- Plácido Domingo on the Northbound Train, and: Dinner with Kathleen Battle
Plácido Domingo on the Northbound Train
Two seats away, my father watched the tenor study the world that rumbledparallel to his window: crumbling brick, edges of cities sprayedwith overlapping words. The car was quiet. My father could have said,Not long ago I saw you play the King of Spain. Tough to imaginemy father in those days—shy, undrafted from a war, distantas if viewed through opera glasses. I can see him in old photographs,leaned against a mirror, the background blind with reflected light. That year,critics warned it’s hard on the voice to be heroic so many nights,plus matinees. No one could know how long beauty lasts, least of allmy father in his rented seat, clutching the stub of a ticketand watching—the way one might watch stage lights dim—the great singerslip theatrically into sleep. [End Page 202]
Dinner with Kathleen Battle
To protect the instrument, she spent all nightgesturing at plates or nodding yes to the glass of white.
She had changed her gown but left her makeup on,so that I watched like a recital, the diamond-shine
of her lips, lashes long enough to be seen in the second tier. Someone made a metaphor
from her voice. Someone said her timbre was burnt sugar. Perhaps she missed her own daughter—
if she had one—or maybe I was the guest with the softest pleas,only holding out my program, uncapping a pen, and asking please.
You have to shieldyourself, she whispered, as we shared
one couch pillow, one bowl of crème brûlée, while others agreed this was the right of genius:
to adopt a little girl for the evening and turn everyone else away, never mind the dignitaries or the great bouquet
that bristled in its cellophane. Later I would hear how she set fire to her career,
each tantrum a shrillexplosion on the stage, the singer true to the scuffle
of her name. But that night, she was no sharper than a silk ruffle.And her tone did have the sweetness of warm caramel.
Whatever war remained behind the scenes, unseenas all of opera’s wonders—pulleys and levers, the smoke machine,
the lightning flickerof the strobe, the sheet of steel that resonates with thunder. [End Page 203]
Jehanne Dubrow is the author of several poetry collections, including The Arranged Marriage (New Mexico, 2015), Red Army Red (Northwestern, 2012), and Stateside (Northwestern, 2010). She is the director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House and an associate professor at Washington College in Maryland.