Opera Queens

A composer I know, a neighbor,
once dropped the electrifying news
that the great Anna Moffo has sung his songs,
and telephones him every New Year’s.

Whenever I see him on the street,
scurrying along with music scores
clutched to his chest,
I stop him to ask
if Miss Moffo, as I,
in my utter adoration, like to call her,
has phoned him yet
to wish him a Happy New Year.

But he invariably
dismisses my ultimate goddess
with a flick of the hand,
and switches the subject
to Zinka Milanov —
he accompanied Milanov on the piano
during the years of her retirement
as she coached divas with their vocal problems.
“They all came to her,”
he says, in utter worship,
“and Madame Milanov
told everyone the truth.
When Anna,” —
my Miss Moffo is merely “Anna” to him,
in distinction to Milanov,
who is always Madame Milanov —
“When Anna came to her
for coaching,
Madame Milanov asked,” —
here the composer’s voice purrs bitchily —
“‘How old are you, my dear.’
‘Fifty-four,’ Anna answered.
‘My dear,” the composer’s eyes
search poor Miss Moffo’s neck
for wrinkles, her face for evidence
of a face lift,
“we must be truthful
with each other,
or I cannot help you.
Sixty-four?'”
He cackles in triumph,
as Milanov must have cackled
every time she repeated the story,
and goes on to say
that the last time Anna called him
she said she was working on Norma.
“Norma! “
He howls with laughter
at the thought.
My tattered queen….

His latest story
is of Renata Scotto
arriving to ask Madame Milanov for help
in singing the dramatic role, La Gioconda.
“You want to sing La Gioconda?”
purred Madame Milanov.
“Yes,” said the reigning diva of the Met,
“it suits my voice.”
“My dear,” said Madame Milanov,
“Cats are cats
and dogs are dogs,
and you
will
never
sing
Gioconda!”

And with a dismissive wave of the hand,
he sails down the street
gasping
with Milanovian mirth.

— from A Frieze for a Temple of Love by Edward Field (www.edwardfield.com). His latest, just released, is After the Fall, Poems Old and New (U. of Pittsburgh Press).

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