My Dearest Scarlett,
I am writing this to you from my hotel after returning from an evening at the Opera. First of all I cannot thank you and Captain Butler enough for arranging this trip for us. It was a beautiful day and Ashley and Beau spent so much time strolling in Central Park. We really had a lovely time. I still have my reservations about walking amongst Yankees but they have so far treated us with courtesy. About this evening: the opera we saw was Arabella, written by a gentleman named Mr. Richard Strauss.
There was so much to enjoy about the Opera! The gold curtains reminded me (sadly) of the beautiful curtains that used to adorn Tara and Twelve Oaks. To think of what dresses Mammy could make from those curtains! In the second act the set was a ballroom that again, made my eyes well up as I remember the first time I saw you, so radiant in your ball gown, at Twelve Oaks.
The final act included a beautiful set of stairs that again, made me remember how beautiful you looked as you walked down the steps of Twelve Oaks. Oh, how that life is lost to us forever, but it still lives in my heart and mind. That was the day we became sisters, and anything that reminds me of that beautiful day brings happiness to my heart.
But as for the opera itself, my sensibilities were shocked, as I found it quite crude and uncouth! I am afraid I found no humor in seeing a wastrel father who gambles away his earnings and hides the identity of one of his daughters. Ashley says I am being overly prudish but I saw ladies around me laughing at the riffraff onstage and I could only shake my head and think that in the South, these men and women would be rightly called trash!
I also remember how you never lacked for beaux who sighed at your feet, and your vivacity as you charmed all of them. In light of that, I found Arabella’s treatment of her beaux quite rude and appalling! I do not understand why well-bred ladies would dance with a nice young gentleman and then send him away without so much as a kind or comforting word.
As for her eventual lover Mandryka, I despise drunkenness and found the carryings-on of this so-called gentleman disgraceful! And is Zdenka a lady? Because her actions are certainly unladylike and I hope Beau was not paying too much attention to the story! I do not want him thinking women who have relations with men under false pretenses are normal and proper!
I also did not appreciate the interruptions of that character Fiakermilli, I saw no value in her being onstage and on this point even Ashley agreed with me. Ashley liked the story because he is more tolerant of weakness than I, but I am afraid I felt no attachment to any of the characters and was quite glad when it was over! This is in contrast to the opera we saw last evening, La Boheme, where my handkerchief was quite wet by the end of the evening!
Ashley is much more learned about music than I am and he says he finds other works by Mr. Strauss to be more compelling. I said the final duet was quite lovely, but he pointed out how much of the opera is filled with dialogue that is neither sonorous, interesting, or pleasing to the ears.
I said, “My dearest Ashley, could this be a result of the librettist Mr. von Hofmannsthal writing more words than are necessary?” He averred that it might be the case. It did bother me that the waltzes in the second act were not the lovely, lilting waltzes Charles and I used to play at the piano when we were children. Instead they were quite bombastic and crude.
Although no one is more beautiful than you, my dear sister Scarlett, the lady who sang Arabella, Miss Malin Bystrom, reminded me of what a plain old mouse I am. She is a tall lady, with beautiful golden hair and she moves so elegantly in her gowns! I remember when my mammy used to try to teach me how to sweep across the ballroom floor in my gown and I always was so clumsy and mousy. Miss Bystrom absolutely floated in her pearl-grey silk ball gown.
But my dear Ashley, who pays more attention to these details, felt her voice was not as beautiful as her countenance. He is sitting with me right now as I write this and he says, “There is a slightly muffled quality to her sound, and her top notes are neither bell-like nor sonorous.” I will defer to Ashley on all matters of vocal taste. Ashley also says of the lady who sang Arabella’s sister Zdenka, “It is a small voice, shrill in sound, and did not blend with her sisters in the duets.” Her name was Miss Juliane Banse. I hate to say anything unkind but from where I sat I thought that Miss Banse looked and sounded too mature for her part.
I was too disturbed by the presence of Fiakermilli to pay much attention to her voice, but Ashley says Miss Audrey Luna, bless her heart, has beautiful fingernails, and if she put those beautiful fingernails by a chalkboard, that would be a good replication of her voice. That is sadly accurate.
I forgot to mention, dear Scarlett, that much of the plot of this opera depends on Arabella’s love for a wealthy gentleman named Mandryka and Zdenka’s love for a soldier named Matteo. I will speak of Matteo first. He was sung by a gentleman named Mr. Roberto Sacca. Zdenka says she will throw herself into the Danube if she does not have Matteo’s affections, but both Ashley and I were quite puzzled over why any young lady would throw herself anywhere for this Matteo! Again, Ashley is sitting next to me, and he says, “Mr. Sacca’s voice was quite ugly, and reminds me of the sheep we raised in Twelve Oaks.” I will only comment that his appearance also strained believability.
Mr. Michael Volle was the Mandryka and neither Ashley nor I found much appeal in his vocal tones either, nor his stage manner. I also understand that this is the theater, but when Arabella and Mandryka’s lips were supposed to touch, they did not, and in fact they looked quite repelled at each other! My dearest Beau, who is such a darling, said to me, “Mother, I will kiss you goodnight like they did tonight at the Opera” and he bent over, scrunched his face, came within a few inches of me, and then ran away laughing. What a joy he is!
The most appealing gentleman of the evening was in fact one of Arabella’s hapless suitors, Count Elmer. Mr. Brian Jagde who portrayed Count Elmer was pleasing to both the eyes and the ears, and I simply could not fathom Arabella’s cruel rejection of his attentions! Arabella’s father, Mr. Martin Winkler, was one of the few characters who made me laugh in this evening.
I must save the most unpleasant part for last. At the end of the evening the conductor, Mr. Philipe Auguin, came before the gold curtains for a bow, and in the crowd there were the most uncouth, unpolite jeers for him! Ashley and I were shocked at this reminder that we are among Yankees, for I cannot fathom any Southerner booing and jeering at a conductor who Ashley says “kept the music lively and the orchestra in tune.” We did not want Beau to be exposed to such ugliness in the world, so we quickly hailed a carriage back to our hotel.
Tomorrow we have plans to visit the Russian Tea Room, and my greatest gratitude goes to Captain Butler for arranging another night at the Opera. Ashley says that I will enjoy Madama Butterfly more than I enjoyed Arabella. He is so learned and I will trust his judgment. I miss you and Wade, Ella, and Bonnie more than words can express.
Your dearest sister,
Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera