Interview with a Greek Diva
by Jane Nightshade
“Not after midnight.”
The stage manager at the Royal Opera wagged a finger at Mary Shaw, the second-string music reporter from The Times of London. Melina Gorgos— the Great Gorgos — would be available for interviews in her dressing room after her evening performance. But only up until midnight; after that, she preferred to retire, and her time was her own.
“She enforces it strictly,” the stage manager warned.
“I wouldn’t dare stay past midnight,” Mary answered. It was already almost eleven-thirty, and Mary would have only a half-hour to speak with Melina Gorgos. Hers was the last of the press interviews scheduled for that evening.
She quivered like a blob of aspic on lettuce when shown into the legendary diva’s dressing room. The Great Gorgos had a reputation for being a difficult interview subject, but this was Mary’s chance to make her name as something more than a second-string music reporter.
Her eager eyes took in the room, cluttered with floral tributes, spangled scarves, and silver-framed photographs. The famous soprano was stretched out on a small, stiff-backed sofa, with her celebrated corkscrew curls splayed every which way. She still had stage makeup on from Turandot, her signature role—and the one she’d chosen for her comeback, after years of absence from the stage.
Around the Great Gorgos — on side tables, on the floor, and on her dressing table, standing among the masses of flowers from well-wishers — were her famous “boys”, the marble or granite busts of various husbands and lovers. Reportedly, she never travelled without them. They were renowned for their lifelike, natural poses.
Mary held out her hand. “Ms. Gorgos. Mary Shaw, from The Times.” Without rising, the soprano touched Mary’s hand lightly and gestured her to a nearby chair.
“Madam Gorgos. Please. Sit. Madam was what they called Callas. Am I less?” Her tone was imperious, coloured by a heavy Greek accent that made her words seem even more intimidating.
Melina Gorgos had been a prima diva of the international opera world since she first stepped onto the stage at La Scala at just seventeen. That same night, the press christened her the heiress of the legendary Maria Callas.
She was close to seventy now but barely looked fifty. Her chin line was still firm, her profile sharp. Her great green eyes were round and clear, rimmed with heavy black kohl and thick, theatrical lashes. Her voice was as limber as it was when she made her debut.
“Thank you, Madam Gorgos. I’m recording this interview on my phone. Is that acceptable?” Mary tried hard to keep her voice even as she accepted the chair, but it trembled just a little bit at times.
The soprano waved her hand dismissively, which Mary took as assent.
“Now, Madam Gorgos, I’m afraid my first question is fairly obvious. Why did you come out of retirement? Were you unhappy away from the stage?”
“Unhappy?” The great soprano laughed. One of her thick black corkscrew curls fell across her brow and she pushed it away with an impatient gesture. “My dear — I was deliriously happy. No schedules, no plane tickets, no hotels, no fittings, no press people dogging my every move! Just me and my villa by the sea, my bougainvillaea and my lemon trees. Heaven!”
“But then — why come back? Why leave your happy villa by the sea?”
“Because I had to! The music today is dreadful! I waited and waited, for the heir to Gorgos — the heir to Callas — to step forward! And nothing! The girls of today have no passion, no poetry, no soul. So Gorgos must come back and show the world what real music sounds like. Until the new heir appears, and then Gorgos can go back to her villa by the sea.”
“And what if no one appears?”
“There will be an heir, someday. In the meantime, Gorgos is here. Dmitri, my first husband” — she gestured toward a granite bust on her dressing table — “Dmitri said the greatness of Gorgos belongs to the whole world and I’ve no right to hide it away.”
“That’s an interesting sculpture. The expression is very lifelike, but almost one of shock, not an average sculpture’s expression at all.”
She let out a loud, dramatic sigh. “Craftsmen from my village in Greece. They have their ways of making people look…like what they are inside rather than outside. Dmitri, you see, wasn’t…careful. Always surprised by the results of his carelessness. A terrible accident.”
Mary’s eyes fell on another bust, another expression of startled dismay. “This one — another husband?”
“Ah, dear Pierre, the Frenchman. We were happy for a while, but then he took a swim in the Mediterranean one day and never came back. They never found him.” Her huge green eyes took on a faraway, misty look.
“You’ve been very unfortunate.”
“Yes, that is true…every man in my life has either left me or…died. That’s why I prefer to live alone now. But at least I have my memories, preserved in stone.”
“What about Turandot? What about the role appeals to you so much?”
“Don’t we women all have a bit of Turandot in us? Don’t we all want to be the Imperial Princess who says men must die if they can’t answer our riddles? To have a man’s life in our hands? Haven’t you ever fantasized about it?”
Mary drew back a little. “Well, I’ve never really given it a thought in that way.”
“I’ve never really thought of it that way,” the Great Gorgos mimicked her. “Have you no passion, no fire? You will never get what you want out of life without a little bit of…ruthlessness.”
Mary deflected. “This interview is not about me, it’s about you. May we just get back to your career? What other roles are you considering when this run of Turnadot is over?”
“Lammermoor. You know the story? The mad Lucia who kills her husband on their wedding night?”
“Yes, of course.”
“A magnificent role.” The Great Gorgos spoke voluminously about Lucia di Lammermoor and opera in general. She rarely seemed to pause for breath as she talked on and on. When she finally halted, it was three minutes to midnight. She then jumped up from her small couch and startled Mary with the loud insistence: “Go now! Gorgos must retire! It’s almost midnight.”
“I… I… of course, Madam Gorgos,” Mary stammered. She hurriedly gathered her purse and stood up. “Thank you for your time. I’ll be in touch to clarify any quotes.”
“Yes of course, but now you must go, young woman, go!” Melina Gorgos grabbed Mary by the elbow and pushed her rudely toward the dressing room door.
Mary found herself in the dimly lit hall, just as she heard the faint sounds of Big Ben’s bells striking the midnight hour, a mile or so away. She took a few steps, then realized that she’d left her jacket on the chair near the sofa. The jacket which had her phone in the bottom right pocket—the phone she’d used to record the interview! How could she have been so careless?
“I’ll just nip in for thirty seconds, grab the jacket and go,” she told herself. “Surely that will be okay, even if it’s just a smidgeon after midnight.”
She hurried back down the corridor. She was relieved to find that there was no light shining from under the door of the diva’s dressing room. “She’s probably trying to sleep on the settee, then,” Mary thought. “The door is probably locked, but I’ll try anyway…”
To Mary’s surprise, the door easily gave way. Fearing discovery, she didn’t reach for the wall switch. She felt her way through the room until she reached the chair she’d been sitting on. She found the jacket and took her phone out, meaning to use its discreet light to guide her out of the room.
Mary froze. There was a sound in the room, familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. A sound like numerous streams of air escaping from jets or tubes—- ssssssssss! —-and at the same time, she realized that there was a great mass of things writhing somewhere in the dark air, not far from where she stood, although she could not see them.
“Don’t turn on the light!” shrieked a harsh but feminine voice in agony. “Why, oh why did you come after the clock chimed twelve?”
It was too late. Mary had turned her phone light on and flashed it in the direction of the mass of moving, sssssss-ing things — and then she saw — oh she saw— the coiling, spitting, weaving, hissing thing that was Melina Gorgos’s head — after midnight.
In the morning, the diva’s personal maid came to tidy things up and noticed there was a new lifelike granite bust standing among Madam Gorgos’s collection, a female subject this time. There was also a mystifying pile of broken rubbish in a heap on the floor, arms and legs and feet, made of the same stone as the female bust. The maid shrugged and then swabbed the new head with her feather duster.
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