Saturday, November 10, 2007

Who's On First?

Brad followed Drew off the main stage and down a hallway where dozens of costumes hung suspended from a series of clothes racks. A man in uniform stood near the set of blue metal doors leading to the artist’s reception area and, as the two men approached the entrance, Gelfand whispered some instructions to the security guard. He then turned and spoke to Brad.

"Wait right here until I can get everyone assembled for you."

Barry Russell had just finished removing Nancy Westheimer’s wig from the soprano’s head when Drew Gelfand suddenly appeared in the singer’s dressing room. "Nancy, darling, I need all of the principals in the reception area immediately. You’re going to have to talk to the police for a few minutes, my dear, but there’s absolutely no need to worry about your hair. Come along, sweetheart. Barry, you can go home early tonight."

Gelfand vanished from sight just as quickly as he had appeared. A moment later, as if his movements had been choreographed in advance, the makeup man swept Freia’s wig up in his arms and made a regal exit from Nancy Westheimer’s dressing room. Walking past Brad and the security guard, he placed the blond wig in its proper storage place before proceeding down to his locker. No one knew for sure what the Met’s chief wig man kept stashed in the back of his locker but Barry’s breath usually carried strong hints of either bourbon or rum.

Several minutes later, the principal singers (still clad in their dressing gowns) all stood in the artists’ reception area listening quietly as Drew introduced them to a tall black man wearing a dark brown sports jacket. As he stood with his hands on his hips, the man seemed to tower over the Met’s General Director.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is Sergeant Carson from the Police Department. He was present at tonight’s performance and would like to ask you some questions," announced Drew. "I’m sure you’ll all give him your complete cooperation. Sergeant?"

Brad looked at the group of men and women who were gathered before him. Minus their costumes and wigs, they looked a little bit tired and certainly much older than they had appeared onstage. The singers all seemed badly shaken and, unless Brad was mistaken, more than a little bit suspicious of him.

"First, I should tell you that, since I’m not a big opera fan, I don’t know any of your names. Nor can I identify the faces before me with the characters I saw onstage during tonight’s performance," he confessed. "So I’d like to start by having someone here tell me which characters you all played and which of you were nearest to the victim when he died."

"That’s easy," stated Drew as he indicated each of the soloists in turn. "Minna Gustavson here was Fricka and Nancy Westheimer was Freia. Peter Atwood was Froh, James Bookman was Donner, and Stephen McLellan sang Loge. Although Madelyn Forston was Erda, Malcolm Esterhazy, Alberich, and Paul Rivendell, Mime, none of the last three artists were onstage at the end of the opera."

As they watched the detective’s face, it became obvious to the singers that the man standing in front of them hadn’t understood a word Drew said.

"Let me see if I can help," volunteered Minna Gustavson. "Nancy and I were standing on either side of John. He had just placed his arms over our shoulders as we all faced upstage toward Valhalla."

"What’s Valhalla?" asked Brad.

"Talk about a lucky break," chuckled Madelyn Fortson. "It looks like we’ve got a major Wagnerian scholar on our hands!"

"Please, Madelyn," hissed Drew. "No wisecracks tonight. One of our artists is dead and, although Sergeant Carson is a very capable detective, his work does not require him to have a complete knowledge of the operatic literature. He obviously knows very little about Richard Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelungen and needs our help so that he can understand what happened tonight."

Minna Gustavson straightened her shoulders and stepped forward with an air of authority.

"As I started to say -- before I was so rudely interrupted by that contralto over there -- Nancy and I were standing on either side of John, who was singing the role of Wotan. John had just placed his arms around our shoulders when we all started to walk upstage. All I can recall is that, at some point, his body started to sag and, as I continued to move forward, I felt his arm fall from my shoulders. The next thing I knew, he had fallen to the floor."

"What did you do when he fell?" asked Brad.

"I kept walking forward, of course," replied the soprano. "This was a live telecast and we’d rehearsed the timing of this scene very carefully."

Brad nodded toward Nancy Westheimer.

"What about you?"

The blond woman kept shifting her weight from one foot to another.

"Well, um, I pretty much did the same thing as Minna. I mean, like, whatever happened, you know, like, we had just so many bars in which to, like, make it to the top of the platform so we could salute the rainbow bridge. Officer, can I ask you something? Like, is that a real gun you’re wearing under your arm?"

"I’m afraid it is, Ma’am. Just think of it as part of my costume," Brad reassured the soprano.

"Mr. Gelfand, if this performance was telecast, would there be a videotape of it somewhere that I could watch?"

"I’m quite sure we have one," answered Drew. "In fact, with most of our VCRs you could probably stop the tape on a single frame if you saw anything that looked suspicious."

"I think that would probably be the best evidence for me to examine," said Brad. "Thank you all very much for your time. I might need to contact you later for further questioning, but at the moment I think I’ve got all the information I’ll need from you tonight. Can I speak to you in private, Mr. Gelfand?"

"Of course. Why don’t you come up to my office," suggested Drew as he ushered the detective out of the reception area. "The rest of you can all go home. I’ve left orders at the stage door that there be no visitors tonight. I’d appreciate it very much if you would all exit through the front of the house. The security guards will escort you there when you’re ready. Come with me, Officer."
Next: Twinkle, Twinkle, Dying Star

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