1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 37
“Good morning, Frau Simpson,” the man waiting in her parlor said as Mary Simpson entered the room. She made a lightning assessment with a single glance, a skill that had served her well since early in her days in Pittsburg. The man was of middling height, middling years, middling size, dressed well but not with ostentation.
“Good morning, Herr Schardius,” Mary responded. She waved to a chair opposite the small settee she preferred for her seat. “Please, sit with me. Coffee will be here in a moment.” She could hear Hilde coming down the hall with the tray.
Hilde entered the room and set the silver coffee service on the low table in the center of the seats. Then, after looking to Mary for direction, retreated to a corner.
Mary leaned forward, poured the coffee, and offered a cup to her visitor. “What can I do for you, Master Schardius?”
“Perhaps it is more what I can do for you, Frau Simpson.” He took a sip from his cup, smiled, and leaned back in his chair. “I understand from some of my friends and associates that you, or rather, the Royal and Imperial Arts Council, intend to produce a new opera soon.”
“As it happens, your friends and associates are correct; we will be staging a new opera entitled Arthur Rex.” Mary set her own cup down and steepled her fingers below her chin. “Kappellmeister Schütz is writing it even now. He says he will be done soon, so we are preparing for the production.”
“Good.” Schardius looked into his cup for a moment. “I am here to offer to underwrite a portion of the production; a quarter at least, perhaps as much as a third.”
“Good Lord!” the exclamation slipped from Mary’s lips. “I mean, we are very thankful for the offer and certainly appreciate it, but it is most unexpected.”
“As it happens,” Schardius gave a thin smile, “I appreciate great music. I spent some time in Venice a few years ago, you see, where I was able to hear Monteverdi’s works in the Cathedral, and occasionally at some noble’s house. I even managed to hear the first performance of Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda.”
Mary was impressed despite herself. “I envy you that, Master Schardius.”
He shrugged. “It was good, and it certainly instilled in me a hunger to hear music of that scale. It is a hunger that, until recently, has mostly gone unfed.” Mary raised her eyebrows, and Schardius nodded. “Yes, the music that has been presented during the last two years by your band of musicians from and through Grantville — that has fed the hunger, yet at the same time raised it. I have seen almost every performance, great and small, and I want more, both in amount and in kind. So here I am, willing to pay for what will feed my insatiable appetite.” Another shrug. “Business has been good, this year.”
“And what do you want for your support, Master Schardius?”
His eyebrows rose for a moment, and his head tilted a bit, as if he were considering her seriously for the first time. After a moment, his expression evened itself out again, but for the sharp glitter in his eyes.
“As I said,” Schardius replied, “I am hungry and thirsty for great music, so I would expect to be allowed to observe rehearsals.”
“I think not,” Mary said. “The director would never stand for it.”
“Twenty percent,” Schardius offered.
Mary shook her head.
“Thirty percent,” Schardius said, and a hard tone had entered his voice for the first time.
God, Mary thought, he’s serious about this. And I can’t afford to lose that much revenue. Surely Amber will understand that.
“You will not sit on the stage or in the wings,” Mary said as gracefully as she could. “Only in the audience seats or one of the boxes.”
“And you will not interfere with the director, or her instructions to the cast.”
“I wouldn’t dream of doing so. I simply wish the pleasure of observing. I think we are witnessing a new moment in the arts.”
Mary could hardly quarrel with that, since she thought the same herself. No one in Europe, not even in Italy, has ever seen the sort of opera — grand opera, it was rightly called — that was about to be performed in Magdeburg.
“Very good, Master Schardius, we will accept your generous offer.” She stood and held her hand out.
He came to his feet, and took her hand in his. “Have your man of business send an accounting of what is needed to my office at the Schardius corn factorage and warehouse. I will send the money as soon as I can after I look it over.”
“Thank you.” Mary thought that he might be a bit surprised when it turned out that her “man of business” was Lady Beth Haygood.
“And with that, I must return to my office. Today promises to be a busy one for me, but I did want to speak with you today.” Schardius turned away, then turned back. “Oh, will Frau Linder be one of the singers in the opera?”
“Well, casting has not been done yet,” she said, “but I would be very surprised if she isn’t.”
“Splendid!” Schardius said. “I have been told she’s a marvelous singer. I look forward to hearing her.”
Mary smiled in return. She had long experience with patrons of the arts. Even the most hard-bitten businessmen and financiers could turn into fan boys when presented with attractive female performers. Occasionally that could become a bit of a problem, but it was usually harmless enough. And there was no denying that such enthusiasms tended to open wallets still wider.
She rose to her feet. “Hilde, show Master Schardius out, please.”
Simon was developing a reputation as a reliable messenger and delivery boy. His new clothes made him a bit more presentable in the eyes of the businessmen of Greater Magdeburg, and he found himself in some demand. Even so, he never neglected Frau Zenzi. Every day he would appear at the bakery’s door not long before sundown to do the sweeping.