Torrents of Spring, by Ivan Turgenev

VI

But it was not Gemma’s voice — it was herself Sanin was admiring. He was sitting a little behind and on one side of her, and kept thinking to himself that no palm-tree, even in the poems of Benediktov — the poet in fashion in those days — could rival the slender grace of her figure. When, at the most emotional passages, she raised her eyes upwards — it seemed to him no heaven could fail to open at such a look! Even the old man, Pantaleone, who with his shoulder propped against the doorpost, and his chin and mouth tucked into his capacious cravat, was listening solemnly with the air of a connoisseur — even he was admiring the girl’s lovely face and marvelling at it, though one would have thought he must have been used to it! When she had finished the duet with her daughter, Frau Lenore observed that Emilio had a fine voice, like a silver bell, but that now he was at the age when the voice changes — he did, in fact, talk in a sort of bass constantly falling into falsetto — and that he was therefore forbidden to sing; but that Pantaleone now really might try his skill of old days in honour of their guest! Pantaleone promptly put on a displeased air, frowned, ruffled up his hair, and declared that he had given it all up long ago, though he could certainly in his youth hold his own, and indeed had belonged to that great period, when there were real classical singers, not to be compared to the squeaking performers of today! and a real school of singing; that he, Pantaleone Cippatola of Varese, had once been brought a laurel wreath from Modena, and that on that occasion some white doves had positively been let fly in the theatre; that among others a Russian prince Tarbusky —‘il principe Tarbusski’— with whom he had been on the most friendly terms, had after supper persistently invited him to Russia, promising him mountains of gold, mountains! . . . but that he had been unwilling to leave Italy, the land of Dante — il paese del Dante! Afterward, to be sure, there came . . . unfortunate circumstances, he had himself been imprudent. . . . At this point the old man broke off, sighed deeply twice, looked dejected, and began again talking of the classical period of singing, of the celebrated tenor Garcia, for whom he cherished a devout, unbounded veneration. ‘He was a man!’ he exclaimed. ‘Never had the great Garcia (il gran Garcia) demeaned himself by singing falsetto like the paltry tenors of today — tenoracci; always from the chest, from the chest, voce di petto, si!’ and the old man aimed a vigorous blow with his little shrivelled fist at his own shirt-front! ‘And what an actor! A volcano, signori miei, a volcano, un Vesuvio! I had the honour and the happiness of singing with him in the opera dell’ illustrissimo maestro Rossini — in Otello! Garcia was Otello — I was Iago — and when he rendered the phrase’:— here Pantaleone threw himself into an attitude and began singing in a hoarse and shaky, but still moving voice:

“L’i . . . ra daver . . . so daver . . . so il fato
lo più no . . . no . . . no . . . non temerò!”

The theatre was all a-quiver, signori miei! though I too did not fall short, I too after him.

“L’i ra daver . . . so daver . . . so il fato
Temèr più non davro!”

And all of a sudden, he crashed like lightning, like a tiger: Morro! . . . ma vendicato . . . Again when he was singing . . . when he was singing that celebrated air from “Matrimonio segreto,” Pria che spunti . . . then he, il gran Garcia, after the words, “I cavalli di galoppo”— at the words, “Senza posa cacciera,”— listen, how stupendous, come è stupendo! At that point he made . . . ’ The old man began a sort of extraordinary flourish, and at the tenth note broke down, cleared his throat, and with a wave of his arm turned away, muttering, ‘Why do you torment me?’ Gemma jumped up at once and clapping loudly and shouting, bravo! . . . bravo! . . . she ran to the poor old super-annuated Iago and with both hands patted him affectionately on the shoulders. Only Emil laughed ruthlessly. Cet âge est sans pitié — that age knows no mercy — Lafontaine has said already.

Sanin tried to soothe the aged singer and began talking to him in Italian —(he had picked up a smattering during his last tour there)— began talking of ‘paese del Dante, dove il si suona.’ This phrase, together with ‘Lasciate ogni speranza,’ made up the whole stock of poetic Italian of the young tourist; but Pantaleone was not won over by his blandishments. Tucking his chin deeper than ever into his cravat and sullenly rolling his eyes, he was once more like a bird, an angry one too — a crow or a kite. Then Emil, with a faint momentary blush, such as one so often sees in spoilt children, addressing his sister, said if she wanted to entertain their guest, she could do nothing better than read him one of those little comedies of Malz, that she read so nicely. Gemma laughed, slapped her brother on the arm, exclaimed that he ‘always had such ideas!’ She went promptly, however, to her room, and returning thence with a small book in her hand, seated herself at the table before the lamp, looked round, lifted one finger as much as to say, ‘hush!’— a typically Italian gesture — and began reading.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:05