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Volpi's Farewell THE sixth grade is doing La Boheme in English-an abridged version especially for children. Volpi sits in the principal's office waiting for the performance to begin. "You have to be so careful in casting the students," the principal says, glancing down at a sheaf of test scores a secretary has just placed on his desk. "Your son is a good example of what I mean." Volpi nods though he's hardly listening. The principal's window overlooks the playground which is empty this time of morning . A few limp jackets sway from the parallel bars, a half-inflated ball rolls back and forth in the wind. "Ricky is much more sensitive than other boys his age. Perhaps Miss Heath was wrong in having him ..." "Miss Heath?" Volpi interrupts. "Our music teacher. The one who was awarded the grant for her children's opera program. Perhaps she was wrong in having Ricky involved in something with a girl he's so obviously fond of. Sixth-graders take these things so seriously. It's hard for them to just pretend." The principal always uses this tone of voice with the parents. But Volpi is flattered-he welcomes anything that makes him feel appropriately paternal. "Mrs. Norion's class did a play about the presidents last year. She made the mistake of casting Tommy Hent as Abe Lincoln and 103 VOLPI'S FAREWELL 104 when it came time for the assasination he punched John Wilkes Booth in the jaw. We had to stop the performance." Volpi continues to stare out the window. A woman has appeared from somewhere to the right-his fiancee, a girl half his age. She takes off her coat, goes over to the seesaw and sits down on one end. She is wearing her hair in a ponytail---..:she starts fussing with it until it comes undone. From that distance she looks like a sixth-grader herself and Volpi can't help wincing when she takes out a cigarette. "The boy will sing," he says, turning back to the desk to let the principal see he hasn't changed his mind. "I brought her especially down just to hear him. It's not as if Marcello loves the girl. It's Rodolfo who will love her. Ricky must realize this. He must realize tonight while he is still young." Now it's the principal's turn to nod. He's rather taken aback by Volpi's voice-he's only heard it on records and had expected it to be much lower than it is. Volpi's son is playing Marcello and he has a crush on the girl who's playing Mimi. So far the rehearsals have gone badly. Volpi has graciously volunteered to oversee the last one that afternoon. "Ricky gets along with the others but he broods," the principal says, scanning the one paper he hasn't let Volpi look at. "Perhaps ... perhaps if he had a more settled environment at home." "I no longer sing," Volpi says, with a slight wave of his hand. He says it automatically now-it has become his explanation for everything. "Perhaps having a mother again. Someone much closer to Ricky's own age." Volpi agrees that the principal is right. That is exactly why they had come down. Of course it would not be easy for a spirited young woman like her to have a stepson . . . they had quarreled once or twice about Ricky already, but ... well, he could judge VoLPI's FAREWELL for himself. She was out there now if the principal would care 105 to see. But when they get to the window the playground is empty. No jackets, no ball, no fiancee. Volpi is forced to say something inconsequential about the grass. "I heard you sing with Toscanini in 1952," the principal says just before he leaves. He says it in a rush, as if during all the time they were talking he had been trying to get up the nerve. "On the radio, of course. I'll never forget it. Your voice was so deep it rocked the china on my mother's end table." Volpi acts puzzled. He rubs his hand across the glass, then clears his throat. "No. It could not have been fifty-two. In fifty-two I was singing at Scala. Surely it was fifty-three?" The principal shuffles through the papers. "Uh.... Yes. Yes, we're very honored to have you here, Mr. Volpi. On...


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MARC Record
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