theon prefers the interpretations where the man is not such an asshole. “Good luck with that, last I know there’s no one else around here who can sing this properly.”
“Fine, maybe there isn’t,” Stannis grits his teeth, “but you’re being beyond unprofessional and I’m done indulging it just because we need you. First you show up when the season has already started, then you dictate how the production has to go, then you question half of my and his choices –” He says, nodding at Oberyn, “All over again because we both like to give the other characters some space, too, and you’re still bragging over one-night stands from twenty years ago? Excuse me if I’m bloody done, and you’re hardly the only one I have issues with. Barbrey, you’re not off the hook.”
“Wait, what did I ever do?”
“Other than nagging him on purpose all the time and treating Greyjoy over there like shit when he’s been ten times more professional than you ever were? Please. And I’m not even touching the other wasp nest here, but if the four of you don’t get yourself together this production is going to turn out shit. We got lucky a few times, I doubt we’re pulling that off again.”
He stares at Brandon then, still gritting his teeth, blue eyes so icy Theon wishes he never ends up at the end of that stare, and then —
“You know,” Brandon says, “fuck you.”
“What —” Oberyn starts, sounding like he wants to calm the situation down.
“If you can’t give artists some basic freedom, what do I even have to waste time for? Find someone else.”
He takes off his jacket, calmly, throws it on the ground and gets off the stage.
He seriously can’t be considering —
“Sayonara,” he grins, “and Oberyn, you’re welcome to try whatever modern crap you wanted to do now, if you can find a substitute.”
And then he leaves.
“Did he just —” Elia asks, sounding like she can’t believe her own eyes.
“Well, if he’s not here to do it, makes no sense for me to be either,” Barbrey says.
“Hey!” Oberyn interrupts her. “You aren’t seriously walking out —”
“I was doing it just to make sure I could punch him in the face for two weeks. You want to take back the deposit, you’re my guest. I have another engagement in a month, anyway.”
What the fuck --
Did the leading guy and one of the two leading women just walk out on them like it’s nothing?
“The hell,” he says as she walks away, even if he honestly isn’t that sad about Barbrey leaving.
“Well, now we’re fucked,” Oberyn says, and a moment later —
“I don’t think I’m feeling too well,” Stannis whispers, bringing a hand to his head, and wait, is his nose bleeding, what the fuck --
Stannis doesn’t faint on stage while cracking his head against the pavement just because Theon’s nearby and he grabs his arm, and Davos Seaworth immediately emerges from backstage to help him while Elia says she’ll get an ambulance and Missandei, and at least the man’s breathing but his face is ashen pale and the white jacket Brandon threw to the ground a moment before is getting dirty with blood as Theon pushes it under his nose.
Shit, shit, shit.
“Please tell me he doesn’t have something dangerous,” he asks Davos as he moves behind Stannis, putting his head on his knees.
“No, I think he’s just… stressed,” Davos says, sounding pained. “And I did tell him to take it easier, but I guess this one opera was too much even for him.”
Theon honestly, honestly feels terrible for all the times the guy had to scream at any of them to actually do their job.
So he stands there on the ground, his costume getting dirty and blood ending up on his cuff, too, and can’t help thinking that if these are the premise, this damned staging is going to be the worst bloody disaster this company has ever seen performed.
To think he was actually excited for it.
Now he’s just going to be glad if he doesn’t get a nervous breakdown, too.
“Well,” Tyrion tells his audience in the conference room, as in, everyone who was supposed to be in the Don Giovanni June staging and everyone who isn’t involved with the production currently running, “I think I have horrid news for all of us.”
“Shoot,” Oberyn sighs, “and try to not throw too much salt on the wound.”
“Ha, ha, ha. Let’s start from the partially decent news. Stannis’s hospital report is that he thankfully is doing fine, but he pretty much had some kind of stress-related breakdown, which means he burst a few blood vessels and according to the doctors he shouldn’t even leave the bed for ten days and he should be at absolute rest for a good month. So, I found a substitute conductor for the Rigoletto showings this month, but we don’t have anyone for rehearsal of this specific opera nor the next two ones and I’m already pressed for money, so, long story short, no conductor. We also don’t have the leading man and one of the leading women, and since we spent a shitload of money on budget to update the costumes and we had a lot of people booking early because Brandon was in this, we can’t afford to cancel. So, anyone has suggestions to save this shitshow? Because I don’t think we can stage Don Giovanni without the fucking lead. And that’s without going into the fact that we don’t have Barbrey anymore, either. See if I’m contracting her next year,” he groans.
For a moment, no one speaks — exactly what he had imagined.
Then Catelyn Stark raises a hand tentatively. “Uh,” she says, “maybe — about the conductor,” she says. “My uncle, his contract with that theater in France expired last month and he said that rather than finding another just now he’d like to spend a few months here taking some time for himself and the likes. I don’t know if he’d want to cover for Stannis the rest of the year or Fidelio, but if I tell him that we’re this pressed I am sure he could do this one opera for a minimal fee.”
Tyrion about wants to weep in relief. Brynden Tully is fairly known in the field — he’s not uber famous, but he’s known to be reliable and precise and patient and he’s sure he directed Don Giovanni a few times before.
“He really would do that?”
“I can call him now,” she says.
“Please do,” Tyrion tells her, crossing fingers on both of his hands, because if she solves this problem then maybe they can salvage the entire thing.
Even if not finding two of the lead singers including the main might be a damned problem.
She nods and takes her cellphone, leaving the room — everyone is silent as she talks into it outside the door, and she’s back after some five minutes. “He says he’s available and that he’s missed directing it, so he can be here tomorrow – he’s staying with us, anyway, so no need to pay for the lodgings and so on, but of course he would do at his usual pace and —”
“Listen, he could direct it slower than a snail’s pace, I’d still build him a damned statue right now. Great. Great. Okay, we have a director, but do we have the damned singers?”
He just wishes his father paid enough to have back-ups for all the productions, damn it, not just the one currently on stage.
Ned and Cat look at each other, then she shrugs. “Well, I do know Elvira,” she says.
“Wait, what? Since when?”
“Never sang it on stage,” she says, “but I did learn it back in the day.”
“Are you sure? Lucia’s run ended two weeks ago, I wouldn’t want you to overdo it —”
“It’s fine,” she smiles. “I kind of always wanted to sing that part. And I had nothing else on schedule until next season, I can sing another. I’m not that old, you know.”
Tyrion just about would kiss her, if she wasn’t married. He also can see Greyjoy blanching at the prospect of having to court his boyfriend’s mother on stage, but at least Robb Stark looks very amused at the prospect as he pats his shoulder in consolation.
Well, right, fair enough. At least they have Elvira.
But they still don’t have the lead.
Which is a damned problem, because never mind someone who can sing that role, they need someone who can pull it off. Brandon was a pain in the ass to deal with but he had the part down to a T and he exuded charm just by opening his mouth and looking at his co-stars. He doesn’t know if they have anyone like that now. Greyjoy could be it in a few years, but he doesn’t even know the role and it would be unfair to move him to it now, never mind that then the only other possible Leporello they have is Ned Stark and putting the poor kid in the middle of his future in-laws seems too cruel even to turn profit. Never mind that Stark’s singing Rigoletto until the month is over, so he couldn’t possibly do it.
“Well,” he says, “that’s great. Now, anyone around here wants to sing Giovanni or can do that in the first place?”
He’s met with silence. “Really?” He asks, knowing it’s a lost cause.
“Hell, no,” Renly says. “No way. I don’t know that role, I don’t even like it, I can’t learn it in a week.”
Of course. He sighs. “I suppose Arthur Dayne doesn’t know it either…?”
“No,” Rhaegar confirms. “Also, he’s in Germany for the entirety of the month since he didn’t have any engagements here.”
“Well, shit.” He knows Quentyn Martell also doesn’t know it, that kid is good but prefers French opera so that’s most of the roles he knows, but then Oberyn punches the table.
“We’re all fucking idiots,” he declares at once.
“Wait, how?” Tyrion asks.
“Oh, I know who can play it, except that he’s not here now.” He grabs his phone, and wait, who’s not —
Oberyn dials the number, then it rings for a few moments, and then —
“Jon? Please tell me you haven’t taken that train yet. No? Great, then get your ass here now. You can go brood at your father’s old country house for a couple weeks in July. Why? Just get over here already, we’re in the conference room. Yes, thank you. Now.”
Connington had said he’d take a couple weeks off the grid and go back to his father’s old, currently empty country house to recharge a bit and relax, and he was supposed to leave today and Tyrion didn’t even warn him that this meeting was happening — the guy has sung three roles this year one after the other and he was in dire need of taking a break, especially after they had him co-star with Rhaegar again in Lucia and he always ends up in a funk for a month whenever he has to, even if he doesn’t complain about it as long as they’re not playing close friends. So, he hadn’t even considered it, but…
“Martell, you sure about that?” Cersei says, and of course she had to butt in. “I mean, he’s good, but you don’t know if he knows it and he’s —”
“We took lessons together back in the day,” Rhaegar says, almost sounding proud, and — right. They’re still friends, it’s not like they’re not.
Even if he still hasn’t understood that the guy has been in love with him for this long.
Tyrion doesn’t think he’ll ever understand how Rhaegar Targaryen’s brain works. He’s a nice guy, he can sing, he’s honestly good-intentioned, and then he throws his marriage to Hell for a fling (that’s still a thing, admittedly, but still) and hasn’t understood that one of his best friends has been wanting to french him for decades. And he’s still… not a terrible person underneath, except when he’s that… thick, he supposes. He doesn’t even know. He’s never going to ask.
“Anyway, he knows it. We learned that opera together. But he always said it was just out of personal satisfaction because he knew he wouldn’t get cast in it back in the day. He never wanted to tell me why he was so sure of that, but what do I know.”
“Maybe it’s because he’s not into women,” Cersei says, obviously taking a dig at him, but then Rhaegar shrugs.
“And since when did that stop anyone from playing a role?”
Cersei sounds like she wants to answer, but a moment later they hear noise from outside the door and Connington’s walking in, dressed like someone who’s about to leave for a very long, relaxing time in the woods. Good thing he lives next door to the theater.
“Oberyn, the hell did you want?”
“Look at him,” Oberyn says instead, “he’s a perfect fit.”
“I’m a perfect fit for what?” Jon asks, sounding completely lost.
Oberyn ignores him. “I mean, the looks are good, don’t you think?”
Tyrion shrugs. “You are the connoisseur, not me, but if we’re talking looks on an objective level, of course he’s good to go.”
“And he knows it! And wait — if Brandon’s not around I can do whatever the hell I want with that opera, can’t I?”
“As long as you don’t make me spend too much money,” Tyrion agrees cautiously. Oberyn grins so brightly it’s almost blindly. Then he goes and moves next to Jon.
“About what,” he grins, “do you fancy starring in the Don Giovanni staging I’ve dreamed of putting up since the late eighties and that I never could until now?”
“… Sorry,” Jon says, “isn’t Stark starring in it?”
“He might have bolted,” Oberyn says.
“He did what?”
“He quit midway, along with Barbrey. And Stannis --”
“I know about Stannis, I’ve paid him a couple visits these last few days. But I didn’t know — wait. Wait. You’re saying you want me to be… Don Giovanni?”
“Why wouldn’t I? You know the role or so your friend Rhaegar here assures us —”
“Yes, but I’ve never actually sung it —”
“Who cares, you’re good, you can pull that off. And the one time I told Brandon what I wanted to do he basically told me it was an abomination that would have ruined his sacred text and he wasn’t going to star in any idiotic modern re-imagination of immortal, sacred music, but I’m sure you have no such quibbles. And it’s also in June, it’s perfect,” he grins.
Tyrion would really like to know what the hell is Oberyn cooking up.
“I —,” Jon starts, cautiously. “Okay, let’s say I have no quibbles starring in whatever staging, because I don’t do that kinda thing. But what is it that you are aiming at?”
“Do you have any issues with bisexual Giovanni?”
“What? Issues? No. I mean, I could do that, sure. But that’s not all of it, right?”
“No,” Oberyn grins, “but — right. Lannister. Hear me out a moment, because my production idea is also not really pricey and since it’s June we can also do it for Pride Month and get some funds as we usually do.”
“Doable,” Tyrion agrees. Since half of their cast isn’t straight they’ve had the donations booth in June since he started running the show and his father stopped caring that much, “but can you explain me what exactly you had in mind that Brandon didn’t want to do at all?”
“Right. Listen. So, thing is, I thought this up a long time ago when I was reading up on it, and — right. You know what’s the main point, right?”
“That the main character seduces women?” Taena Merryweather says from wherever she’s standing near Cersei’s side.
“No,” Oberyn interrupts her. “Seducing women is not the point. Or better, it is, but it’s because that represents sticking it to the man. He’s a threaten to the status quo and to public decency and society’s norms, because he has sex freely and seduces people and shows them a good time and he’s supposed to stand for everything society hates, and of course then he has to die because it’s not acceptable that on a eighteenth century stage someone who stands for that lives, but how does he die? He dies with his head held high and not denying himself and his life choices and with no shame for what he did and without taking it back. And he dies like a hero, which is why that dumb second finale exists, they couldn’t have the ending with him going to his death so heroically.”
“I still think it’s —” Cersei starts.
“Cersei, if the next word that comes out of your mouth is sexist, please put things into context. It was the eighteenth century, not ten years ago. And it’s a bloody metaphor, and honestly, if you don’t give the women in there some agency it’s even more offensive. Anyway, stagings are also made to get ahead of the things we don’t see as acceptable anymore with a modern conscience, so just hear me out here. We set it… late eighties, early nineties. Donna Anna? Daughter of some right-wing politician. I don’t want to go as far as Reagan masks, that’d be tacky, but that kinda right wing politician. Our leading man is shamelessly into both men and women. By which I mean, he seduces women and he has a thing going on with Leporello, too, which neither of them is too sure of when it comes to how to label it, but they do definitely have a thing. He goes around the stage being shamelessly into both men and women and flirting with everyone and being lively and grinning all the time and the heart of the damned thing, and no one proper can resist it. Anna wishes, Ottavio wishes, Elvira has had a taste and wants more and doesn’t want to share, and everyone’s into him. That is, until at the Act Two dinner of course the right-wing politician Commendatore shows up and drags him to Hell, but he goes there with his head held high and proudly, and then we don’t use the other finale. It ends with him going to Hell sticking it up to the man as it should be. Of course, we want him to be hot, which means you might have to spend a fair amount of time without a shirt, but never mind that. So, how about it?”
Tyrion clears his throat. “Given how enthusiastic you are about it and that I suppose it would save us a shitload of money on costumes and that it’s a lot less work than the original plan anyway, as far as I’m concerned it’s a go. Jon? What do you say?”
Connington is staring at Oberyn with those pale blue eyes of his, blinking once, twice, taking it in, and he looks about to ask, and it’s me that you want for this, but then he swallows once, twice, his Adam’s apple rising up and down, and then he closes his eyes and opens them again and he looks like he’s about to cry. “I think you should try me before deciding I’m a good fit, but — okay. I mean, I would — yes. I’m down with it. If everyone else is, of course.”
Oberyn is grinning like someone who just was handed to him ten years’ worth of Christmas and birthday presents.
“Anyone has a problem with that?” He asks, turning towards the rest of the cast.
“None at all,” Cat immediately says.
“Please, I’m just glad we’re staging this at all,” her brother agrees, and Roslin Frey does as well.
“No,” Rhaegar agrees, too. “Why would I even?”
Elia looks like she’s about to ask him haven’t you still realized, then shakes her head. “I’m down with it. I like modern productions. Fuck purists.”
“Theon?” Oberyn asks.
“Uh,” Theon says, “I’m absolutely down with it, unless —” He stares nervously at Robb, who looks like he has to stop himself from going into a laughing fit.
“Theon,” Robb says, “given that you’ve been on the brink of a complete nervous breakdown thanks to this damned production, if you need to french another guy on stage for it to work, I don’t think I’m going to dump you for that when we’re both actors now, would I?”
Someone laughs but Greyjoy looks just relieved. “Right. Count me in. No problem at all.”
“Excellent,” Oberyn says, “then how about we go to the piano room and try you out?”
Tyrion follows them to the rehearsal room — all the present cast comes with, of course, plus Seaworth, Robb, Ned and Cersei, who of course wouldn’t miss any drama. He’s glad Jaime and Brienne are somewhere doing rehearsals for Fidelio on their own and he just hopes that they come back after having solved their sexual tension issues, but that’s neither here nor there. He just hopes Oberyn knows what the hell he’s doing as he sits behind the piano.
“Right,” he says, “let’s see how it goes if you actually act it out.”
“Wait, how do I act if I have no idea of how this is going?”
“Oh, I do. Theon, you mind going up there? We should probably see if you two have the right chemistry but I don’t doubt it. Right, great, can you both do the scene before Fin ch’han dal vino?”
“I could do that in my sleep,” Theon groans.
“Sure,” Jon says, “if I didn’t forget pieces, but I doubt it.”
“Great. Now, Theon, you’re great the way you are. Jon, I need you to take off that sweater and open up your shirt, you can also take off your shoes. Flirt with him throughout the entire thing, however comes easier to you, until you go into it. Please keep it at least ambivalent, but if you feel like actually going for it — just do what feels more natural, all right?”
“I — I guess,” Jon says, and he looks like he’s about to faint. “Just — can I look at the score a moment? It’s been twenty years and some.”
“Please, be my guest.”
He does, glancing at it, nodding in a few different parts, then he puts it away, takes off his sweater and opens up the shirt beneath.
Well, Tyrion thinks, he definitely does have the looks for it — he might not be twenty anymore, but he does work out, and the fact that he doesn’t shave and you can see a trail of red, thin hair going over his sternum certainly doesn’t hurt the aesthetic. Now if he can also sing this properly…
“Right,” Jon says, “I’m supposed to come in later, so — uh, Theon, just get started with it, I’ll join you.”
“Okay. Well, whenever you like,” Theon says, waiting for Oberyn’s cue and for him to start playing the recitative’s accompaniment.
“Io deggio ad ogni patto per sempre abbandonar questo bel matto…”
I have, whatever we agreed on, leave this beautiful madman forever, he grumbles, with all the frustration that’s needed for the role, and Tyrion can see that he’s not really acting. He probably is regretting having accepted the part for real.
Then Jon, who had gone behind a door leading in here from another hallway, walks in and —
“Eccolo qui: guardate, con qual indifferenza se ne viene!”
Here he is, look at how calmly he walks in!, Theon sings, but what Tyrion can’t help noticing is that Jon is holding himself completely differently than usual. He has his head up straight, a confidence to his step that’s usually not there or not so evident, and when he moves closer to Theon and claps him on the shoulder drawing him closer at once, it’s obvious that he’s walking like he owns the damned place.
Which is… technically the point, isn’t it?
“Oh, Leporello mio, va tutto bene!”
Oh, my Leporello, everything’s going great!, he sings, and — well, fuck him sideways, he does have the voice for it. Fine, it’s his range, but he rarely sings operas that aren’t dramas and not Mozart, and — he really does sound good.
“Don Giovannino mio, va tutto male!”
Oh, my dear Don Giovanni, everything’s going badly!, Theon quips back, sounding completely done with whatever bullshit is life his becoming, and — yeah. He’s good. He’s really good. Even too much, given that he’s most likely still not acting. They go ahead with that scene, and — Jon actually circles Theon, is always close, puts his hand on his shoulder or his waist or at some point even puts an elbow on his shoulder and Theon plays along like someone who’s definitely putting up with some incredible amount of bullshit but does it because they do love the bullshitter in question, which must be what Oberyn wanted given how hard he’s grinning behind the piano. They bicker throughout the entire scene, with Leporello finally telling Giovanni that he got his ex-wife to leave the house, and now Jon should start singing, and —
“L’affar non può andar meglio. Incominciasti, io saprò terminar: troppo mi premono queste contadinotte; le voglio divertir finché vien notte…”
This business couldn’t be going any better. You started, I will know how to finish: I care too much for these peasants, I want to please them until night falls, Jon sings, grinning openly before taking Theon’s face in between his hands and kissing him in passing, quick but meaningful, and Theon looks a bit stunned, as if he hadn’t expected him to take it this seriously from a simple try-out, but then Oberyn says, “Perfect, now just go for it,” before starting to play the music in earnest and —
“Fin ch'han dal vino, calda la testa, una gran festa fa' preparar — Se trovi in piazza qualche ragazza, teco ancor quella cerca menar —”
So that the wine may set their heads spinning, get a wonderful party ready, if you find some lady on the way try to bring her with you, he sings, and holy shit, maybe he’s never sung it on a stage but he certainly paid attention when he studied it, because he doesn’t get one note wrong, he’s grinning as he sings as he should, he’s still walking along the floor as if he owns it, and when he grabs an empty glass that was on a nearby table and swirls it in the air it does look flawless.
“Senza alcun ordine la danza sia: chi 'l minuetto, chi la follia, chi l'alemanna farai ballar —”
Let the dance be without any order: you’ll have someone dancing minuet, someone waltz, someone the gavotte —, he goes on, grabbing Theon’s arm and twirling him around for a moment before letting him go and showing off his naked chest under the shirt, and then he winks as he goes —
“Ed io frattanto, dall'altro canto con questa e quella vo' amoreggiar…”
And meanwhile, behind the scenes, I will want to flirt with that one and the other, and fuck, Tyrion’s a solid zero on the Kinsey scale but he thinks he might see the appeal, and — wait. Wait, that’s the point, isn’t it? This guy should get everyone to want to screw his brains senseless, right? Or for him to screw them senseless. Well, it’s working. He goes on, sings the dance part again, and then —
“Ah! la mia lista doman mattina d'una decina devi aumentar.”
Ah, before tomorrow, you have to put ten more people on my list, he sings, perfectly, flawlessly, without a hitch, and grabs Theon’s face again for another kiss like the one from before, and then Oberyn’s not playing anymore and he takes a step back with raised hands, his posture back to normal.
Is he flushing under that red beard? Because — well, damn it.
He’s about to say that he’s absolutely down with this casting.
“I need to apologize to you,” Oberyn says instead.
“What? Why should you apologize to me?”
“Because I’ve known you for what, twenty-five years or so and I never figured out you had that in you and I should have. Holy shit, that was magnificent.”
“I doubt —”
“Jon, that was out of this world and you were fucking born for it and if you don’t sing it now I’ll feel personally offended.”
“I didn’t say I didn’t want to,” Jon says, sounding like he might faint. “But — shit, really?”
“Connington, you need to stop keeping your talents hidden,” Tyrion says. “As far as I’m concerned, the part’s all yours and Brandon Stark can forget I’m calling him again for the next staging. At least you’re professional. Right, Oberyn, please bring me a prospect of the entire thing tomorrow and tell me what we need because if we have to ditch the period staging we need to do it soon. The next two days are off so Jon and Cat can get back into the part and revise whatever they need, rehearsals are starting again on Thursday morning. All good?”
“All good,” Oberyn grins. “Always a pleasure to have you running the show, Lannister. Theon, Jon, everyone else, you mind staying here while I explain you the basics?”
Everyone who’s in the actual cast nods and moves closer to the piano while whoever’s not in it leaves — Cersei’s scowling, and Tyrion really wants to ask her how she can sulk when someone else has the spotlight in something she’s not even starring in, but he tries to not talk to her if he can avoid it, so he doesn’t.
Robb Stark is looking like he could laugh for the next ten centuries and when Tyrion asks why, he says that in between that and Theon having to seduce his mother on stage he has blackmail material for the next fifteen years and Tyrion decides it’s an entirely good reason to be laughing.
It seems like the production is saved, in theory. Now he needs to get Tarly and the others at the social media managing and tell them to spin the entire advertising very differently, but in comparison to losing the money he had thought he would this morning…
Right now, he has a very good feeling about how this production might go, in spite of the terrible odds.
- The aria Jon sings is the lead's most famous, Fin ch'han del vino [act I, in this clip there's Ildebrando d'Arcangelo as Don Giovanni, courtesy of Teatro San Carlo, Naples 2012];
- Also, it's been made evidently clear in a subsequent chapter, but Oberyn's *radical* staging ideas are a spiritual homage to Peter Sellars's 1989 staging - I'll link the video in the appropriate chapter but if you want to read about it, there's a review from the time here.
Cat had warned him, Brynden decides when he meets Tywin Lannister to finalize his contract, and he had absolutely underestimated the warning.
Honestly, his skin crawls throughout the entire meeting, but while he had done most of the talking with his son, they still needed the man’s signature to make it official, so that couldn’t be avoided. Good thing they don’t have to see each other again for the rest of his stay in the man’s company.
“Did you survive it?” Cat asks after they walk away from Lannister’s office and head out to her car to drive to the theater.
“Yeah, barely. The man would make a shark look like some kinda defenseless bunny. Why does he even care about opera, again?”
“It looks good on the CV and he can afford it, but hey, he did pay all of us for this long and we don’t have to meet him that often. By the way, do you need a crash course of what you’re getting into?”
“… Do I need it?”
“Yes,” she says. “Sadly, you do, because this entire production is a minefield. Bar Edmure and Roslin, of course.”
All right then.
“Fine. Shoot. What’s the deal about?”
“Er, so, bar them, Leporello is Robb’s boyfriend.”
“Theon? Is that a problem?”
“No, except for the part where he obviously wants to die in a ditch every time he has to put a move on me,” she snorts. “I tried telling him I don’t mind and it’s all acting but the poor man just looks like he wants to die inside.”
“Come on, it’s normal. I’d feel embarrassed as hell too if I had to try and seduce on stage the father of the steady boyfriend I never had.”
She rolls her eyes. “You know it’s not too late, right?”
“Yeah, as if I have chances when I move every three years and it would be wildly unprofessional to have a thing with someone contracted at the same theater if I’m the conductor. But never mind, I survived the eighties and your father didn’t hate me when he died, it could’ve been worse. So, what else?”
“Er, Rhaegar’s singing Ottavio.”
“Wait, Rhaegar as in —”
“Yes, my sort of brother in law whose son pretty much always grew up with mine and when he was ten he straight-up told me that he didn’t care what the papers said but we were more of his parents than his own, and the only good news is that Lyanna’s not starring in it, too, otherwise it’d have been even more of a clusterfuck. And Elia — his ex — is Anna and I’m almost sure she accepted to star with him just because she wants to have an excuse to make him admit he was an arse. Which he still hasn’t quite realized.”
“… You’ll see when you meet him. And on top of that, Brandon was supposed to be Don Giovanni, but he pulled out at the last minute with rehearsals still ongoing and the substitute is Rhaegar’s best friend Jon, who has incidentally been in love with the guy since they’ve met and Rhaegar still has no clue.”
“… How many years are we talking about here?”
“… Probably at least twenty-five. I have no clue, but — okay, actually I think he’s kind of moved on a bit lately, but he was, and he kinda still is, and Rhaegar doesn’t have the faintest idea of it, so — well. One of the reasons this was the production that sent poor Stannis to forced rest was that when Brandon and Barbrey were starring in it the four of them seemed out of some Brazilian telenovela more than usual and he couldn’t deal with it anymore, not that I can’t understand him.”
“Right. So… let me recap, Rhaegar and Elia are exes and they are not on good terms, this Jon is in love with him and Rhaegar has no clue and Theon wants to die at the prospect of feeling you up in act two?”
“Jon is sort of moving on and I think Theon just wants to be out of other people’s drama and I can’t blame him. So — well, you know what to expect.”
Brynden sure as hell is curious about how bad this entire situation is, but fair enough, he’ll judge with his own eyes. That said, given what he was told on the phone about the production, it sounds interesting enough and the more Oberyn Martell explained him the idea behind it the more he was on board — it was great, and while he’s directed it more than a few times no one actually went there, and he likes that finally someone remembered that it’s one of the most disruptive pieces of music in existence when it comes to making statements about going against the status quo, instead of focusing just on the surface plot.
Also, he’s been on vacation for a month by now and he’s only directed symphonic material for the last five years — he’s sure that whatever drama is in store for him, he can handle it.
Though he should probably visit Baratheon in the hospital and ask him for a few opinions.
Cat drives in silence until they reach the theater, then she parks and he follows her inside. He follows her to the rehearsal room, and — right, Oberyn must be at the piano, they’re rehearsing the opening.
He peeks inside along with Cat, not wanting to interrupt them.
Greyjoy is standing in the middle, hugging his chest and looking like he’d rather be anywhere else but here, which pretty much is the way he should look if he’s playing Leporello.
Then he starts singing.
“Notte e giorno faticar per chi nulla sa gradir, piova e vento sopportar, mangiar male e mal dormir... voglio far il gentiluomo, e non voglio più servir…”
Sweating night and day for someone who can’t appreciate anything, having to stand through rain and wind, eating badly and sleeping badly… I want to be a gentleman, and I don’t want to serve anymore, he sings, and wow, Brynden has to keep himself from whistling out loud.
“Robb’s boyfriend can carry a tune, can’t he?” He whispers.
“Oh, he can, he was so proud when he found out. Which he did because Robb dragged him here in the afternoons, but hey, good thing that, he’s a very good asset.
“Oh, che caro galantuomo! Voi star dentro con la bella, ed io far la sentinella!…”
Oh, what a nice gentleman, he’s inside with the beautiful girl, and I’m here playing the sentinel, Theon goes on, sounding completely miserable.
“Is he taking this production so badly?” Brynden asks, perplexed.
“He’s had to stand through Brandon and Barbrey’s arguing, yes, I fear,” Cat replies.
“Ma mi par che venga gente... Ma mi pare che venga gente, non mi voglio far sentir…”
But I think people are coming, I think people are coming, I don’t want them to hear, he goes on, his voice slightly dropping, moving out of the scene before the door behind him opens so that two people walk in and —
“Non sperar se non mi uccidi che ti lasci fuggir mai —”
Don’t you hope that I’ll let you run if you don’t kill me, Elia Martell — or at least Brynden supposes she is, given that she should be Anna and she looks very similar to her brother, with the same black raven hair, dark eyes and dark skin and finely shaped nose — sings as she struggles with the infamous Guy Who Has Been In Love With Her Ex For A Long Time.
“Donna folle, indarno gridi, chi son io tu non saprai —”
Madwoman, you’re screaming for nothing, you will never know who I am, the man sings, and then he turns towards the door and —
Brynden’s first thought is, this guy is scorching hot. He’s not wearing a shirt, only a pair of jeans, and while he’s definitely in his late thirties or early forties he’s still very well-built, with hair a lovely shade of red, lighter than his own auburn, a pair of killer pale blue eyes that for a moment remind him of Clint Eastwood’s, and he’s got a warm, dark voice that’s so perfect for this role, Brynden has no clue why apparently no one let him sing that before.
And then he thinks, and I have to conduct music while this guy spends three hours on stage, a good part of which most likely without a shirt.
He really, really hopes he can keep this professional.
“Let me guess,” Cat grins, “you’re thinking the leading man is exactly your type.”
“What — I wasn’t — hey, a man can have eyes, you know?”
“And I’ve known you all my life.”
“Well, he’s definitely better looking than Brandon Stark.”
“Most of Brandon’s girlfriends wouldn’t agree, but hey, not judging you. He probably could do with someone ogling at him, maybe he’d get over Rhaegar sooner.”
“Come on, let’s just get in. Guys, sorry to interrupt but I’ve brought you the conductor!”
“Oh, thankfully,” Oberyn says, “I was getting sick tired of playing everything myself. Guys, let’s take ten for introductions and all, shall we?”
“Er, we already know each other,” Theon says, “you mind if I go get coffee real —”
“Go meet up with Robb,” Oberyn rolls his eyes, “just be back in fifteen.”
“You’re the best, thank you!”
Oberyn shakes his head as he runs out of the room. “I wouldn’t wanna be him,” he says, and then he holds his hand out to Brynden. “Hi. We spoke on the phone, didn’t we?”
“Sure. Brynden, nice to meet you.”
“Oberyn, delighted to meet you. Right, everyone else is arriving in half an hour because we were just working on the opening scene, but for now — she’s my sister Elia.”
“How do you do,” she says, courteously, as she shakes his hand delicately.
“How do you do,” Brynden replies. And then —
“Shit, I’ll never get adjusted to this shirtless thing — right, sorry, I’m Jon, forgive me the sweat.”
Right. He is sweating a lot, but the heating is also on and he’s been likely rehearsing this for the previous three hours. “No offense taken whatsoever,” Brynden doesn’t lie as he shakes his hand. “Brynden, how do you do.”
Jon has a nice, strong grip, and now that he’s not acting he kind of looks like he could do without being the obvious center of the attention, but he shakes his hand twice before moving back and wiping at his forehead. “So, should we explain him the entire plan or…?” He starts.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Oberyn says. “So, I told you about the general idea already…”
He gives Brynden a more thorough summary of the staging, which Brynden can definitely get behind — he makes a few suggestions, which Oberyn is more than glad to accept, and he can see Jon standing there paying extreme attention along with Elia, and — no way to put it less crudely. He’s hot.
Brynden’s just going to keep it under control, damn it.
And at least it doesn’t look like the two of them want to murder each other already, which was what he was expecting given the backstory Cat just gave him.
By the end of the day, he’s been thoroughly briefed about Oberyn’s plans for the staging, he’s talked to everyone in the cast and played for the entirety of the rehearsal so that at least they have a clue of how he intends to conduct this. Thankfully his plans aren’t completely different from Stannis’s, which means that it shouldn’t take him more than a week or so with the orchestra to get them caught up. They also rehearse most of the first act, during which he can’t help wondering how much Rhaegar Targaryen does purposefully miss because in the quartet where he sang along with Jon, Cat and Elia he absolutely did not seem to notice whatsoever how Elia looks at him almost in distaste half of the time while Jon — well, Jon is obviously acting like he’s trying to cover his arse for having killed Anna’s father, but once in a while he just stares at the man wistfully and if you know…
If you know you should feel somewhat embarrassed.
Okay, he does look thoroughly chastised when they move into Anna’s aria and he has to stand there while Elia sings the angriest version of Or sai chi l’onore that he’s heard in the last twenty years into his face before she turns and leaves, but Brynden doesn’t know how much of that is acting and how much is actually realizing why your ex would do that.
At least he is good looking, just not his type whatsoever. That said, he can entirely believe that this was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, as far as Stannis was concerned, if he’s been working with these people this long.
Anyway, in between discussing the staging, working out the kinks with the difference between his and Stannis’s directing and so on the entire day goes away and at the end everyone is dead on their feet. Everyone except Oberyn Martell, who looks like he could spend the entire next year in here without needing to sleep, but if he had been planning such a staging for this long and now he can finally go for it, he figures the excitement is justified.
He sends everyone home at seven in the evening reminding them to be here tomorrow at seven sharp, they have to rework the entirety of act two for the next couple of days at least, and Brynden doesn’t like the way his spine creaks as he stands up from the seat — right, next time he’s asking a couple more breaks, he’s not fifteen anymore. People grab their coats and flock outside and he’s about to put on the leather jacket he had on this morning when —
“Would you two mind staying a moment longer?” Oberyn asks, and who else is — oh. Jon.
“Sure,” Brynden says. “What’s the matter?”
“As long as it’s quick,” Jon says, “I’ve been up since five.” He doesn’t sound reproachful, though. He sounds — like it’s the best thing that ever happened to him?
“Ah, nothing too long,” Oberyn assures. “So, Brynden, you do agree with cutting the finale to when he goes to Hell, right?”
“It’s your show,” Brynden says, “but I’m down with it. I mean, it would work a lot better with what you had in mind for the whole production. Let me guess, you want me stress that it ends right there, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I realized I hadn’t told you before when it was the first thing I should’ve done. Great. How much time do you need with the orchestra?”
“A few days at least,” he replies. “I mean, in theory I’d like longer but I know we’re pressed so if I have them all to myself… Monday-Wednesday I guess we can start rehearsals on Thursday?”
“Great, Davos should have most of the sets ready before then. Jon, you holding up all right?”
“Uh, yeah, sure. Why wouldn’t I? I’m used to waking up at five AM while rehearsing.”
“No, I mean, with, you know.”
Brynden takes a step back, figuring it’s a private conversation —
“Oh,” Jon says. “No. I mean, it’s not Don Carlo or anything of the kind and we only have a few scenes together all things considered. I’m good, really.”
“As long as you are,” Oberyn says, clapping him hard enough that he yelps. “Go home and catch some sleep, I’ll see you tomorrow. Remember, act two!”
“Yeah, yeah, and dying with dignity. Don’t worry, I think I have dignity down, at least.” He grabs his coat, puts his on and says goodbye before leaving, and Oberyn stares at his back for a moment before shaking his head.
“Hopefully he’s not lying. Anyway, fancy having dinner together so we can discuss this some more?”
“Sure, I don’t know if I’m ready to go back to Cat’s and see how much Greyjoy hates this entire production.”
“Hey, he hates it less now,” Oberyn grins. “Shit, I’m so hyped for this. Let’s go talk about it some more.”
Well, Brynden decides, it’s been years since he conducted anything with such an enthusiastic director, but he likes it.
And if he also… likes the leading man, well, no one has to know and he can keep it professional same as he has always done in his entire career.
Sounds great, he tells himself as they leave the room, and he hopes it’s also true.
- Brynden and Cat walk into the very beginning of the opera, Notte e giorno faticar [in this clip, Byrn Terfel as Leporello, Simon Keenlyside as Don Giovanni, Carmela Remigio as Donna Anna and Matti Salminien as the Commendatore, teatro comunale di Ferrara, 1994 - ps: one of the author's favorites <3];
- Elia is singing Anna's first aria, Or sai chi l'onore [in this clip: Renee Fleming as Anna, Paul Groves as Ottavio, MET, 2000] [for extra clarity: she just figured out Giovanni murdered her father and is asking her fiance to kill him in revenge].
He gets the idea when he’s in his second year of film school.
(Well, yes, Oberyn had started in the world thinking he’d tie his name to films, but then he followed in his sister’s footsteps and ended up staging operas rather than direct movies. Not that his studies have failed him, in that case. Not at all.)
He’s just out of his last final and he’s ingested so much caffeine the day before that he just settles to watch something on TV until he passes out, so he just flops on the bed with his Chinese take-out and starts looking for something not entirely terrible —
That is, until he ends up on what seems like a recording of the Don Giovanni currently being staged in Vienna. Fair enough. Oberyn’s loved that opera since always, and not just because when he saw it for the first time at fourteen when Elia dragged the entire family along he thought, well, I can understand that guy, because he also felt like he couldn’t love just one person back then, but back then he also was bursting with hormones and he had just fully realized he liked both guys and girls and that they liked him back. Too bad that the world sucks and he couldn’t flaunt the former around too much outside people who know, but still, he had appreciated the protagonist being absolutely unapologetic in his life choices, and he had stared in awe as he died in full respect of the principles he had lived by.
So he settles on watching that — it’s an opera he likes so he’ll be entertained, it lasts just long enough for the caffeine to wear off and then he most likely will be too tired to do anything other than crashing.
He doesn’t even know who’s directing or anything, but the moment it starts, he realizes it’s not a period staging.
It’s contemporary. The moment he sees the corner of a Harlem neighborhood, he starts paying attention to the credits — oh. Peter Sellars. Right, sure, of course it’s modern, and —
Fucking hell, he thinks as he watches it go on and on, it works. It shouldn’t. The setting is completely different — it’s in the US, more than half of the cast isn’t white, they do drugs instead of drinking wine, everything is absolutely, completely decadent, but it works, it works in ways he hadn’t thought it could, and thing is, he can see every damn reason why this or that specific decision was taken.
He watches in awe as he sees a completely different but coherent interpretation of that opera, and damn but Oberyn’s always preferred modern stagings as much as people in his history of theater class disagree. And while there are a few things he disagrees with, by the time it’s over he’s not asleep, he hasn’t crashed — no, he’s wide awake — and he’s thinking about how much one director was able to say through music written centuries ago, and he’s seeing a lot of possibilities there. Listen, he loves his trope deconstruction and changing settings without losing the heart of the story, and he’s done enough writing classes on that, he thinks he has a clue of how it works.
And then for a moment he thinks —
If this production could tell that story —
Why couldn’t it tell his?
For one, he thinks, there’s definitely more room in the text to assume Giovanni’s attracted to men as well than he’d do drugs. Not that he didn’t like that specific take on it, but —
He thinks of a few people he’s met since he came out who felt wrong for who they were attracted to, even if honestly, most people he’s met had at some point. He never had, but he also had a supportive family and now that he’s with Ellaria steadily he knows he got lucky because she is also attracted to both men and women and she also is down with occasionally open relationships — they did match, but not everyone does. He thinks of all the times he’s seen operas with openly… not straight characters or at least read as such, and he doesn’t think he’s seen any staged making that clear even if there’s a few he thinks have enough subtext to justify such a reading. He thinks of a few people he knew who would have liked the luxury of dying while reclaiming their right to live their life the way most people don’t like.
He thinks of how no one seems to care until most people getting HIV aren’t either straight or living the way society would like them to.
He thinks of how a few people he met at his local circle have been kicked out of their houses or their churches or both, how some of them laughed bitterly as they said they were asked to repent and told no.
He stands up, goes to the bookshelf where he’s sure Elia forgot some of her scores from when she came to visit last time. Maybe —
Yes, there’s a Don Giovanni one.
He immediately goes to the end, to the death scene, sees in relief that it has an English translation -- his Italian isn’t good enough to read that kinda thing — and checks it again. Right.
Commendatore: You invited me to dinner: you know your duty now. Answer me: will you come to my place for dinner, too?
Don Giovanni: I will never will wrongly accused of being a coward.
Okay, he remembered properly — at the end he wasn’t following the subtitles, to his chagrin, but he was tired. He reads on.
Commendatore: Then decide!
Don Giovanni: I decided already.
Commendatore: Will you come?
Don Giovanni: My heart is steady in my breast. I’m not afraid. I’ll come.
Oberyn can see it now, see it very well, how he would spin this one scene. He reads on.
Commendatore: Give me your hand.
Don Giovanni: Here it is — alas!
Commendatore: What is it?
Don Giovanni: What is this icy cold?
Commendatore: Repent, change your life, it’s the last moment!
Don Giovanni: No, no, I won’t repent, get away from me!
Commendatore: Repent, you wretch!
Don Giovanni: No, insane old man!
Don Giovanni: No.
Don Giovanni: No, no, no.
Commendatore: Ah, there’s no time anymore.
Oberyn stares at that page. He stares at it for a long time. The Commendatore is an old man, isn’t he? Could look like Reagan. He would look like Reagan, he thinks. Him, or any of his cronies.
He can see it unfolding — he grabs the notebook he uses for movie ideas, turns it to a fresh page, scribbles notes.
Giovanni — openly bisexual, freely bisexual, no shame about it whatsoever.
Commendatore — old asshole right-winger, as Reagan-like as possible.
Anna — his daughter, most likely sexually repressed.
Leporello — attendant/friend, they’re in a relationship, open.
He also knows that it originally ended with Giovanni just going to Hell but they had to add a second finale because it wasn’t moral enough.
Sure, because the horrible, wretched man who dares living outside society norms dares dying without repenting. What bullshit, he grins as he notes, second finale is cut. He smiles wistfully to himself — he has a feeling no one would stage this right now. Not these days. But maybe —
Maybe one day, he decides as he closes the notebook and doesn’t go to sleep, thinking of how he would cast someone young and lively and whose grin lights up an entire room for that part, someone everyone would be attracted to, someone who’d show them that you can live outside the schemes without shame for it, and fuck the rest — it’s the message he wants to get at, same as what he just saw on his television a while ago. He wants immortal, beautiful music to tell his story as much as it can. He wants that sexual freedom to be also his and his friends’s sexual freedom, and everyone else’s in his corner, admittedly, even if he might be thinking a bit too big here, but — never mind that.
How beautiful would that be.
But not for now, he figures.
Well, if it’s the last thing I do before I die at some point I’m staging this damned opera with this damned background and I’m dedicating it to Reagan’s and Thatcher’s sorry bloody arses even if they never know about it, he thinks as he puts away his notebook.
Oh, he is going to do it, one day.
The sooner, the better.
Oberyn is watching the aforementioned 1989 Don Giovanni production by Peter Sellars which is set in a Harlem neighborhood and thoroughly reworked including translating the libretto into English slang which I personally found a work of genius - if you want to check some of it out for science, the youtube link has the entire thing divided in three. (The way I pictured it, Oberyn's rework was going to have the same spirit of changing the setting drastically while keeping the substance. XD)
Chapter 5: Act One, part two
Extra warning: mid-chapter, Jon has a mild case of character bleed given that he gets sung to stuff that MIGHT be a tad upsetting if you come from his background. Just warning.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The day of the first orchestra rehearsal of the first act, Jon is up at fucking five in the morning already, which he could actually avoid given that he has to be on stage at eight and it takes him five minutes to get to the theater, but —
Maybe since he actually was cast in this, he hasn’t been able to sleep out of damn excitement rather than anything else and who remembers the last time he was this excited about anything.
Listen, he had learned the part mostly because it gave him an excuse to hang around Rhaegar more than usual back in the day and because he genuinely loved that opera, but he never actually thought he’d get to play it. Lannister had been exceedingly clear when he contracted him back in the day — he hadn’t cared who he liked to fuck as long as he didn’t flaunt it around too much, but until he supervised the castings he wasn’t going to have him in any role where he’d have to flirt with women and so on because he didn’t trust him, and Jon had taken it because it was Rhaegar’s workplace and honestly, back then people could still be fired for being gay, so he hadn’t looked at the gift horse in the mouth.
Also, since he started in this job and realized where his voice had ended up, he had known he’d end up singing bad guys for most of the time — most bad guys are baritones, anyway. He had made peace with it. He also made peace with the fact that he wasn’t going to get the spotlight most of the time, but it’s fine. He doesn’t even want the spotlight.
Long story short, he hadn’t exactly planned on singing this on stage, he thinks as he grabs his annotated copy of the score from his nightstand. By now it’s half-fallen apart, but he can tape it together again, he figures. And now not only he is (and replacing Stark of everyone — the guy is definitely what you’d count as your usual good-looking charming womanizer who only ever looks at women, as in, what most people expect out of this role), but… he’s doing it in a production in which he actually agrees with pretty much everything Oberyn thinks, and he figures that Tywin Lannister is too busy worrying about making back his money than about him playing an openly bisexual Giovanni out of everything.
And damn if he isn’t enjoying it — he’s nowhere like the man at all, sure as hell he didn’t pine for someone for twenty years without even looking for anyone else, but he likes being someone who’s… all the contrary. And who has no shame with his sexuality, whichever you think it is, because even sticking to regular interpretations, in the eighteenth century sure as hell being that sexually open only with women was… sticking it to the man, as Oberyn put it. It’s nice to pretend to be someone who can charm the pants off anyone they talk to when they want to without giving a shit for the consequences, and patience if he’s an arse half of the time, it still feels somewhat liberating. Never mind that no one has told him that he doesn’t sound convincing when trying to seduce women on stage openly — take that, Lannister.
And on top of that he’s starring with Rhaegar but he is the center of the entire thing, which never happens, and not in a negative way. He’s halfway sure Oberyn has the extremely positive view of the character because he identifies and not just because he envies the guy’s sexual freedom, but he’s not going to complain, not when he’s having the time of his life.
On the negative side, he doesn’t know how Elia and Rhaegar are holding up co-starring as lovers but she told him to not worry and Rhaegar is apparently sure it’s all going splendidly — Jon hasn’t dared asking for specifics. He has a feeling it’s not, given how Elia pretty much channels twenty years of pent-up anger into any interaction they have on stage, but never mind that. He’s just glad he’s in good relations with both of them separately. And he’s fairly sure that Robb Stark is the only person amused by his boyfriend’s situation, as in, having to kiss on stage both Jon himself and his mother in law — Theon sure as hell is not, but it’s obvious he wanted to sing his role almost as much as Jon did his, so at least there’s that they fully agree on.
And so what if he’s revising the finale at five-something in the morning? He wants to be extra-prepared, even if he knows it by heart by now.
And still —
He looks down at his main line as the finale feast starts.
(A feast where Oberyn has decided everyone has to dress the way you’d have at a party in his house in the early nineties while Theon gives out condoms rather than sweets, and Jon’s attended a few. Everyone will know what Oberyn’s aiming at here.)
It’s open to everyone, long live freedom.
Three damned words, that he has to say more than once, of course, but still — it’s just three words but suddenly they seem so heavy, given what he’s supposed to represent, that his throat chokes.
Him, playing a guy who is in no way, shape or form ashamed of who he is and who he likes and what he wants, jumping on a damned table with wine in his glass and singing, long live freedom?
Shit, if he had told himself twenty years ago —
Yeah, he wouldn’t have bought it. He runs his fingers over the text, circles it once more, slams the score shut and goes to take a shower. He’s not going back to sleep, he knows, so he might as well get there looking like a healthy-ish human being rather than someone who slept some five hours because he was revising the score.
He wants to succeed at this part more than he’s ever wanted anything professionally and more than he’s ever wanted anything in his life bar Rhaegar actually being into guys, and he’s understood years ago that isn’t happening anytime soon.
So he’ll settle for the professional rewards, he figures, and heads for the shower, humming the wine aria under his breath. As if I’m in danger to forget it, but it cannot hurt, can it?
He’s at rehearsals at eight AM sharp and Oberyn hadn’t lied — they have some of the sets ready and the costumes. No one else wears theirs but he decides that he might as well start getting acquainted, so he goes into the changing room and puts on the pitch black leather trousers and dark red silk shirt he finds ready on his chair. Shit, he never was much for the leather scene, but at least they fit him perfectly. He leaves his shirt open and shoves on his shoes without lacing them back up, in theory he’s supposed to perform barefoot so no point in it. He can’t help thinking that he can’t recognize himself in the mirror, but — he usually tries to go under the radar. This is not going under the radar.
Fuck it, he thinks he enjoys it at least a bit.
He shakes his head, gets out of the changing room and heads down for the stage.
He wants to blush when Oberyn whistles the moment he shows up.
“I knew that outfit would work,” he grins, and they wait for everyone else to get there. It’s probably telling that Theon Greyjoy, who shows up smiling like someone who got spectacularly laid the night before, whistles and tells him to consider wearing that shit more often if he wants to seduce guys, at which Jon just groans and leaves it at that.
Even if Greyjoy probably has a point. Just a point he doesn’t want to think about.
They rehearse for the entire morning and afternoon, getting to the finale at about four in the afternoon, and right, next time he’s not wearing the proper stage clothes because his shirt’s drenched in sweat, but Oberyn tells him that he actually does want to see him going around in the proper attire at least for the day, so he doesn’t go change it. It goes good enough — they stop for adjustments, he has a feeling Rhaegar is finally understanding that Elia isn’t singing at him with enough rage in her voice to make the his skin tremble whenever he’s standing next to her just because she thinks Anna is angry, Theon sort of has gotten over enough awkwardness that his Catalogo aria isn’t a mix of great singing and awkward as hell acting and there’s room for improvement (Cat looks like the only one who’s having fun here — her brother just looks like he’s fine with having a role that means singing mostly to his girlfriend and not being involved with half of the drama going on) and there’s nothing out of the ordinary until they need to get to the finale.
And then Oberyn stops everything and comes up on stage.
“Right,” he says, “I want to try something, if Brynden over there agrees.”
“Shoot,” the conductor replies from his seat, and Jon’s honestly glad that at least they found a replacement for Stannis who is fairly laid-back, knows his job, has fit in with all of them without a problem and goes along with Oberyn because fuck but that time Tywin found them that Qyburn guy to substitute for Stannis once, everyone was about at the end of their rope.
“I know there’ll be kinks and things to adjust, but for this one, I kind of would like to try the entire thing at once to see how it flows, I don’t like interrupting everything during finales because then people lose their flow and so on. So even if something’s wrong, would you mind going on playing? Obviously you stop if someone gets hurt or something, but —”
“Got it, sounds good. I’ll be waiting.”
“Great. Now, about you all — Roslin, when Jon shows up in the beginning and tries to court you, I want you to be still conflicted. Like, you do love your guy, but you wouldn’t say no to some fun with him, you know. Genuinely. Edmure, obviously you have to be extremely pissed off, but when he inevitably flirts with you, too, show some conflict, too, okay? Like, you hate him but he kind of throws you into a bit of a sexual crisis because he’s that good. Down with that?”
“Sure. So, uhm, when later he actually dances with her should I like, be jealous of both?”
“That,” Oberyn grins, “is exactly the spirit. Amazing. Also — Roslin, when he drags you to the side during the dance, you have to act like you just realized that you wanted a little fun but not that much and you changed your mind. Nothing wrong on either side but you know. Got it?”
“All right, doable.”
“Great. Now, about the five of you…” He turns towards Jon, Rhaegar, Elia, Theon and Cat — good thing Elia is on the far side next to Cat and not next to Rhaegar, and fuck if Jon still doesn’t want to turn and stare at him even if he’s trying, but —
“Okay. Cat, Elia, Rhaegar, one thing you have to keep in mind is that he is entirely honest in what he does. He’s honest when he invites everyone in, he’s honest when he values freedom more than anything else, and you have to know you’re there to get revenge but I want all of you to be at least a bit envious of that. And I need all of you to act like you’re attracted to him. Cat of course would be because she’s his ex and she still wants him back, Elia in spite of herself and Rhaegar — well, you hadn’t known you could, but you are and it’s disturbing because it’s the guy your future wife wants dead. I want that from your performances. Cool?”
“Absolutely,” Cat says.
“Got it,” Elia nods.
“Cool,” Rhaegar agrees, and fuck, he has to act like he’s attracted to him? Jon’s going to die inside. He is.
“Theon, you on the other side — okay. You and him have an arrangement. You’re used to share. You know it’s the only way you’ll get to have it. You also generally appreciate how he acts except when he, like, kills people, as stated. I want you two to flirt and do your usual whenever you’re nearby, and then when at the end he accuses you to get them off his back I want you genuinely hurt, got it?”
“Got it,” Theon smirks. Jon thinks he’s thinking he knows how it feels.
He’s not going to ask.
“Okay, so, about the last scene, of course we don’t have swords or the usual props, so that’s what I thought. The entire thing goes on in the upper balcony. All of you are there. Jon, Theon you end up with your backs against the rail while they go in a circle around you, trapping you. When you have to sing you turn towards the audience and then you turn back towards them again while they’re still circling you and come closer and closer. And when you run — before, you two were grabbing to each other for support, but then you grab Theon, bring him closer, turn over to either Rhaegar or Edmure, not one of the girls, fake-punch them in the face and when they fall down and are too surprised to act, you two run off and are out of there. Cool?”
Jon thinks it’s a good compromise and that set is done, so — sure. “Okay,” he says, “got it. I’m fine. Maybe they could just, both stand to one side so I don’t get too confused if I get caught up?”
“Good idea. Rhaegar, Edmure, I don’t care where you stand as long as you’re near each other. Good?”
“Good,” they both agree.
Well, fuck, here it goes, he supposes.
It starts great.
The first scene with Edmure and Roslin goes without a hitch, flirting and whatnot, and he waits patiently behind the scenes as Cat, Rhaegar and Elia go into their trio, and then he goes out on stage with Theon at his side and a hand around his waist, dragging him along as he pretends to throw condoms at the chorus, until they’re leaning casually against the table, the words rolling off his tongue like he’s known them for his entire life (but he has for most of it, hasn’t he?), and fuck but it’s liberating to openly flirt and wink and drop kisses around on anyone in the vicinity, male or female, while he’s on stage, and maybe it’s when it starts going to his head, but then as the music slows down and Rhaegar, Cat and Elia walk on stage, not wearing masks for now but then again he is the only one in costume, for a moment he remembers of when he actually told Rhaegar, at one party of Oberyn’s while they were out on the balcony with a drink and when he had almost chickened out of it the moment he saw him walking inside the place with the same, exact posture he has right now.
Fuck that. He has to sing, not to think about that.
“È aperto a tutti quanti, viva la libertà!”
It’s open to everyone, long live freedom, he sings as they walk in and tips his wine glass towards the three of them.
“Siam grati a tanti segni di generosità…”
“We’re grateful for so many signs of your generosity, they harmonize, and for a moment that line hurts for reasons he doesn’t even want to dwell on, and so he jumps on the table as was his cue, glass in hand, winking at them, and —
Long live, long live freedom, he leads the others echoing, and fuck, he doesn’t know if he’s ever sang anything so liberating in his entire life but there he is, and he almost feels dizzy as he jumps down from the table and tells Theon to start the dance again and put couples together.
He goes through the remaining scene — Theon going to dance with Edmure who’s sarcastically remarking how everything’s well, indeed when it actually isn’t, him going towards Roslin and the two of them dancing their way up the stairs until they get to the top and Zerlina realizes it really wasn’t a great idea after all to go upstairs with Giovanni after all, Theon letting Edmure go and running upstairs and the three of them rushing behind the door set upstairs while she screams you scum, and doesn’t that suddenly remind him of the reaction he got from a few relatives back in the day, or what more than a few people screamed at him the times he went marching when you still would get rotten eggs thrown at you and the police wouldn’t care, but —
He’s acting, damn it.
He bursts out of the door, throwing Theon on the ground and accusing him of his crime, except that Theon’s a really good actor and the hurt and betrayed face he pulls at him reminds him a lot of the few faces of the few people he ended up dumping unceremoniously after a night or a week because they weren’t Rhaegar.
Good thing he’s done this job for this long that he can sing even if he’s otherwise distracted, except that then they get to the part where they unmask and —
“L’empio crede con tal frode, di nasconder l'empietà, l’empietà —”
This unholy man thinks that he can hide his cruelty with such a trick,” all three of them sing at once, and okay, fine, they’re acting, and Cat isn’t a problem, but having Rhaegar and Elia in his face doing that ends up making him openly flinch, and he just hopes they think he’s acting as he recognizes them and tries to find vain excuses for his misdeeds, but then —
“Traditore, traditore, traditore!”
Traitor, traitor, traitor, all five of them sing at once, and then —
“Tutto, tutto, già si sa, tutto, tutto, già si sa…”
Everything, everything, we know everything, they say, circling both him and Theon as they lean against the rail as agreed, staring up at him with angry faces, and damn, they’re acting, he knows they’re acting, but fucking hell —
“Trema, trema scellerato! Saprà tosto il mondo intero il misfatto orrendo e nero, la tua fiera crudeltà…”
Tremble, tremble, scum, the whole world will know soon of your horrid and dreadful mistake, of how evil you are, and fuck, fuck, fine, maybe he needs to stand corrected.
“È confusa la mia testa, non so più quel ch'io mi faccia, e un'orribile tempesta minacciando, oddio! mi va!”
My head is confused, I don’t know what I’m doing anymore, and a tremendous storm, oh God, is threatening me, he sings along with them, barely hearing Theon echoing him on the side, and now he thinks he’s never related so much to anything he’s sung on stage in his entire life. Fuck, it wasn’t like this at rehearsals, it wasn’t like this, but then again he wasn’t in costume and they weren’t practicing with the actual stage and as they close some more and some more —
“Odi il tuon della vendetta che ti fischia intorno intorno: sul tuo capo, in questo giorno, il suo fulmine cadrà.”
Hear the thunder of vengeance, whistling around you, and on your head, on this day, its lightning will fall, they all go as he sings his line all over again, and shit why is he thinking about all the times Lannister, back in the day, would make sure to let him know he wasn’t invited at dinners with sponsors and so on because they might understand and it wasn’t appropriate, about how many people told him that oh, I wouldn’t have suspected, you don’t look, well, like that, you know, and that time when at his father’s funeral his cousin made him understand that he wasn’t interested in keeping contacts any longer because God forbid his kid might catch some disease from the kind of people he most likely hung out with.
Never mind his father’s disappointed face when he informed him that he wanted to sing opera for a living, sighed and then said that he should have expected it.
Of course he should have.
And fuck, but he can’t look at Rhaegar as he sings tremble, tremble all over and he knows he doesn’t mean it and it’s all fake bur right not it doesn’t really matter, does it —
The music slows for a moment, then speeds up and right, it’s his cue, he needs to change line —
“Ma non manca in me coraggio: non mi perdo o mi confondo —”
But I don’t lack courage, I’m not losing myself, I’m not confused, he starts, and suddenly it feels good, it feels like his head has just cleared and if this womanizer asshole he’s come to really love could send everyone around them to fuck themselves and get out of this conundrum then so can he —
“Se cadesse ancora il mondo nulla mai temer mi fa!”
And if the world should fall, nothing ever frightens me, he sings, grabbing Theon the way they had agreed on, wildly looking around himself, zeroing on his left side where both Edmure and Rhaegar are standing close, and he closes his fingers into a fist and honestly, honestly goes in with the intent of faking it but then his eyes meet Rhaegar’s and fuck, they look the same he had imagined them looking in the worst case scenario the day before he came out to him (without telling him he was in love with him, of course) and he knows they’re acting, on a rational level, but his hands really don’t, and he doesn’t even realize what he’s done until he’s wildly thrown a punch to his left side and moved the other person out of the way quite forcefully, and by doing so he has punched Edmure in the face for real and thrown his elbow into Rhaegar’s side hard enough to actually hurt and he’s dragged himself and Theon out of the circle —
And the music dies at once and he realizes what the hell he’s just done.
“Shit,” he says, immediately moving closer, “I — fuck, I hadn’t realized — I didn’t calibrate it?” He blurts, apologies building up on his tongue the way they did all his life except that this time he means them, he really does, while Edmure groans as he brings his hand to his face.
“Fuck,” he says, “Connington, you pack a damned mean left, but don’t worry, I’m cool.”
“Just — please go get some ice, I’m awfully sorry —”
“Man, it’s cool, you got caught up in the moment, it happens. At least you didn’t try to purposefully murder me like Joffrey with Robb at the opening night. Oberyn, you mind if —”
“Please,” Oberyn says, hurrying on stage, “go get some ice, I think we’re done for today anyway. We’re all tired and it’s late, this shit happens. Rhaegar, uh, you all right?”
“Oh, it was barely anything,” he replies, with that damned smile of his that Jon wishes he could forget for good already. “It happens. Jon, really, no sweating it.”
“Thanks,” he says, relieved, “but — maybe get some ice, too. I wouldn’t want it to bruise.”
“Fair,” he says, “I’ll do that before I leave. So, see you tomorrow?”
“Sure,” he says, breathless, as he watches the both of them leave. Roslin runs after Edmure, Cat and Theon are talking about something and Elia moves closer.
“Let me tell you,” she whispers, “if you had clocked Rhaegar I wouldn’t have felt sorry for a moment.”
He has to laugh in spite of it. “Oh, come on, I wasn’t —”
“I know, you wouldn’t,” she smiles, even if it looks sad. What? “Take a break, though. I know you love this part but you don’t have to kill yourself for it,” she says, and then leaves.
The fuck —
“You all right?” Oberyn asks a moment later. It’s obvious that he’s honestly concerned, Jon thinks, and on one side he wants to tell him, but on the other — he could get ideas and decide that this is getting too personal for him and he doesn’t want Oberyn to think that whatsoever.
“I think I haven’t slept enough these last few weeks. Maybe if tomorrow you’re rehearsing act two I can take a day off just to, you know, recharge?”
“Of course,” Oberyn agrees immediately. “You’re not on stage in half of it anyway, I can drill them over it. And you’ve been nothing but exceeding any expectations anyone might have had, you can do with a day off.”
“Thanks,” he says, figuring he’ll spend it sleeping it off. He tells Theon and Cat goodbye, runs to his changing room and puts back his plain, not so flashy clothes, recognizing himself in the mirror again
(For bad and for good, he supposes, even if damn it, he liked what he had seen before, somewhat)
and then he leaves, ready to go get a beer somewhere and then crash —
To find himself in front of Brynden Tully.
“Hi,” he says, “can I do anything for you?”
“I just wanted to ask how you were holding up,” he says. “You did look a bit shaken before.”
“Uh,” Jon says, “I might have gotten into it a bit too much. But I’m okay. Really. Or I’ll be, I just need some rest.”
“Right,” Brynden replies, and then looks straight at him. “Okay, tell me to fuck off if I’m being too nosy, but — was it getting too much because you actually could relate to being stared at and told you’re some kind of evil abomination?”
Wait a moment. Jon swallows and thinks about it one moment — Cat had said her uncle and her father didn’t talk to each other and that he was always around and wasn’t married. Could it be that…?
“What if it was the case?”
“I could say that I can relate to that and it’s obvious you don’t want to discuss it with Oberyn because he might think it could affect your performance, but if you want to talk about it over a beer, offer’s there. It’s just, I get it. And I think talking about it with someone might be a better idea than not.”
Jon thinks about it. He doesn’t know the man, but he looks like a perfectly nice person and he’s been nothing but professional until now, and if he’s gay, too, well, then he should get it, and he was going to go for drinks anyway. Can it hurt?
“All right,” he says. “All right. Thanks, by the way. I -- I should talk about it with someone, you’re right.”
“Well, you’re the one who lives here. Pick a place, I’m good with anything.”
Jon nods, thinking of the nice pub just around the corner, and heads out with Brynden following.
Damn, he does need to unload as soon as possible, he still feels jittery all over.
He just hopes it’s going to help instead of making him even more miserable.
He considers getting something light, but it’s been a long day and he orders a whiskey on the rocks — he doesn’t have to go into work tomorrow, he can afford it. Brynden sticks to gin and tonic but he’s not the one with the day off.
“So,” he says, and Jon’s grateful that he broke the ice, “what was that about?”
He wishes he knew from where he should start.
Maybe the beginning is a good idea.
“Uh, I never thought that I’d actually get to sing this role, the fact that the guy I’ve been trying to get over with for years is starring in it isn’t helping, I might have decided I kinda relate to a few things character-wise and I wish I was more like him for other reasons, and the circumstances and the content of what we were singing before kind of made me forget where I was for one moment and I punched Edmure for real. I think that’s about it,” he sighs, taking a sip.
“Understandable,” Brynden says a beat later, his glass touching the table.
“Well, thanks — wait, what?”
“Your horrid and dreadful mistake and you evil scum? I don’t suppose Cat ever told anyone but I figured she wouldn’t because she wouldn’t do that, but I finished my studies while sleeping on a different couch every other month for a year, good thing I had friends.”
“Let me guess, the family found out?”
“Didn’t take it too well except for the nephews, but they still didn’t live on their own. And I started directing outside the country all the time so I wouldn’t have to, you know, end up dealing with it for a long while. I think my brother called me for the first time in what, twenty years when he got sick and realized he was going to die soon and… well, could have been worse but I think his idea of apologizing was let’s pretend everything is fine even if we didn’t talk for a quarter of a century, and I took it because he was dying and it all seemed pointless, but it wasn’t nice back in the day. Of course you related to that. I could. Most people in our situation I knew back in the day related, too.”
It’s… it’s honestly relieving to hear that, he decides, drinking some more as he nods. “Yeah, well, I — guess I did, too, but I think it also was because it was Rhaegar in front of me and Elia, too, and — it makes no sense because we’ve stayed friends even after they broke up and she has no problem with me, and he doesn’t know and he was acting, but what do I know. I thought that was how he might react when I came out to him, knowing his father.”
“He looked at me, said that he couldn’t give a shit and that given the job he was studying for it’d have been ridiculous if he had a problem with that, and — yeah. That didn’t help with getting further in the gutter, I guess. But what did you mean with most people related, too?”
Brynden laughs wistfully. “Come on. Young, extremely hot man who lives his sexuality freely and does whatever the hell he wants without giving a fuck to the concept of public decency or puritanism and who has the balls to die rather than regretting it? And that you could see as… like, not straight if you wanted to? Was a thing when I was studying, probably it was when Oberyn was making up his mind about things and sure as hell it’s still a thing these days.”
Yeah, well, nothing to add. “Yeah. Well, I mean, yes, that’s… why I related, too, I guess. But I kind of never was the person who does whatever the hell he wants with his sexuality.”
“Hey, never too late,” Brynden says, obviously trying to sound encouraging. “Maybe after this thing you might get some self-confidence boost, though my nephew would probably appreciate not getting punched in the face again.”
Jon laughs in spite of himself. “Don’t worry, that was a genuine mistake. It’s not happening again.”
“Well, I think he was half-turned on.”
“I’ve known him since he was born.”
“… He’s with Roslin.”
“I think you might just have given him a healthy bit of a crisis. See, maybe you do have something in common with our favorite womanizer.”
Jon laughs again, unable to keep it in. “I doubt that, but then score for me. Too bad he’s not my type and he’s taken.”
Brynden snorts into his drink and for a moment he looks like he wants to say something, but then takes another sip and places the empty glass on the table. “Good for Roslin, then. But really, there’s nothing strange in relating. And if you want to talk about it in case it gets to be too much, well, offer’s open. Really.”
Jon doesn’t know why he feels strangely flattered and he just hopes he’s not blushing all over as he smiles tentatively and replies, “Thanks, I just might take you up on it.”
- The piece they're singing is the second half of the Act One finale, Riposate vezzose ragazze... Trema, trema scellerato [in this clip: Ildebrando d'Arcangelo as Don Giovanni, Andrea Concetti as Leporello, Myrtò Papatanasiu as Donna Anna,
Carmela Remigio as Donna Elvira, Marlin Miller as Ottavio, Manuela Bisceglie as Zerlina and William Corrò as Masetto, Macerata Opera Festival 2009; fyi, this entire production is *exactly* what I think of when I say that in my interpretation Giovanni is openly bi, if you think you might want to check it out the full thing is here.]
“Are you telling me that the moment I’m gone people start behaving like civilized adults?”
Davos laughs and Stannis doesn’t even have the heart to scowl. He’s too tired. He’s here just because he’s been out of the hospital almost two weeks and resting is honestly boring him to tears. While he’s definitely not trying to go against his prognosis of don’t do anything stressful for two months, he figured that going to rehearsals and taking some meager joy at seeing other people’s misery while doing his job wouldn’t be that bad.
Instead it turns out that without Stark and bloody Barbrey Dustin the entire atmosphere calmed down, that everyone likes this staging better and that Elia has dialed back her hostility with Rhaegar only because she most likely doesn’t want to fuck with Jon’s time to shine, so while from what he sees it’s obvious that she’s still angry and that Rhaegar is still too oblivious to get it, it’s definitely less bad than before.
Greyjoy seems to have resigned himself to his destiny of having to fake-make out with his future mother in law to the point where he doesn’t act awkward whenever they’re closed to each other, good, and Jon, well.
Well, he sees that they have another Brienne of Tarth on their hands.
As in, she never got cast in anything where she was the lead until now because Lannister doesn’t want ugly leads, whatever that means. Connington never got cast in any such role because Lannister is under the notion that gay people can’t possibly not flaunt it even while acting and so he was stuck to your usual evil Verdi or Donizetti guys not counting that infamous Don Carlo. And meanwhile Brienne has the voice of a literal angel and Jon was honestly born to sing this, Stannis can’t help admitting after seeing him rehearse Deh vieni alla finestra sounding like he really would die if Elvira’s maid doesn’t show up at the window, with such warmth and feeling that honestly, you would bloody believe every damned word he says.
Thing is —
Stark was great. Stark was a perfect fit and had a perfect voice and attitude and knew the role like the back of his hand. But Stark sounded like someone who knows he has the upper hand always and since Stannis has only ever directed him in the role for years he had gotten adjusted to it.
But now, hearing it sung like someone who doesn’t think he has it in the bag and is honestly pouring their heart and soul in their singing and their seduction attempt is — wow. He whistles under his breath.
“Why does this guy even stick around here,” he whispers to Davos as they sit in the empty parterre. “I mean, with that skill, he could have gone anywhere.”
“I think because Rhaegar Targaryen is here and not anywhere, even if I think he’s gotten the memo at this point.”
Stannis rolls his eyes. “Honestly, what’s even the appeal.”
He’s about to say something else, but then Oberyn interrupts the following scene to give Edmure and Roslin directions for Roslin’s second aria and Jon, who could go backstage and rest a moment…
Goes down to the orchestra pit?
“Uhm, do I want to know why he’s apparently tight with Brynden Tully now?” Stannis asks.
“Oh, they made friends at some point after a rehearsal. I mean, Jon kinda was overdoing it a bit and I overheard them talking about it when I was checking the dressing rooms and since then they’ve been talking quite a bit. Why?”
“Er, act one finale, you know, when Giovanni has to get out of people trying to kill him? He might have punched Edmure for real.”
“What,” Stannis blurts.
“Hey, it happened once and he was obviously tired and made a mistake. But it hasn’t happened since.”
If anything, it doesn’t show, Stannis thinks, and that kind of thing happens since the dawn of opera, but still, sounds weird coming from Connington, he’s not usually this emotional.
Or maybe they finally put him in a role where he can get emotional.
No idea. He just knows that while Oberyn’s staging is the usual weird modern thing that Stannis has learned to accept, and at least this time it makes somewhat sense given the text, singers don’t usually end up chatting to the conductor every other pause. The conductor usually doesn’t look so relaxed around singers. And they certainly don’t joke around each other.
By the time they rehearsed everything except the finale, which Oberyn says has to be done tomorrow, all day, because it’s the most important thing and he wants to make sure every kink is worked out, they’ve joked around each other a lot, and given that in Stannis’s experiences the last thing you want to do when around singers is talking to each other…
“Davos,” he whispers, “are you sure those two are just friendly?”
“Why wouldn’t they be?”
“Because usually after dealing with singers for the whole day all day the last thing I want is joking with them. Fine, he doesn’t work with them all the time, but he’s talked less to his damned niece.”
“Well, they’ve been awfully close lately, true, but — wait, you mean that —”
“Davos, just because my sentimental life is frankly abysmal, it doesn’t mean I can’t see when other people want to have one. I’m not betting any money on it because it’s beneath me, but if I did I would put it on Connington finally moving on before this run is over.”
“I think he’d be the first in line being happy about that,” Davos says, “but you do have a point. Huh. I’ll keep my eyes open then.”
Stannis doesn’t ask why and settles on envying Tully for having managed to conduct the one production in this damned theater that isn’t causing mass hysteria in anyone involved.
That said, by the time they all decided they’re done, he goes up to him, having swallowed the envy — he’s a professional and he’s met Tully a few times before, and he did come to the hospital bringing some admittedly delicious home-baked apple tarts, it’s only polite if he says hi.
“Nice to see you up and running,” he tells Stannis when he comes up to him, shaking his hand.
“Not running quite yet,” Stannis sighs, “but I did need the forced vacation. Are you doing all right?”
“Seems like they don’t want to make my niece look embarrassed in front of me,” he laughs. “Yes, it’s been good actually. I had missed conducting that opera, it’s been a while.”
“Well, good to know we didn’t drag you into anything you regretted. So, no singers wanting to threaten your sanity?”
“Not really,” Brynden shrugs. “Which is weird, but this time no one is apparently wanting to upstage anyone else and it’s a damned first, if you ask me.”
Stannis has to laugh a bit, at that. “Theon never was the person who purposefully wants to upstage others, Rhaegar and Elia are both friends with Jon and they don’t hate each other so much that they’d ruin it for him, your nephew and niece are hardly that kind of person and Roslin didn’t expect to be cast, no one in this specific bunch is interested in any kind of upstage. Especially because none of them is an idiot and they understood that Jon would upstage them anyway just by doing his job.”
Stannis doesn’t usually dole out compliments like that, but he kind of wants to see the reaction that kind of information brings out, especially because maybe it’s because he spent the last few weeks stuck at home spending quality time with Shireen who is in a phase where she can only talk about the unholy amount of romance books she’s reading and maybe she’s rubbed off on him —
Or maybe he’s felt like such shit since the divorce that he’s starting to meddle in other people’s business. Damn, he’s getting older than he’d like.
Anyway, it’s a perfectly normal question. Nothing personal.
It’s enough to make his esteemed colleague flush as he clears his throat. “Oh, absolutely. I hadn’t seen anyone that good at this role in years,” he says, and he sounds very calm and collected, but then he sends a wistful look towards the stage. “And at least he’s not a primadonna. I’ve seen enough both male and female to last me for the next three lifetimes.”
“Don’t I know that,” Stannis sighs, thinking about the next time he’ll have to deal with both Cersei and his brother. Or brothers. Maybe he should treasure his forced downtime. “Well, good to know you got lucky. I will see you at the opening night, then.”
“Sure thing. Please do take care, all right? But hey, what do you know. Maybe after this, when you come back they’ll make sure you don’t lose your cool again.”
“That’d be too much optimism, I think,” he says, “but let’s hope. Good luck with everything.”
“Thank you, right back at you.”
He leaves, shrugging into a leather jacket, and Stannis stays there until Davos shows up next to him.
“You heard that conversation?” He asks.
“Part of it,” Davos says, “but enough to guess you were right.”
They stare at each other. “Just keep me updated,” Stannis says. “I don’t know since when I care, but I guess that if I don’t get that, it’s nice if other people do.”
Davos sends him one of those looks telling him that he should stop assuming that having gotten it colossally wrong with Selyse means that’s all over and done as far as his romantic life is concerned, but he doesn’t press the issue. He’s made peace with it, after all.
“I’ll drive you home,” Davos says, “unless you need someone to cook dinner.”
“I can —”
“You get stressed when you cook and you know it. Fine, I’m also doing that.”
“Shireen won’t complain.”
“Sure she won’t,” Davos smirks, and they head out of the theater.
Well, it could be worse. He could have no friends, on top of everything else.
- Jon is singing Giovanni's first act two aria/serenade, Deh vieni alla finestra [in this clip: Mariusz Kwieicien as Giovanni, MET 2011].
Would you mind coming in half an hour before rehearsals start? We need to figure out a few things about the ending.
When Davos gets Oberyn’s text he’s not surprised whatsoever — they did go through every technicality except for the finale, and since today they’re rehearsing just that (which means everyone but Jon, Cat, Jon Arryn and Theon has the day off) they will have to discuss the staging, so he’s there at seven thirty PM sharp. Jon is there, and Theon as well — the latter looks like he could do with sleeping for the next ten hours, Jon doesn’t. Good thing he stopped showing up at six in the morning.
“So,” he says after greeting everyone, “is this about the infamous death scene?”
“Yeah,” Oberyn says, “and given that it’s where it ends, it has to be good. And since you’re the one person here who knows how the entire thing works better than anyone else…”
“Right. Did you have any specific ideas?”
“Well,” Oberyn says, “I don’t want anything campy. I mean, okay, he’s going to Hell, but there’s ways and ways, so no flames or zombies reaching out or skeletons showing up on stage —”
“Skeletons?” Theon asks, sounding disturbed.
“You don’t want to know. I’ve seen a ton of different stagings to prepare myself, you know. I want it to be a dignified death and I want it to look good, and I want everyone to know he’s going out… not with a whimper, if you get my meaning.”
“Hm,” Davos nods, “I get it. How did you think they would move on stage?”
“Guys, you mind — the Commendatore would be on the left side, obviously he should cut an imposing figure and we are dressing him like he would have in life, you know —”
“Like an arse who voted Thatcher?”
“… Yeah, exactly,” Oberyn grins. “They just stare at each other until Don Giovanni walks forward and offers his hand, Leporello tries to hold him back but it doesn’t work, and then the Commendatore holds his hand until he says the last no, and then — well, that was where I needed your input.”
“Right,” Davos says, taking a look at how the three men moved into the respective positions on stage. “Let me think — Jon, you mind staying there a moment?” He walks on stage, doubling him and checking how close he is to one of the three trapdoors they have. Not too much, it’d put him in the center when before he wasn’t. “Okay, I think — there’s one of the trapdoors here.” He opens it from above, it goes both ways. “Jon, get over here. It’s about two meters to the ground so it’ s not that high of a jump, but there might not even be the need. Could you do it in case?”
“Doesn’t seem too complicated,” Jon agrees. “What did you have in mind?”
“Okay, so, the focus of the scene should be on the two of you shaking hands, right? So, the Commendatore doesn’t come in from the side but from the back, maybe we can have him show up on top of a short flight of stairs so he’s more imposing. He gets down the stairs and progressively gets closer. Don Giovanni just follows him turning on himself but always stays in the center above the trapdoor. Leporello is either close to him or running off when he’s scared shitless and whatnot. Throughout the entire thing he comes closer and closer but slowly until he’s right in front of Don Giovanni when he asks if he’ll come to dinner. He says yes, I shut down all the lights except for one on them, specifically on their joined hands. They shake, he doesn’t repent, then when he sees that there’s no going back happening, the Commendatore moves back into the shadows, always slow. Then — Giovanni doesn’t move and the entire stage is dark except that we’re hitting him with red lights only, unless you want something to show up behind, like, a video or whatever, he almost falls to his knees a few times but doesn’t and then when he screams the trapdoor opens and he falls down while Leporello screams in return and throws himself over it, but it’s closed already. It’d mean him jumping at once but I can be downstairs and make sure he doesn’t break a leg.”
Everyone glances at Oberyn, who nods in approval. “I like that,” he states. “Davos, please never leave us. Guys, you good with that?”
“Sure,” Jon says. “I can do that jump no problem but I guess that if you’re down there it’d be better.”
“Of course,” Davos assures him.
“Right,” Oberyn says, “then we need to discuss how you’re doing that. Jon, er, the other one?”
Jon Arryn smirks ever so slightly. “I got you meant me. Yes?”
“I want you to smile all the time. I mean, I want you to really be glad he’s going to Hell. No compassion whatsoever.”
“Theon, you’re devastated, you probably will try to keep him upstairs, you will try to drag him away or convince him to say yes to save his skin, but it’s not going to work. Cat, in the previous scene where you’re in, you’re barging in on the two of them flirting over dinner and I want you to plead with him because you honestly think it’s the best choice for him if he quits screwing men and comes back to you. But you mean it. Jon, you absolutely mean it when you ask her to join the two of you as well — because she still hasn’t given up on you regardless of how much she doesn’t understand you. Got it? Actually — actually, Cat, I want you to come back on stage after he dies when Theon’s on his own looking at the trapdoor and to fall on your knees next to him and to be devastated. That’d work.”
“I can do all of that,” she agrees. “Because, uh, you mean that I finally understood that I could only join him and not having him just all to myself, but too late?”
“Exactly. Right, we can all go for some coffee while the orchestra gets here, then we can rehearse the entire thing.”
Everyone nods gratefully and Davos follows them out — he needs some damned coffee himself.
An hour or so later, everyone is ready and they’ve gone through the first half of the dinner once, but they don’t move to the actual death scene until they went over it thrice. At that point, he has instructed Pod, the light technician, about doing the whole part where everything is dark and the stage is bathed in red light, so he can move downstairs, and he waits there until he hears the first scream, and at that point he presses the button opening the trapdoor, thank fuck that Lannister was convinced to make the opening automatic when they re-did the electrical circuit a few years ago, and a moment later Jon drops down to the ground with a gasp, but Davos knows how people land if they have to jump so he grabs at his arm and steadies him before he can put his feet wrong.
“Shit,” Jon says, “that went over well, at least.”
“See, now we just have to do it every other time,” Davos jokes. “Hey, everything all right?”
“Yeah, I didn’t put my feet wrong or anything, though maybe I could take a step back and jump into it rather than have it open out of nowhere.”
“Good idea, I can just tell Pod to make everything dark for a split second before you do. That said, nice to see you doing this nicely.”
“… This nicely?”
“Jon, I was working here before you did because it was the only place around who’d take former inmates with a decent pay. Fine, it was twice because of demonstrations and once because I was young and stupid, but still, it did stop me from getting a job back in the day. Since Lannister signed you on you’ve always been… well, I don’t want to say you always looked miserable because it’s not true, but you’ve never been this happy singing anything and I don’t know if the spotlight looks good on you or is for any other reason, but it’s a good thing.”
“… Thanks,” he says, his voice suddenly sounding hoarse. “It’s just — I really wanted to do this.”
“One can hear it from a mile away. That said, I think you’ve earned it.”
“I doubt —”
“Jon, everyone except a few people know you could have ended up somewhere better paying and more professionally rewarding. Even Stannis is vocal about it. What I mean, and it’s going to be the last thing that I say before —”
“Hey, are you two good down there?” Theon shouts from the stage.
“My point exactly,” Davos winks. “We’re good, just give us a minute to figure a thing out!” He clears his throat. “I was saying, you’ve put other people in front of you for your entire life including Targaryen and you deserved better than that, so when you do get the spotlight, just enjoy the hell out of it. Okay?”
“… Okay,” Jon croaks, sounding genuinely touched. “Okay. I wasn’t — everyone got it, didn’t they?”
“Maybe,” Davos says, patting his shoulder, “and everyone knows you deserved better, so just take advantage of it and if you like it, you don’t have to go back to playing the bad guy so no one notices you. Think about it.”
Honestly, he kind of wanted to tell him to not let Targaryen be in the middle of his happiness all over again, but as friendly as they are, it’d have seemed like… too much.
“Fine,” Jon says, “I will. After I die with dignity for the next month or so.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Davos tells him, and then they head out and up on stage before people start to think they actually got lost.
Oberyn is all smiles and saying that it went perfectly and they should do it again, and hey, what was Davos saying about possibly having videos show up on the back of the stage, because he has an idea.
Davos listens, and tells him it’s doable and to let him have the list before he can start working on it.
He can’t help noticing that while they discuss technicalities, Jon’s back at talking to Brynden Tully.
Well, he hopes they figure that out before this run is over.
He really does.
- If you want to watch a classically staged version of the Commendatore scene/ending, you can check out Joseph Losey's movie version from 1979 in the link with Ruggero Raimondi as Don Giovanni, Jose Van Dam as Leporello and John Macurdy as the Commendatore (dir. Lorin Maazel). Incidentally, it was the author mothers' favorite version so have some nostalgia from my early youth, I'll link you a more modern version in the following notes ;)
Chapter 8: Scene Change II
Elia would really like to know why Jon Connington out of everyone found her after that infamous, dreadful run of Don Carlo run was over and asked her if they could see each other for a cup of coffee a few days later.
She said yes out of curiosity and now she’s waiting at the bar they agreed on. Honestly, she has no idea of why he would do that — he always was Rhaegar’s friend before her acquaintance, and she has had a few suspicions on what exactly the man feels for her soon to be former husband, but she never asked because they were never close.
And anyway, she’s pretty sure he’s a six on the Kinsey scale, so it’s definitely not a metaphoric coffee.
He shows up perfectly on time, with his usual black coat, and he looks… not contrite, but definitely like he’s sorry for something and like he hasn’t slept a wink for a month. Highly probable. Also, considering how he sounded during the last performance, Elia has a feeling that he’s not doing too well overall.
They greet each other, order coffee, bring it to a small table outside.
She’s about to ask him what’s the problem, and then he takes a breath.
“I owe you an apology,” he says, without too many preambles.
She stops stirring her coffee. “What for? You haven’t done anything to me.” Except that you didn’t convince Rhaegar to not do anything stupid, but you’re not his babysitter, so what can I ask?
“Maybe I haven’t done anything,” he agrees, “but… ah, fuck it. You know, don’t you?”
“I know what?”
He looks at her. “That I’m in love with Rhaegar, unless you’re the only other person not counting him that doesn’t, at this point.”
Huh. So she was right, after all. “I suspected,” she says. “But I didn’t know for sure. So what?”
He drinks some of the coffee, shakes his head, looks up at her as if he’s bracing himself for something he knows will go wrong.
“Because,” he says, “you don’t know that because why would you, I like to think I’m not that kind of asshole, but when you got together I — kind of hated you for months.”
… Wait, what?
“… I had no idea?” She says, honestly not knowing what she should answer. She did have no idea whatsoever.
“I’m a good actor, I guess,” he smirks. “Anyway. It wasn’t about you. It was — because you were with him and you could be with him and as far as I was concerned it was enough of a half-miracle that he didn’t care when I told him I was into men, least of all into him. And I hated that you could be with him and I never had a chance. So — it wasn’t really about you, it was about me, and you’re probably asking yourself why I’m telling you in the first place when I could… you know, not have said a thing and be done with it. But — I’ll keep on being his friend because I couldn’t not be, but this whole thing with Lyanna was just… you don’t deserve that shit, he doesn’t seem to get it and I can’t believe he didn’t even think before treating you like that. And again, my issues weren’t with you because you’ve never done a thing to make anyone dislike you. I’d have hated anyone he was serious with.”
She nods when he pauses. She wants him to go on and get to the bottom of this. He also looks ashamed as hell, which… well, she supposes she appreciates it, even if it’s not anything that she ever had a clue about so it’s not like she wanted apologies from him or anything.
“Anyway, I felt like shit for having thought frankly undeserving things when it came to you and I know you could have lived without knowing but I couldn’t, especially if we end up having to work together, so — I just needed to get it off my chest and apologize.”
Fair enough, she decides as she takes another sip.
He does look somewhat relieved at having told her, and — honestly, they never talked to each other much and now she knows why, it certainly was not for her lack of trying but he always held himself aloof, so it’s not as if she’d have cared about his opinion either way.
“Considering that Rhaegar gave me some bullshit excuse about having ran into true love and being really sorry about it but he couldn’t not listen to his heart before I told him I wanted him out of my life and that I make sure Oberyn deals with him when he comes to spend time with the kids, I think you’ve been way fairer to me than he was,” she finally says. “I mean, you didn’t have to tell me, you know?”
“I know,” he sighs, “but I felt like shit anyway.”
For one moment, she actually feels sad for him — you can hear in his tone that even if he highly disapproves of what Rhaegar did he’s not going to tell him or he will but won’t break off their friendship over that anyway and he still won’t have a chance with him. At least she realized how much of a tool he could be and she’s sure she’ll find better when she feels like looking and she can move on, and honestly, maybe she’s glad she’s not going to spend the rest of her life with someone who would throw away six years of engagement and marriage and two kids one of which not even two years old because he met the true love of his life… as in, not her.
Jon is not going to have that luxury, she thinks.
She wants to tell him, he’s not even worth your time, but that’d be cruel and at least he was fair to her and he came clean about it even if he didn’t have to and could have just kept on ignoring her.
“Well, for what it’s worth… I’ll accept your apologies.”
“You weren’t expecting it? Come on, let’s be adults here. You never told me any of that, you never actually treated me like shit — right, I had grasped you weren’t interested in being friends with me as well but it’s not like you ever were rude about it, I had no idea you felt like that and you came clean anyway, that’s more maturity in your ring fingers than in Rhaegar’s at all, and please don’t try to defend him.”
“I wasn’t going to,” he says, miserably. “I wish I could, but to you? I can’t really find anything I could say that might.”
“Good. So, I don’t see why I shouldn’t accept mature apologies from someone who didn’t even owe me any as far as I was concerned. We’re good.”
He looks… honestly surprised at that. But also… he looks the good kind of surprised. And a tiny bit relieved.
“Thanks,” he said, “I wasn’t even expecting it, but thanks nonetheless.”
“Hey, at least you mean it,” she says, sounding way more bitter than she’d have liked. She shakes her head. “Anyway, if it was about things being awkward if we end up starring together, don’t worry about it. I can’t star with Rhaegar now but I have no issues with you. And as far as the rest goes — well, I have no issues with you and Rhaenys is already asking why all of her father’s friends don’t show up around the house anymore and I don’t want her to suffer over this more than she already has to. If you want to come for tea once in a while I won’t be saying no.”
“I — I’d be delighted,” he says, obviously meaning it — and she knows, he was the to-go person they’d leave the kids with before this entire mess happened. “Thanks. But I couldn’t have come around if I hadn’t gotten this out, you know.”
“I get it. And you know, if you don’t hate me anymore, we don’t have to just be acquaintances.”
“I never really hated you, just what you had,” he says, sadly. “And sure. I would love it, if —”
“Jon, I like to think I’m an adult who can be friends with her ex’s friends. High school was over years ago. So, are we getting another coffee over that?”
At that, he does smile properly for the first time since this conversation started. It kind of makes the pale blue of his eyes look warmer.
She wants to tell him, don’t waste your life running after my dick of an ex, but that wouldn’t be fair and it’s not her place to do it.
“Sure,” he says, grinning slightly. “I’d — I’d like that. Very much. Both the coffee and being friends with… the ex of the guy I’m still in love with, I guess.”
As they order another, she decides that she’d like that very much as well.
“Wait, that asshole who runs The Mockingbird wrote what?” Jon asks Sam Tarly again, figuring he understood wrong.
“Er, there’s an entire article on his web page where he rants about how it’a a cheat that the production was changed midway and a lot of other things that you probably don’t want to read just before opening night —”
“Tarly, read that or I’m standing up and —”
“You’ll do no such thing,” Melisandre stops him midway. “You aren’t ruining your make-up on opening night when you’re leading, Connington.”
“I just —”
“Tarly, he asked you, but never mind that, I’ll read it,” Theon says — he got his make-up done before and he’s been hanging around with Robb.
“Yeah, please inform us of Littlefinger’s latest idiocy,” Robb snorts.
“So, let’s see — blah blah, your uncle quit, blah blah, it’s an absolute travesty that not only the production lost the leading man and no one apparently tried to convince him to come back, but one would suppose that serious entertainers would at least keep the original staging while changing the cast. Instead, from the pictures that have been shared by Winterfell’s social media, it’s obvious that we are again in front of one of these modern staging atrocities, wow, he’s not going down easy on it.” Theon obviously tries to not laugh out loud before Robb tells him to go on. “Right, I was saying, of course Martell wants to turn everything into some sort of homosexual manifesto, but it’s a complete travesty to see him doing that to an opera whose lead is most clearly a straight man, or what’s even the point of it? Wow, someone page him that bisexuals exist.”
Robb laughs, and Jon does as well even if Melisandre glares at him so strongly that he immediately stops.
“Anyway, let’s go on — and on top of that, as the last insult to the amazing, immortal original music, not only we lose the best Giovanni that has graced this city’s theaters and that company’s in years, but he’s also replaced with — oh, wow, that’s just rude.”
“Greyjoy, if you say it’s rude then I just want to know already.”
“Er, uhm, an admittedly good singer who has surely done his job in the previous years but who is obviously more suited for the Verdian baritone and not for Mozart’s ethereal trills, and who could definitely convince the audience that he has latent feelings for the tenor most of the time but who I honestly doubt could convincingly sell anyone that he actually wants to look at a woman even just once. Presuming that Jon Connington out of everyone might be a suitable replacement for Stark is an insult to anyone with ears, and honestly, it looks more like a favor to the gay lobby sadly taking over theater these days than a legitimate artistic decision, and er, he kind of gives me the benefit of the doubt because I was good enough last time and pretty much implies that the only good thing about this switch is getting Cat singing in it, but that was about it. Hey, you know he’s full of shit, don’t you?”
Jon wants to laugh, honestly. Of course Littlefinger is full of shit, when wasn’t he ever, and he knows he’s good at this role by now, but he just can’t help it — of course someone would point out that since he’s into men then he can’t sing a womanizer.
Just makes sense that it’d be Littlefinger doing it.
“Stay still a moment, I’m done,” Melisandre says, moving back. “There, now you can move as much as you want. Don’t ruin that, I have enough of that crap with Cersei and Margaery. Robb, I’m moving on to your mother’s dressing room, if there’s any problem just call.”
“Roger that,” Robb tells her as Jon looks at himself in the mirror in full get-up. He’s wearing the black leather trousers and the dark red silk shirt, the first two buttons open (Theon has similar trousers and a cream hemp one, obviously less refined, but it’ll make things easier for when they have to switch them in act two), no shoes as agreed upon, he let his hair grow out a bit this last month so now it’s slightly below his ears and curling around his neck. Melisandre did use some eyeliner on him, not much but enough to make his eyes stand out.
Well, if anything, he’s pretty sure that he’s never in his life looked as good as right now, and he usually doesn’t pay attention to this kinda thing. He checks the clock. They have half an hour to go.
“Littlefinger can eat dirt,” he finally says. “I’ve survived worse than his fucking website and the pro-Brexit assholes in the comments who still talk about that one time they saw Sutherland and Pavarotti live and wonder why didn’t opera die with them.”
“… That’s what the first guy said, how did you guess…?” Theon asks.
“Because I read the comments section, sadly. Stark walked out, he gets me, he’ll deal with it.”
“I like that attitude,” Robb smirks. “Well, I’ll go see how my mom’s doing. Have fun, the two of you. I expect him back in one piece,” Robb winks before running out of the room.
“This is so fucking embarrassing,” Theon groans.
“What, that he’s sure you won’t dump him for other redheads?”
“Says the guy who pretty much pushed me into fessing up to him.”
… Right, fair enough. “Don’t worry, you’re a bit too young for me.”
Theon was about to say something when someone knocks on the door. “Yes?” Jon asks.
The door opens and — right. Brynden Tully, who is apparently also the one conductor in existence who hates tuxedos and the likes and showed up in jeans and a white shirt, all very respectable and sober, if not for the small rainbow ribbon pinned to the left breast. “I figured I’d send Littlefinger a nice message,” he says. “And how are things here?”
“Oh, I’m absolutely in mind of making him eat dirt,” Jon smirks back. “I’m good. He thinks I can’t sing that, he’s going to have to change his mind.”
“That’s an excellent attitude. Well, I just wanted to check up on all the singers, I always do it before opening night, and you both seem cool, so — see you in a bit.”
“Sure,” Jon smiles back, and then Theon clears his throat.
“Mate, not to be that person, but are you two aware of how much you’re flirting?”
“You’ve flirted since that rehearsal when you punched Edmure in the face.”
“I — I haven’t,” Jon weakly replies, thinking of how it could be taken like that, but really, he certainly wasn’t doing that on purpose, seriously…?
“You both have,” Theon says, looking at him with the face of someone who’s pondering whether he should tell him something or not, and Jon’s about to press when Theon shrugs and mutters fuck it under his breath. “Listen,” he says then, “in theory I shouldn’t be telling you this, because it’s kinda shitty, and I only know because Robb knows because his mother told him and it’s, like, kinda shitty on my side, but you did help me out get me over myself with Robb and you didn’t have to, so take it as paying you back, all right?”
“The hell are you talking about?”
“What I’m talking about is that according to Robb, who says his mother is damn sure of it, the flirting goes both ways.”
For a moment, Jon has no idea of what he should even reply. “Both ways?”
“He also wouldn’t do that too openly because — never mind, I can’t say that, too — but she says he’s into you, like, a lot, and I meant that you both were flirting without realizing it. So, well, if you’re seriously considering getting over Targaryen already and you’re into him, you might wanna do something about it before this whole run is over. I’m saying that just to help you out, man, but there it is.”
“I’m — she said it?”
“Robb wouldn’t go lie to me about that now, would he? I’m just telling you to consider it. I went for it and I didn’t regret it, so — well. I just figured you should know. Do what you will with it, I’ll go get ready since I’m the first out on stage.”
“All — all right, sure. See you out there.”
“We’re going to kill it,” Theon grins, and then leaves him behind in the dressing room.
Did he really…?
He thinks of their interactions up to this point. They’re friends by now, it’d be dumb to deny it, and it’s been good, really it is, but he hadn’t realized that —
Were they flirting?
He has no clue, but surely they did get along instantly, and okay, sure, they talk all the time in between rehearsals, which almost never happens, and they’ve been out for drinks a number of times and it’s been great to talk things out and surely Brynden’s not hard on the eyes, all the contrary, but —
He wants to laugh. How am I the only idiot on the face of this planet who realizes he’s attracted to someone after a month and some when someone else points it out to him, he thinks — at least Theon knew he was into Robb, damn it.
And now —
Now he’s going to go out and do his job and not get distracted because he really wants to make sure Littlefinger changes his mind about his skills in any field, and he’s going to deliver the performance of his life if it kills him especially because he also was tasked to tell the audience to please consider donations for a few of the local LGBT-friendly charities in the area at the entrance after curtain calls and he’s going to do this right or not at all.
Then he’ll figure his shit out.
Nothing too different from usual, right?
“Wow,” Elia tells him as he joins her backstage — she’s dressed in a white nightgown that’s honestly out of some puritan ad from the nineteenth century, but he supposes that was pretty much the point, “you should clean up more often.”
“Should I,” he says, shaking his head. “I don’t think this is cleaning up.”
“Well, it’s standing out. Anyway, winner look. Faking being really conflicted about wanting to have a hit and run with you will be a piece of pie.”
“That really reassures me,” he laughs, and damn, he can barely remember the time when he disliked her so strongly he could barely bear to be in a room with her. What a young hotheaded idiot you were, he thinks.
“Just so you know,” Edmure Tully says, showing up at his side, “I’m mentally ready if you end up punching me in the face again.”
“I’m relieved. But I won’t do it, I swear.”
“Good to know, but just so you know.”
He looks at the side. Theon is making out with Robb a few meters from them — of course they are. He ignores them, there’s still ten minutes before they’re supposed to start.
“Robb, I can see you!”
… Right, and then they stop immediately because Cat has just joined them all in her sensible dark green dress which leaves just enough of a neckline to show off a bit of cleavage, and she just looks endlessly amused as Robb excuses himself and wishes them all good luck.
“Thanks for that,” Theon grunts as he joins them.
“I think he’s not the Stark you should worry about seducing for the next three hours,” she replies, very sweetly.
Theon goes so red in embarrassment that everyone else bursts out laughing.
“Thanks,” he says, “good thing this runs just two weeks.”
“What have I missed?”
Right. Rhaegar was the only one who hadn’t showed up yet, along with Roslin who is trailing behind him.
For a moment, Jon’s breath is caught in his throat. They dressed him in a fitting, beautifully cut dark purple suit, definitely something respectable even if not a typical color, and it matches his indigo eyes perfectly. The ivory of the shirt underneath pairs perfectly with the pale almost-silver-blonde of his hair, carefully styled in a loose ponytail that manages to look respectable as well, and he’s still as breathtakingly beautiful now in his early forties as he was when they were way younger, and twenty years ago he would have moved his eyes away because it was too much.
But then —
Then he doesn’t, and as he comes closer he doesn’t think, I wish I could tell you or I wish it could have been me. He thinks, I’m sorry I never had a chance with you in the first place.
And then he breathes again, fully, and — he knows something’s changed. He wishes he knew what.
“Hey,” Rhaegar says, moving to his side, “I’ve read Baelish’s crap blog.”
“Oh,” Jon replies, “I did, too, but he’s such a tool, who even cares.”
“I figured you wouldn’t care, but still — I just wanted to make sure.”
And — shit, it’s so Rhaegar that he wouldn’t get it but he would… do this. There’s a reason why he could never really stray from his side, and it’s that he’s genuinely someone you can’t not love even if sometimes he’s a patented idiot and he can understand why Elia hates him and while Jon Stark hasn’t talked to him for a hell of a long time back in the day, but — yeah. Well. He’s not sure he can quit him, quoting movies he will never confess to a soul he cried to in the cinema.
But maybe he can quit some.
“It’s fine,” he says. “Really. But thank you.”
Rhaegar squeezes his shoulder, and — for the first time in his life, he doesn’t feel like he wants to die inside.
The hell —
“Hey,” Elia tells Rhaegar, and wait, it’s the first time they actually talked to each other since this entire rehearsal started.
“Oh. Hey,” he replies, looking… adequately chastised. Jon moves aside, figuring being in between the two of them would be a bad idea.
“I don’t know if I ever can let you off the hook,” she tells him. “I mean, you do know you were a complete bastard, don’t you?”
“I feel like owning up to it now would be entirely too late,” Rhaegar admits sheepishly, “but for what it’s worth, I do.”
She stares at him for a long, long while.
“I’m still angry,” she says, “but I don’t know if I’m angry enough to not talk to you throughout this entire run, so — I’m not. Never mind that if it’s the first time he’s the lead maybe forgetting the drama for a bit would only be fair, wouldn’t it?”
“Guys —” He starts.
“It was time we tried to be civil,” Elia interrupts him. “And now that we’ve established this, you,” she says, turning to Rhaegar, “go get ready or whatever, you,” she turns to him, “are coming with me because we’re starting in five minutes and we’re coming out together.”
Right. “Thanks anyway,” he says, figuring it’s nowhere near enough to cover what he wants to say.
“No need,” she says, and they move to the other side of the stage while Rhaegar nods at them and goes back towards Edmure, Roslin and Jon Arryn.
Damn it, it’s about to start and he’s not getting cold feet, like hell, but —
He glances outside. The entire place is packed full, and he knows half of the people in there paid to see Stark, not him.
Well then. You won’t regret your ticket’s money, he thinks, grinning to himself ever so slightly, standing up slightly straighter.
“You’re getting into it, aren’t you?” Elia laughs a moment later.
“I — getting into it?” He asks.
“Come on, you never have that posture. But do go ahead, if you get into it now you’ll be great when we walk out,” she smiles, and she’s probably right.
He grins at the audience behind the curtain.
Oh, they will get their money’s worth. They will if it’s the last role he ever sings.
“Christ,” Stannis tells him backstage, and Jon hadn’t even known he would be there, but he is, “were you on fire or what? Where were you hiding that?”
He shrugs, wishing he knew, but — he doesn’t. He went out and the moment he started singing he forgot everything about reviews, his current sentimental situation and whatnot and just went for it, and they had an encore of Fin ch’han dal vino which as far as he recalls usually doesn’t happen, but people were clapping so wildly, he and Brynden nodded at each other and just went for it again, and they clapped even harder, and is this how leading singers usually feel? Because damn but it’s so much he doesn’t even know what to do with it. Anyway, he hasn’t punched Edmure this time, but his head felt like it had never been clearer as he sang all over, and if the world should fall, nothing ever frightens me.
Yeah, well. It felt definitely better now, and it might have been even liberating to say it for that matter, and Baelish can deal with it.
“I don’t know, but there is more when that came from,” he replies, feeling absolutely like he might be still getting into it as it’s not a thing he’d have said usually but right now… well, it feels right.
“Well, let me page Tyrion Lannister to tell him that if he wants to do Onegin at some point he really should consider making you lead,” Stannis says, and Jon is honestly surprised he’s being this free with compliments because he usually is not, but who is he to complain about that out of everything? Also, wouldn’t he love to sing that.
“I’m available,” he says.
“Well, I also would be, at least I wouldn’t be conducting the same five things all the time,” he grunts, and now he does sound more like his usual. “Well, good luck for act two.”
“Jon?” Gilly asks, coming up from behind him.
“I, uh, might have something for you.”
He turns to look at her.
She has a basket in her hands full of… colorful, folded pieces of paper?
“Do you remember that Oberyn put that box in the entrance where people could drop their opinions on the opera and whatnot during the intermission or after the end?”
“Ah, yeah. So what?”
“So, people were given the pieces of paper before they went in, some left theirs already and the first box was full after five minutes, I ran through most of them with Sam and these are all for you, unless I got something wrong.”
“… For me?”
“Yeah,” she says, dumping the basket in his hands. “I have to go back, but have fun!” She grins, and then runs off towards the lobby.
What the hell, Jon thinks, and a moment later the rest of the cast shows up — they went to wash their face and he didn’t because he ran into Stannis, and Brynden’s there too and now that Jon has realized he suddenly feel his face flushing.
“Oh, are you finally getting fan letters?” Theon grins, grabbing the first red piece of paper.
“Hey there —” Jon starts, but his hands are occupied and he can’t stop him. Theon whistles.
“Guys, listen to this guy here, much love, with the hearts, by the way, for the best leading man I’ve seen lately, if he ever wants my number here it is, wait, oh shit, he actually left you the number.”
“He did what?”
Rhaegar grabs another one — it’s green, and Jon doesn’t even try to stop him. He whistles. “This is a woman,” he says, “and — do all us mortals have a chance to end up on that list?” He laughs as he reads it, and Jon just wants to die of embarrassment.
“I don’t think so,” he groans as he snatches back the note. “Fuck, I just — I’m bringing this to the changing room and washing my face or something and we’re not talking about this ever again.”
“You wish,” Rhaegar says, amiably. “But sure thing, do go. Just don’t faint while you’re at it.”
“Says the guy who always gets the fan letters,” Jon quips back, and fuck but why does it hurt a lot less than it usually does?
He runs off into his changing room, dumps the basket in front of the mirror, lightly washes his face trying to not smudge the make-up too much and failing, he needs to go find Melisandre as soon as possible, takes off his sweat-soaked shirt, gets a quick rinse in the bathroom and puts on an identical one they had ready for act two, text Melisandre to ask her to come here a moment and then drops down sitting on the chair.
He grabs one of the tiny blue notes, opening it up and expecting another cellphone number.
I cried at the end of the first act. Thank you.
It only reads that but it’s — shit. Shit, Jon has no idea of what he’s doing here but apparently he’s doing it right, and maybe it won’t be so bad to read the others —
Someone knocks. He opens, figuring it’ll be Melisandre and not asking who it is.
And then he finds Brynden Tully in front of him and he has to really try to not stare at how his wet shirt is plastered to his chest — he’s obviously not the only one who has sweated a lot in the last hour and a half.
“Hey,” he says, “I see you got the fan mail?”
Jon laughs. “I’d hardly call it that, but I guess I did.”
“Good, then it means you’re doing this right.”
“Hey, people singing that part should get fan mail.” He’s grinning as he says it, and Jon thinks, are we flirting or am I just letting Theon influence me, and —
“… Maybe you have a point,” he replies, slow, and they look at each other and for a moment Jon is halfway sure something’s going to happen but then —
“Connington, you’re up in fifteen, if you want that make up re-done then get your ass back inside,” Melisandre says, coming up from the hallway.
Whatever that was, the moment is gone.
“Well, good luck,” Brynden says. “If people want encores just let me know if you’re up for it.”
“I think one was enough but we will see. Thanks,” he says, and then gets back in with Melisandre trailing him.
What the hell almost happened?
Never mind. He has to worry about performing now, he thinks, and drops back on his seat as Melisandre grabs her kit.
Then he can worry about everything else.
Thing is: after during the first serious rehearsal when he had sung Deh, vieni alla finestra, Oberyn had asked him whether he was thinking of anyone specific while he did that.
Jon hadn’t even tried lying.
You know who it is, he had answered. Oberyn hadn’t asked anything further and everyone had complimented him on his tear-jerker rendition of that specific piece.
Jon had just smiled and hadn’t said, you don’t know how many times when we were studying that opera together I wanted to sing it to him, and he’s not going to ever tell anyone if they don’t guess already.
Now, as he sits down on the stage’s stairs wearing Theon’s creme shirt and looking up at the balcony wistfully and waits for his cue, he doesn’t even know if it’s going to sound like a tear-jerker.
“Deh, vieni alla finestra, o mio tesoro, deh, vieni a consolar il pianto mio —”
Do come to the window, my treasure, do come to console my tears, he sings, and at this point — well. The first time he heard it in his life he had to fake not caring even if he might have had his fantasies of Rhaegar finding out and being into him for a very short while and therefore redeeming every shitty thing he had to go through since he realized he was into men, or at least it’d have felt like that. Except that no. It hadn’t happened and surely no one ever consoled his tears, not that he searched for it.
Still. He would have left it on a not under Rhaegar’s pillow, if he only had been so bold. If — if.
“Se neghi a me di dar qualche ristoro, davanti agli occhi tuoi morir vogl'io…”
If you deny me any solace, I want to die in front of you, he goes on, making it as sweet as he can, because sounding angry it’s not the point, and — well. He’d have never gone as far himself, but in the early days of figuring it out, he had felt like he’d die of keeping everything for himself. Especially to Rhaegar, but never mind that, either.
“Tu che hai la bocca dolce più che il miele, tu che il zucchero porti in mezzo al core —”
You, who have a mouth sweeter than honey, you, whose heart is sugar —
Shit, years ago he’d have thought it was Rhaegar to a T.
Now — he thinks he knows better, even if it had changed nothing, but a month ago, at that point, every damned time, he had felt like crying. Now — now he’s singing it pretending he’s about to because he has understood that Oberyn likes that take and he can do it just fine, but he’s not feeling like he really will, and thinking about Rhaegar’s pretty indigo eyes isn’t what makes him drop to one knee before he goes into the last couplet (it had been when he sang it for the first time).
“Non esser, gioia mia, con me crudele: lasciati almen veder, mio bell'amore!”
My joy, don’t be cruel to me: at least let me see you, my beautiful darling, he finishes as he stands up and turns towards the pit, winking at some girl in first row he’s close enough to make eye contact to at don’t be cruel to me — she blushes at once, and he can only think, take that Baelish, but then as he steps back his eyes meet Brynden’s just as he sits back and people start clapping wildly and his stomach clenches at once, his cheeks flushing as he stands still, and the applause goes on and when Brynden mouths, encore, he smiles and nods.
By the time they got to the final scene and he’s standing in front of Jon Arryn, all clad in a cream suit with a horrid brown-striped tie that was sewn with one of Reagan’s real ones as a reference, all his clothes are dripping in sweat and he could probably go to sleep for a month given the pressure he’s feeling, but — he’s not going to fuck up the big moment.
He breathes in as he throws his head slightly backward and slowly, slowly turns to his side so people can see his hands.
Don Giovanni, you invited me to dinner, and I came, Jon Arryn sings slow, with meaning, staring at him like he wants him dead and — right. Good actor. Excellent actor, for that matter.
He stands straight, replies, I would have never believed it, but I’ll do what I can, still keeping his head held high, moving just behind the trapdoor, Theon moving closer behind him and grabbing his wrist as planned as he sings, ah, my lord, we’re all dead.
He stands still, Theon’s fingers tangling through his. He squeezes.
“Parla, dunque: che chiedi? che vuoi?”
Speak, then: what do you ask? What do you want? He sings, as spiteful as he can get.
“Tu m'invitasti a cena: il tuo dover or sai. Rispondimi: verrai tu a cenar meco?”
You invited me to dinner: you know your duty now. Answer me: will you come to my place for dinner, too?
He swallows, looks up.
Oh, he — he has no time, sorry, Theon sings from his side, sounding equally terrified. He smiles sadly, not knowing who’ll notice but figuring he should go all in for it, he turns towards him, shakes his head, presses a kiss to the corner of his mouth, sweeter than he has throughout this entire production because of course now Giovanni gets the stakes, right?
“A torto di viltate tacciato mai sarò!”
I will never be will wrongly accused of being a coward, he sings instead, his hand still on Theon’s shoulder, but staring straight ahead and trying to sound as if he’s absolutely sure of that.
Then decide!, comes in reply.
I decided already.
Will you come?
He breathes in. Theon tries to drag him back, shaking his head wildly.
Tell him you won’t, tell him you won’t, he urges.
He shakes his head, sadly again, and then, regardless of how much his heart is really hammering in his chest right now —
“Ho fermo il core in petto, non ho timor: verrò!”
My heart is steady in my breast. I’m not afraid. I’ll come, he sings, stressing the last word, and suddenly, it feels like he’s telling that to everyone he’s had to justify himself to for his preferences or his lifestyle or anything tied to it, and —
Give me your hand.
He’s openly smiling, and defiantly, too, as he replies, Here it is, violently smashing it against the Commendatore’s, feeling strong, long fingers wrap around it, and then he screams.
What it is?
What is this icy cold? He sings, and he thinks, that’s what I had to throw over my feelings for years. Icy cold. Sure thing it is.
And then —
“Pèntiti, cangia vita: è l'ultimo momento!”
Repent, change your life, it’s the last moment!
The music picks up, fast.
He raises his head, making it look as if he perfectly understood what the deal is right now.
“No, no, ch'io non mi pento: vanne lontan da me!”
No, no, I won’t repent, get away from me!, he sings, angry, feeling every vibration run through his throat and his spine and his entire body, sounding like he’d die before he did, and — that’s the entire point now, isn’t it?
Repent, you wretch!
No, insane old man!
They’re right in the middle of the exchange now, white pristine cream suit against his dirty, opened, half-torn red shirt with the bright white light hitting just them, and while Don Giovanni is standing lower than the Commendatore he really hopes that he’s managing to make it sound as if he has the higher ground.
No, he forcefully sings.
No, he says again, standing up straighter, still holding on to that hand, and fuck, it’s the entire contrary of what happened at that first act finale rehearsal. He’s feeling like he could take over the world, even if he knows it’s not how the entire thing is supposed to be going —
But guess what, he doesn’t care.
No, he goes on.
No, he sings through gritted teeth, figuring he should show it’s harming him but that he doesn’t care.
Yes, yes, both of the other men on stage sing, Theon trying to hold on to his arm and drag him away, but instead he shakes his shoulders, moves his head from side to side —
And sings, no, and then, no, again, in a tone that would admit no more arguing.
His hand is suddenly free.
“Ah! tempo più non v’è!”
Ah, there’s no time anymore, and then Jon Arryn’s moving back quickly and Theon’s running off, and he’s on his feet in the middle of the stage, red light hitting him all over, and he can’t see Theon and neither can the audience, he can only hear him, and —
He opens his eyes, staring down at his hands, having them shake all over.
“Da qual tremore insolito... sento... assalir... gli spiriti… Donde escono quei vortici
di fuoco pien d'orror?…”
What kind of unusual tremor is taking me… the spirits… where do those fires full of horror come from?, he starts, slow first and faster later, taking care of not falling to his knees, while an invisible chorus sings, everything is little compared to your sins. Come, there’s worse evil, and he wants to laugh because of course to some people everything is little compared to your sins when your sins are wanting to be with people society doesn’t want you to be, but he can’t laugh now, can he?
“Chi l'anima mi lacera!... Chi m'agita le viscere!... Che strazio! ohimè! che smania! Che inferno!... che terror!…”
Who is tearing apart my soul, who is turning my guts inside out, what a torment, alas, what madness, what is this hell, what terror!, he sings at the top of his lungs, tearing off his shirt and throwing it to the side and fuck, he thinks he really tore it, but never mind that, and then he goes at it again, and again, while he can hear Theon’s terrified voice singing his own part somewhere near (What a desperate face, he’s moving like a damned man… those screams, those cries, how they scare me!), the chorus moving closer but still invisible, and then he goes over his own again, what is this hell, what terror, all over again, and then the trapdoor opens just in front of him and he lets out his dying scream just before the light goes out for good and he jumps down the trapdoor.
Davos is underneath and grabs at his arm just before he pushes the button to close it, and they both hear Theon’s echoing scream as he throws himself over the place where he just disappeared, and he feels like he’s going to bloody fucking faint.
Which is why he’s extremely grateful for Davos handing him a bottle of water a moment later.
“Fucking thank you,” he croaks just before chugging down half in one go and as he hears the music come to a close and the audience wildly clapping as they understand that this is how it ends.
“I figured you’d need that. Shit, you really went all out on this one, didn’t you?”
“Was it obvious?”
“Jon, you’ve never sang this well in your entire life and you’re certainly not a poor singer. Come on, you need to get to the curtain call.”
“Right. Right.” He breathes in a couple times, wipes sweat off his forehead and walks up backstage, where Rhaegar is standing and —
Hugs him the moment he gets out of the trapdoor?
“Jon, that was — wow,” he says, moving back, and Jon’s just overtly, overtly happy that for some miracle this doesn’t feel like someone just stabbed him in the heart all over again.
“Thanks,” he says. “I guess I really wanted it to work,” he smiles.
“Yeah, well, you killed it,” Cat tells him. “No one is going to applaud us, I fear. Oh, there goes the chorus — Roslin, get ready, we’re going to the other side,” she says, heading to the right side of the stage along with Theon and Jon Arryn, leaving him with Rhaegar, Edmure and Elia.
“Thanks for letting me walk free this time,” Edmure jokes.
“I’ll never hear the end of it, will I?” Jon sighs, and a moment later —
“Jon, a word?” Stannis asks, and why the hell is he here now?
“As long as it’s one,” he replies as the chorus bows.
Stannis’s voice drops to a whisper. “I already told Elia and Cat and they agreed, and honestly, I know it’s not my business but — never mind that. When you’re done taking your extremely earned curtain call, you go get the conductor.”
“I do?” What the —
“Yeah, well, usually the main soprano goes to bring him on stage but never mind that it’s the most ridiculous thing in this business, but given the theme you went for and what this entire staging was about, everyone thought it was fit it’d be you and Oberyn is currently tied discussing with some sponsor who’ll barely let him go on stage so he couldn’t tell you himself.”
“Just do it, won’t you?” Stannis asks, and then he leaves quickly, and Jon can’t even ask for explanations because by the time he’s back at his place Rhaegar is bowing gracefully in front of the audience, and then Cat is, and then Elia and then Theon and all of them are getting a lot of cheers, and for a moment he feels like he’s going to vomit because he’s never walked out on stage last in his life.
Shit, this is not the time to worry about that, so he takes a deep breath and walks out on stage shirtless and with bare feet because of course no one thought of finding him a jacket, but it’s not as if most of the audience hasn’t seen him shirtless for the last three hours, have they?
For a moment he feels like he’s going to faint, but then the entire place goes wild — everyone claps way harder than for everyone else, every time he tries to take a step back it goes louder, he ends up with a bunch of flowers in his arms, who the hell brought flowers even, and he can only mouth thank you as he bows over and over again, and fuck, he thinks he’s crying but he doesn’t even know — he wipes at his eyes as he tries to not drop the flowers and gladly hands them to Gilly who runs out just to take them off his hands, moves back after people finally don’t start clapping louder the moment he tries, holds hands with both Theon and Elia as they take a step forward and all of them take the bow.
And then —
He smiles a bit apologetically at Elia before he leaves the group and heads for the right backstage entrance.
Where Brynden’s standing, looking maybe a bit surprised that it’s him.
“Hey,” he says, “I was told it was more appropriate that I’d do this.”
He doesn’t know if he sounds apologetic or not, he doesn’t really know anything anymore, but then Brynden’s hand falls right into the one he’s holding out.
“Believe me,” he says, “whoever told you that, I want to personally thank them later.”
Wait, what —
He knows he should go out, but —
“Does that mean Theon was right when he warned me we were both flirting?”
“What if it does?” Brynden replies, staring right at him, and —
Jon grins back. “Maybe that I’m glad that this is the appropriate way, for once. Shall we?”
He goes back out, letting Brynden’s hand go with some reluctance as he goes to take his own well-deserved applause, and then when they move back Brynden is in between him and Elia and —
Is he threading their fingers together rather than just holding his hand?
He can’t believe this is happening, but — but it is and it feels right and they need to talk things through later, but he thinks he’s going to send Brandon Stark a fruit basket just for having quit.
And then he remembers he is supposed to make the announcement when Gilly gets back on stage and hands him a microphone.
Damn it, for a moment he’s tempted to shove it at Theon but no, he’s going to do it. He got this far, after all.
“Ladies, gentlemen,” he says, and the noise dies down. “You have been the most amazing audience and I honestly don’t know if I can say anything to show how grateful I am and we all are, but as most of you probably noticed, in the lobby you can leave a few pounds as a donation for a few charities that… well, help our cause, and I don’t mean just the opera. If you would be so kind, we would be even more grateful. Uh, thank you. Don’t worry, no one’s going to Hell for that,” he tries to joke, and then… people actually laugh and he ends up taking another encore on his own after the curtain falls down.
He doesn’t know how people are are always the lead fucking handle this all the time, but once in a while, it’s — not really so bad, is it?
Half an hour later, he has showered, changed into clean clothes and hopefully gone back to his usual. He’s supposed to go get drinks with everyone else in ten, which is good because he really needs to wind down — he puts on his usual sensible black coat and opens the door.
He’s not surprised to find Brynden outside it.
“I guess it’s high time we discuss what was going on before, is it?” Jon asks, painfully aware that his pulse might have sped up a bit.
“Maybe that’s why I figured I’d be here rather than downstairs. What did Theon say about flirting?”
“That we had been doing that for a hell of a lot of time. I hadn’t realized, but — maybe he was right.”
“Well, on my side, it was flirting if you wanted it to be.”
Oh. He swallows, moves closer, wets his lips.
He doesn’t know if what he’s about to say will sound terribly corny or not, but given the circumstances —
“You know,” he says, “as much as I’m good at singing this part, I certainly don’t have two-thousand-sixty-five guys on my list. And I doubt I could get another ten names on it before morning. But I think I’d be okay with adding one on it.”
“Well,” Brynden grins, “is it a list for people you might wanna drop after a night or not?”
He has to laugh back. “As much as I think it’s a lovely line, being faithful to one person only is being cruel to all the others and since there’s so much love in me, I love all women is kind of exaggerated. I’m okay with like just one guy at a time. And I might have done the whole one night stand thing when I was twenty-something but I hated it then, too, so no, it’s not that kind of list.”
“Good, because I’m not a young amateur,” Brynden goes on, and ah, so now they’re playing this game?
“Nah,” he says, “we really aren’t similar on that side at all. But as long as they don’t wear skirts, you can imagine what I’d like to do, can’t you?”
“Fuck,” Brynden laughs, “you can be smooth when you want to.”
“Really,” he says. “Then — well, we did say that this time around, when he invites his ex to have dinner with him, he meant something else, didn’t we?”
“Are you doing that, now?”
He could sing that line with closed eyes — let me eat, and if you like it, eat with me, too.
“We should get those drinks with the others now,” he says, “but later… I could do with dinner, I’m starving. And — se ti piace —” He had started humming, but he never finishes it because a moment later they’re making out quite damn ferociously against his dressing room’s door and he suddenly kind of wants to go back in and cash in on the drinks another time, but it’d be rude.
Still, he thinks as Brynden’s hands go to his hair and he groans into his mouth as they kiss harder, maybe the others can wait a few minutes.
“Hell,” Brynden says a moment later, “sorry but there’s a limit to the self-control a guy can have. So, shall we?”
“Sure,” he grins back, and yeah, yeah, if he hadn’t thought before that Stark quitting this opera was the best thing that ever happened to him —
He certainly is thinking that now.
- For a different rendition of Deh vieni alla finestra, this is with Bryn Terfel as Giovanni, still from the 2000 production at the MET;
- This is another take on the Commendatore scene in the act two finale with Samuel Ramey as Don Giovanni, Kurt Moll as the Commendatore and Ferruccio Furlanetto as Leporello (
Ramey is a legend guys I had to put at least ONE clip with him in here gdi ;)); if you feel like braving the entire finale (with a line I quoted at the end), the previous half with the same cast is here;
- Those two's nerdy flirting at the end is a mix of lines from the opera but mostly from Leporello's most famous aria, Madamina, il catalogo è questo (ie the infamous catalogue/list aria) [in this clip, we have Luca Pisaroni as Leporello and Annett Frisch as Donna Elvira, Salzburg 2014].
Don Giovanni Might Be Outrageous, But Not Like This
By Petyr Baelish
Some wise predecessor once said that these days, opera directors have one distressing issue: how to handle it if it gets messy. Well, in this case, the question would be, how did Oberyn Martell manage to make this Don Giovanni into a total, absolute mess? Well, we don’t quite know that, but he did succeed, sadly for all of us involved. Admittedly, it was something we should have imagined when Winterfell’s press statement spoke of an overhaul and of wanting to celebrate Pride month with their new staging, and it’s obvious that Martell has studied that abomination that was Sellars’s production in the Nineties. Alas, people don’t understand that operas were created in one specific historical moment and these modern productions are useless at best and distasteful at worst, but having stated the obvious, let’s go into this mess.
We are, of course, somewhere in the early Nineties, and apparently no one is straight. That’s about the entire summary of it, but when you get into the specifics, it gets even more ridiculous. If one wants to salvage Zerlina and Masetto looking like they just left a hippie commune, the rest is not an option. The Commendatore as a right-wing politician is nonsensical and Anna as a conflicted daughter when it comes to politics is even more so. Having Don Ottavio being the same is just the epitome of stupid — why would he be attracted to his rival in love in the first place? Donna Elvira as the ex-wife who tries to bring her former man back into the nuclear family without knowing any better is an equally atrocious idea, and less said of Leporello being in love with Don Giovanni, the more gained. And the lead himself is a total mess — reading him as bisexual makes no bloody sense, as I have already explained at length in this same column, and depicting him as some kind of sex magnet who’ll fuck anything that moves is such a misinterpretation of the source material, I feel hurt just typing these meager words. I also feel hurt thinking about how many times I had to endure Giovanni and Leporello making out on stage, shirts being taken off at length bringing attention away from the singing and the music, just to make a point for some kind of gay agenda, which is the only reason I can think of that might have been behind this ridiculousness. Knowing Oberyn Martell, it’s probably not far from the truth. And pretending that there’s anything political in the Act One finale’s party is just seeing things where they don’t exist. Freedom isn’t freedom to do whatever the hell you want.
Honestly, this Don Giovanni is completely off the wall, and I don’t understand how did the audience not react with the distaste it’d have deserved or why some of my fellow reviewers were enthusiastic. Honestly, I would go as far as saying revolting. This is one of those cases where the director thinks that their navel is the center of the world and known universe, which is why it’s making a masterpiece of the Enlightenment into some tasteless joke. What’s Enlightenment according to Oberyn Martell? Putting people in rainbow clothing in the Act One party and have Leporello hand out condoms? Don Giovanni flirting with everything that even moves, not that it’s surprising given that Martell is the exact same kind of person? Orgies? Digs at Reagan? That’s not Enlightenment. It’s just bloody nonsensical, disrespectful and absolutely misunderstanding the basic point of the opera.
Of course, this completely ruins the effort of the — sadly in this case — not bad casting choices. Catelyn Stark is of course the best out of the whole lot, as always, but there was nothing to doubt, as every time she is a guarantee. Her brother and Roslin Frey are average as Zerlina and Masetto — the good side of, admittedly, but still average. Elia Martell shrieks through her arias like some kind of mad banshee with a vengeance, while Targaryen’s Ottavio is certainly correct and well-sung, but adds and takes nothing from the role. Also, pairing them as characters who are technically betrothed was probably the worst idea in the recent history of this company. Theon Greyjoy does what he can as Leporello — he can sing and he can act. If only the acting directions weren’t atrocious, he might have salvaged at least his part of this mess, but he’s certainly the second-best. Jon Arryn is the best Commendatore the circumstances call for, which is not a compliment, given the state of the circumstances.
As far as Jon Connington goes, I have to partially stand corrected. From what we had seen in the previous years, I had entirely good reasons to think he could never carry that role, especially if he had to fill in Brandon Stark’s quite large shoes, but he did partially prove me wrong — he has the acting skills and the voice for it, and he can fake seducing women well-enough, but the whole angle in which Martell most likely went for his little gay fantasy production because he had a gay singer completely falls flat and he can sing as well as he wants, but a Don Giovanni into men is so outlandish and ridiculous, I barely have words for it.
In short, good voices, terrible staging, disastrous choices and Mozart turned into a political pamphlet he most likely wouldn’t have approved of: o tempora, o mores, the wise man said once, and I shall quote him again, hoping that the next Don Giovanni that’s played in this theater is the old version we all came to love.
Because this one, really, really was an insult.
The Musical Spider
Winterfell’s New Don Giovanni Is Certainly Proud…
It might not have been planned, but Winterfell’s Don Giovanni has been a certainly lovely summer surprise and no one will certainly complain about a third new production when this year’s schedule only had two in plans. Of course, we would have been delighted with the usual one they have faithfully staged for the last years, with Brandon Stark as the lead, but his abrupt cancellation (why? We just don’t know) has given way to a take that’s certainly bolder and less usual, but a nice change of pace from the usual period pieces.
Given that Oberyn Martell was the director, no one was surprised that, for a production being staged during Pride month, the entire opera was overhauled to a mostly sober, modern version that tackled LGBT-related themes the way Peter Sellars’s touched on racism, inequality, poverty and drug addiction in Harlem back in the Eighties. Once in a while, I think, it’s good to have such a production to shake things up: and after all, let’s be real, we have all seen the period one fifteen times. Lovely, but a change is welcomed, once in a while. So, goodbye sober Palladian villas and eighteenth-century costumes and welcome late Eighties (or early Nineties?), Don Giovanni’s Act One party turning into a small Pride celebration, torn shirts, a Commendatore obviously reminding us of the late Ronald Reagan and sexually charged interactions between all of the characters. It was a bold move, and it paid off, and it certainly will create a buzz, but I found this production way more organic and well-thought than the earlier Don Carlo that opened the season.
The cast, this time, is miraculously well picked, a miracle given that two people from the original cast dropped out earlier in the production. Roslin Frey and Edmure Tully are excellent as Zerlina and Masetto: they’re young, they look the part, they obviously have chemistry (just on stage? A little bird would suggest it’s something more, but we’ll see with time) and Tully especially gives a surprising depth to his character: the heavy sarcasm with which he sung the immortal va bene, va bene, va bene in verità during the Act One finale was delightful, and the same is valid for his Act One aria. He will make a very fine Leporello one day, most likely. Meanwhile, Theon Greyjoy confirms himself to be one of the company’s top singers: we all can imagine that it must be awkward to spend half of the piece courting a character played by one’s future mother in law (if the gossip concerning he and Robb Stark is true, but given how they dramatically came together during the Don Carlo opening night, it might as well be), but he carries on that job with the usual charme and skill. Putting Leporello and Giovanni in an open relationship gives him the chance to honestly sound heartbreaking at times, and his dejected, destroyed face during the finale showed again how good of an actor he is. And he sings a damn fine Madamina. Hopefully he will take on the lead role, one day. On the other side, Catelyn Stark is a great Elvira — it’s maybe a bit obvious she hasn’t sung the role in years, but she soldiers through it greatly, and more than a few tears fell around the audience during her Mi tradì quell’alma ingrata. Elia Martell’s Anna, instead, is angry and full of fire, and certainly all of our hairs were standing on our arms as she soldiered through Or sai chi l’onore, and if her ex-husband might have been literally at the receiving end of it, he certainly took it with philosophy. Rhaegar Targaryen was and still is an excellent singer, and his Ottavio is perfectly balanced and extremely well-sung. Making him, same as Anna, a rich, young son of a right-wing senator who certainly seems, shall we say, interested in the lead, also makes it a nice change of pace and prevents the risk of the character sounding boring, which is always a pit most Don Giovanni directors fall in. And of course, Jon Arryn is impeccable as the Reagan-like Commendatore, with his barely-hidden disgust towards Giovanni and all he represents.
And now we have to touch the main point, the focus of the entire production, of course: the leading man. It’s a known truth that if the lead fails, Don Giovanni is a poor choice to stage, and people might have been worried when learning Stark had pulled out. But they were instead gifted with the greatest surprise of the evening. Of course, no one ever doubted that Jon Connington was an excellent singer — he’s proved that throughout the years —, but for some crime against good music he was never chosen as the lead, until now. And what a surprise! His openly bisexual, magnetic Giovanni oozes sexual tension with whoever is around him, and he sings the role with such skill and charme and heart that one can immediately buy why the entire cast bar the Commendatore is attracted to him. I hadn’t seen someone singing with such raw energy in years, and his death with a head held high as he has no doubts while denying the Commendatore repentance was enough to make people stop breathing — yours truly included. Sure, we might have lost Stark (this time), but we gained an extraordinary performance and I, for one, hope that Winterfell’s will remember it and stop casting the man just as the antagonist in either Verdi or belcanto operas: he would make an astounding Onegin or William Tell or Escamillo. We honestly hope he starts getting more varied roles, because as much as we all enjoyed his Counts of Luna and his Enrico in Lucia, this performance blew any of those out of the water and he certainly deserved every moment of his standing ovation on opening night.
Also, this production lost the usual conductor: but Brynden Tully, stepping in for Stannis Baratheon who is apparently on a deserved leave, delivered a strong performance and had the orchestra in an iron grip, which is another miracle given that he stepped in after three weeks of rehearsals with the original conductor. And certainly it was a, shall we say, cute touch that at the end, at a production dealing with LGBT themes on Pride month with a lead singer that never made a mystery of his sexual orientation (but none of us could have said he doesn’t seduce women in real life!), it was Don Giovanni and not the usual Anna or Elvira who went to bring the conductor on stage at the end of the piece. Another small broken tradition in a production that goes against a lot of traditions, period, but magically manages to be the best yet this season. If you want to take a trip to Edinburgh and see excellently sung and acted opera with a smart, thought-provoking setting, do consider it, because it’s honestly the best that Winterfell had to offer this year, yet.
Still, we are waiting eagerly for the new Fidelio next month, starring Jaime Lannister in his first leading role after a couple years under the radar, and Brienne of Tarth, who until now has only played secondary roles but whose voice we certainly noticed a while ago: it looks like a winning team. Hopefully it will be, same as the team behind this Don Giovanni was.
Viva la libertà, indeed!
- Varys's review is - for once - not inspired by anything, just his good taste. However, LF's is a rehash that I modified around/translated of a review of the infamous Peter Sellars production from 1989 that this critic I particularly don't like wrote back in the day and which imo was absolutely missing the point. /o\
Okay. I'm done giving you links to stuff. Hopefully I pulled this monster off and see you next time with... I don't know what but as stated, I HAVE PLANS FOR FURTHER SEQUELS so they're gonna happen at some point :D <3