Un Ballo In Maschera
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“If you're going to pout like that all night, you might as well have stayed home and smoked your imported cigars, Nazaire!”

At the end of the second act, Josephine went off to powder her nose, cutting off any possibility of a response. She did not have an easy character: a strong woman, maybe a little coquettish at times, but with great strength of will and stubbornness, so much that many had called her the man in the couple. The exact opposite of her husband, the Tutor of the Medicean Academy of Occult Arts of France, Nazaire de Tully: a serious man, as reserved as he was compliant, always ready to meet the needs of others before his own, especially those of his wife. But that evening, despite his nature, he was unable to be present to meet his wife's needs. A question had been weighing on his mind for a long time, with increasing strength, and this boulder which had now become a nightmare was summed up in four words: Sommes-Nous Devenus Magnifiques?

Scoundrels, beggars, bohemians: it didn't matter how they were called, Nazaire saw them as the Evil. Some years had passed in the Parisian anartistic scene, and there had been talks and debates about renewal, rebirth, detachment. Detachment from what? From tradition, of course, from the classical canons. But above all, from the Academy: dusty, old-fashioned, bigwigs, that's how they were called by those rascals. There was a separation that same year: in a few months, this little group of revolutionaries had gathered such a strong consensus that they were able to give themselves their own identity. This while proclaiming the end of academicism, with resounding speeches announcing a "new golden age" for art, sweeping away the old ashes from ruins of the past. An authentic palingenesis.

He hated to admit it: they were no longer the only ones competing for art in Paris. But if this had been the case, the problems for the Tutor would hardly have existed, with all the resources at the Academy's disposal. Something else was disrupting Nazaire's thinking. For the past two weeks, every day there had been signs that these revolutionaries wanted blood, and more precisely, his blood. Threatening letters, knives were thrown in the air, firecrackers exploded a short distance ahead: everything seemed to contribute to the idea that had matured in his heart that they wanted him dead. After all, having passed on important information to the Gendastrerie about the most subversive members of the group, who happened to be former members of the Academy, it was to be expected.

He looked around, from the top of his private box at the Opéra, for potential suspects. Not even in the place, he held dearest, the temple of music, did he feel safer. That night, "Un ballo in maschera" by Giuseppe Verdi was being performed, which did not reassure him at all. But, in order to please Josephine, he had agreed to come with her, despite the fact that the opera was about betrayals, attempts, and bloodshed. He was peering at every corner, now that the last interval had begun, looking for potential assaulters. A man in a black tabard on the right, leaning a little against the balustrade, seemed to be scrutinizing him… in fact, if he saw him correctly, he was turned three-quarters toward the stage. On the left, two young girls were being led offstage by a bold young man, who appeared to be holding what looked like a gun. In reality, it was the knob of a cane without the latter, which the handsome young man was apparently looking for. The wheel of suspicion spun ceaselessly and endlessly.

In the audience, perhaps? The angle doesn't allow for an effective shot.
Maybe… the stage? The curtains are actually closed, someone could take advantage of that… but how to move them, heavy as they are?
What if maybe… from the pit? Someone from the orchestra! It could only be one of them, maybe an oboist… or the timpani player, he has a great view from here! A better location to avoid gunfire? Maybe the back of the booth, against the wall…?
What if there was an explosive device on the other side, ready to detonate at their hands? Of course, after the tympanist, having received a signal from the man in the black tabard to proceed, gave the signal to the boy to have the maidens go and place the bomb in the adjoining box, and at the stroke of the tympanist light the fuse? What if…

“Mr. Tutor… ”

A familiar voice awakened him from the delirious dream into which he had fallen.

“Please forgive me for bothering you. ”

It was François, his personal collaborator, and secretary, one of the few people he could completely trust.

“François! What are you doing here? What's going on? Have there been more attacks?! ”
“No, Monsieur Tutor, but I rushed here as soon as I could. I have good news: We no longer have to fear Sommes-Nous Devenus Magnifiques?, from tonight onwards. Never again! ”
“W-what are you talking about? Explain yourself! ”
“The Gendastrerie, they took care of it! One of the leaders of those lunatics who dared this morning to publicly offend one of the officers, in a most shameful manner, by throwing paint at him, was nabbed and interrogated, and revealed all! ”
“I don't remember hearing such a thing…”
“But yes, it was being discussed this morning, don't you remember? It was one of ours, a certain Pierre Fourier…”
“Oh right, that reminds me of something. So, what happened?”
“There has been a lightning investigation, they have found the headquarters of those madmen, and all their leaders have been arrested. The group is in chaos. Our worries are finally over!”
“W-what? Seriously?”
“Yes, sir. A great weight has been lifted from our chests.”
“A great weight, yes… Thank you very much for this news, François. You have made my night.”
“You're welcome, Mr. Tutor. I will let you enjoy the show now.”
“Thank you so much again.”

What a relief, Nazaire thought. One less problem for his now weakened spirit; what could degenerate had been nipped in the bud. The anxieties and fears that had plagued him all evening now seemed to have slipped away like spring water. With a sigh of relief, he regained his strength. He looked around him: everything seemed more serene now. François, what a great man! To go to so much trouble for so little in the end. Such trustworthy collaborators are hard to find nowadays.

“I'm back, darling…”

Josephine had returned to the box, twittering happily, in a mood almost entirely different from when she had left him, as she was accustomed to doing.

“I was so close, I almost ran into that loud-mouthed Countess de Ponthieu, she wouldn't have let me go…you know how these old biddies are. You look a little better now. Tell me, what happened while I was away? Did a secret lover come to see you by any chance?”
“Come now Josephine, what are you saying? No, I received good news from François.”
“Oh, a blessed man that François, so industrious! And tell me, what news did he share?”
“Some competitors from work have been … terminated if we can say so.”
“Good God, I hope nothing violent!”
“I don't think so. In fact, I wouldn't say that at all.”
“Goodness, I hope so. And this has calmed your spirit, hasn't it?”
“Yes, now I feel more serene…”
“Thank goodness, having you like that all evening would have been so dreadful. Lord knows how I hate seeing you in that state!”
“Well, I suppose-"
“Sssh, more on that later, the final act is starting!”

The lights dimmed a little, and the scene began to brighten. The tragedy resumed its fatal course. But now, with his heart lightened, Nazaire could only worry about Riccardo, Renato, and Amelia, about their loves and betrayals, without the heavy anguish that had assailed him so much. Funny how the human mind works: one moment it perceives every sign, every trace, every minimal and sparse word as a plot and a deception, but as soon as it receives confirmation of the contrary it calms down, and the demons that besieged reason, all returned to the Tartarus! Now, there was nothing but serenity. Peace, at least for one evening.

“Well, what did you think about it?”

Clasped in an embrace against the night wind, Nazaire led Josephine out of the theater when the show was over. The voices of the spectators continued to invade the foyer, all of whom had stayed inside to talk about the performance: there were talking about how high the tenor's high notes had gone, the conductor's skill in directing such a large and composite orchestra, and there was even talk of a minor incident when some of the choristers who had appeared on the stage had fallen to the ground, though they got up immediately. Everyone seemed satisfied, and Josephine herself seemed pleased by the performance.

“I think it was wonderful…”

She continued, her voice still full of emotion.

“…But you're the art expert here, dear. I hang on to your every word, then, what did you think?”
“It was a performance worthy of the Opéra, dear. A most exquisite performance.”
“Oh, how lovely to hear you say that. I'm glad you liked it. And I find it much more satisfying to hear it from you, rather than from certain big-wigs like the Countess. Thank you, you know, for not letting me stay another minute with those mummies!”
“You're welcome, my darling.”
“Ah, you are an angel, Nazaire!”

The two lovers exchanged a brief, intense kiss. What a beautiful evening, Nazaire thought, looking at the smiling stars. Everything seemed to be going right at last. The carriage was waiting for them, and François was with it.

“Good evening, madame et monsieur!

Josephine exclaimed, very brightly.

“What good wind?”
“Oh, nothing in particular. There is a splendid starry sky tonight, and I took the trouble to observe it better from here, and also to greet you properly…”
“Really, you are a trustworthy man, François.”
“You are too kind, sir. Did you enjoy the show, madame?”
“I loved it. Have you ever seen this play?”
“Only once, many years ago… the last one I ever saw by Verdi was La Forza del Destino, enchanting. I know your husband appreciates these operas very much.”
“Undoubtedly, he is a fanatic of them we might say, haha! But, say, do you by any chance want a ride home? You'll freeze to death with all the wind tonight, walking home! Nazaire, what do you say?”
“I agree, my dear. What do you say, my old friend?”
“As accepted, really. I like to take walks in the evenings.”
“An evening like this, with this sky…”
“You hit the nail on the head, Madame, as always. But, in fact… I also waited to inform your husband of certain matters…”
“Oh, I see, these are your affairs. I'll wait for you in the carriage, dear. And a good night to you, François.”
“Good night to you too, madame.”

Josephine went to sit in the car, breaking away from the embrace of her husband, now ready to listen to his collaborator.

“Mr. Tutor, as I was leaving the theater I was approached by two men from the Gendastrerie…”
“What did they say? Is there any problem with those rascals?”
“Nothing of the sort, to tell you the truth: they were only asking for the particulars of other old members of ours who have passed over to the enemy, and if you could provide them tomorrow. I'll take care of everything, but it seemed only fair to give you a heads up.”
“You have done more than well, really. Trustworthy men like you are few and far between.”
“You're too kind, sir. Ah, I almost forgot: they also asked, on behalf of their bosses, if you were free for dinner, to congratulate them for this great success.”
“More than willingly, I would say!”
“Well, I'll let them know tomorrow morning. How nice, we can finally get back to our usual life.”
“A salvation, indeed. We can finally have the peace we so deserve.”

No one was yet seen leaving the theater, and the street, a postal car having darted out, was now deserted.

“Well, it's getting really late Mr. Tutor, I think it's best that we both go back to sleep, for the sake of our wives, haha!”
“Ahah, absolutely, I totally agree!”
“Just, before you go, I wanted to ask you one last thing, now that those slackers won't be pestering us anymore…”
“Go ahead, Francois, I'm all ears!”
“I was wondering…”
…Sommes-Nous Devenus Magnifiques?

As a response, only a gunshot, bolted horses, and a body falling to the ground were heard.

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