Chanson de l’Ange by Paisley Swan Stewart is a two volume epic retelling of the classic novel, the Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux. Inspired by the legend of The Opera Ghost in all its incarnations, the author weaves her own captivating tale while remaining faithful to key story elements. Chanson de l’Ange creates bookends to the compelling saga of the Opera Ghost through an imaginative account of Christine Daae’s childhood companionship with the Angel of Music; while the final gripping chapters unveil her years beyond the opera house.
Looking back on the events of those early days, I concede it is only now through adult eyes that I can begin to describe what happened to me. Childish innocence has faded into sepia photographs, hopelessly romanticized by the passing of time and my aging memory. The girl I once was is little more than a stranger to me now; a far removed shadow of the woman I am today.
I often wish I could have prepared, and yes, even warned her about he events which were to come. But even if I could have, would I? And would it have changed anything, if she . . . if I had chosen differently; if I had understood and known the truth? Or was I in some way destined to make that strange journey, irresistibly drawn to him for a greater purpose than I could have possibly imagined? My woman’s heart willingly embraces the truth now and I must tell it; and though, even after all these years it threatens to split my soul asunder, I must speak of it.
They say that pain is a patient teacher; that a wound burns and bleeds to purge the body of life threatening infections. Pain is a warning against danger and alerts one to escape further injury by avoiding the behavior which caused the pain. If treated swiftly, most wounds heal over time, perhaps leaving only the slightest scar, but emotional pain is a vicious tearing force, capable of inflicting wounds so deep that no balm, and no stitching together of flesh can bring wholeness to the sufferer.
These invisible scars mar more than the surface of the skin, burrowing deep into the recesses of the mind and deforming every pure intention. This pain paralyzes the soul and renders one the shell of a human being, who desperately reaches out through a haze of devastation and inconsolable grief for a reason to live.
No one knows for certain why some souls must endure pain and suffering, whether self-inflicted or carelessly caused by others; or why some creatures are chosen for sorrow and others destined for joy. We do not choose our place or time in the world nor can we change our past.
Each soul is blessed with the spirit of life and with the ability to make the best of what it is given. The ability to love or to hate, to heal or to Wound, to draw the darkness of hell up into the world . . . or to reach beyond our heartache for the strength to lift our eyes heavenward, and to make the music of angels.
Orphan in Winter—1873
The bleak sky hung gray and heavy, forecasting a winter storm. Barren trees thick with ice were bent unnaturally in the silvery sheen of late afternoon, and huge snow-dusted monuments encompassed the gravesite.
Ominous winged angels, statues of saints, and mysterious creatures whose forms might have turned to stone under enchantment, stood watch over the dead. Their hollow eyes stared unblinking, their frozen hearts numb to my grief.
It was with acute emotional pain that I watched my father’s coffin lowered into the grave. The wind whipped strands of hair against my cold cheeks, and with a bouquet of red roses clutched in my gloved hand, I watched in horror as darkness swallowed him. Shivering in my black dress and heavy winter cloak, I tightly held onto the hand of Madame Giry, a woman I barely knew, whom father had chosen to be my guardian.
Scriptures spoken by the minister echoed eerily through the mausoleum, and there father would lie forever below those benevolent stargazers, whose cold countenances made me shiver beyond the chill of the day.
A burial plaque was all that marked the thirty-seven years of my father’s existence on earth; a stone marker with engraved name and dates, saying nothing of the man who lay there. There was no mention of the life he had lived, the places we had traveled, or the music he had created with his beloved violin. They don’t engrave memories on markers, for only we who are left behind can truly tell the story of a life. He had been my only companion, both father and mother to me, and his music would live in my heart forever, but on that winter afternoon as I watched the ground steal him away, his beloved face began to recede from my inner eye.
Memories of father playing gypsy melodies and the music of Mozart,drifted through my mind as snow flurries began to swirl, and gazing upward I squeezed my eyes closed as snowflakes melted on my lashes. Looking down with an ambiguous expression, Madame Giry took my hand and led me to the grave’s edge where with vapored breath, Reverend Manning recited the last scriptures. He spilt a handful of earth into the grave; and I flinched, wishing to have covered my ears from the sound of dirt striking the coffin. The few living souls attending the service offered a final prayer,and then Madame Giry instructed me to release my roses into the grave.
At only ten years of age, I could not comprehend the finality of death, or understand how quickly a living being could be reduced to a six-foot box in the ground. I wanted to throw myself down onto the coffin, and beg God to bring back my father, but I could only whisper goodbye as the roses fell from my hand.
Father was lost to me as I slowly turned away, and with the receding sound of shovels piercing stone cold earth, Madame Giry led me through a massive iron gate where we boarded the carriage that would take me to my new home.
The carriage wound its way through cobbled streets and wide avenues. Shops and markets were deserted and dark, but for a few beggars and vagabonds who hovered in doorways. The Christmas holiday found families and merchants comfortable in their fire-lit homes, as the winter storm gathered force. Bitter wind began to howl, sending brittle leaves spiraling up into the air, while tree limbs crackled as frozen rain pelted the already slick street.
“We are almost there, my dear,” Madame Giry spoke quietly. I could feel her eyes, but kept my attention straight ahead and nodded without speaking. Gently she tucked her hand under my chin and turned my face toward her own, patting my wet eyes and cheeks with her cotton handkerchief.
“I know how difficult it is for a child to lose a parent, Christine.” She told me. “Gustave was a decent man and a wonderful father who will never be replaced in your life, but I promise I shall be good to you, and in time you may even come to think of me as a mother, or at the very least a friend you can trust.”
Nodding my head I stared out the window and answered dutifully, “Yes, Madame.”
A mother. I repeated within myself, fresh tears making silent pathways down my cheeks. Her words stung as I thought about my real mother and the mystery surrounding her death. I knew only her beautiful name, Katrine Daaé, and that she had been born and raised in Paris. Father never spoke of her, and there had been no reminders of her in our Parisian apartment or our home in Sweden. No photographs or mementos of Katrine Daaé were among our family treasures; my only portrait of father lay with my belongings in a small suitcase, now on its way to my new home.
I had been told mother passed away shortly after I was born, but beyond that, I had no knowledge of where she was buried or how she had died. Late at night when he thought I was sleeping, I often heard father playing his violin; lovely gypsy melodies that were both beautiful and melancholy. I would wonder what could have been the cause of so much beauty and sorrow; and I would lie in my bed listening, comforted by the violin’s haunting music. Father had promised that when I was older, he would tell me more about my mother, but as our carriage journeyed to The Paris Opera House, I knew I would never know her story.
I held my breath as the horses trotted up to the largest and most beautiful building I had ever seen. Father and I had traveled extensively before coming to settle in Paris. Our travels had taken us to great cities throughout Europe and Scandinavia, but Paris boasted some of the finest architecture in the world, and this ornate structure was the crown of Parisian artistry and skill. Blinking my eyes, I craned my neck, placing the palms of my gloved hands on the window.
Corinthian columns framed the building’s massive entrance and supported the arches of the theater’s dome. Wreathed by engravings of flowers and cherubim, the arches were suspended between earth and sky. Voluptuous bare breasted angels perched atop the highest edifices, seeming to have dropped down from heaven to grace the world of men, and stone gargoyles crouched in the shadowed archways, as if they had crawled up from deepest hell. Webbed bat-wings wrapped around their grotesque forms, revealing only a glimpse of malevolent mouths and eyes.
In time I would come to learn that angels and demons both shared guardianship over that magnificent palace, a garish monument to music and humanity. Both light and darkness sought influence in the comedies and tragedies of the souls who inhabited the opera house, where the human condition was little more than a drama, played out on a stage of choices. Humans could embrace the light within or be seduced by the hissing caress of darkness. Each soul was subject to dreams and desires which led to eternal life and joy, or to disaster and damnation. I couldn’t help feeling apprehensive, and that my life would never be the same once I walked through those doors.
Snow was steadily falling as we pulled to a stop, and Madame placed her hand on my knee, pointing up to the roof, “If you like, Christine, my daughter will take you to see the statue of Apollo.” she said, trying to engage me in conversation, but as I looked up to the gigantic figure overhung from the very pinnacle of the opera’s roof, I could only stare in silence, feeling powerless and afraid of what lay ahead.
Madame Giry took my hand as the driver assisted us down from the carriage. Father’s violin case with my bags was carried by a porter up the granite staircase, while the driver tipped his hat and waved us away. With each step toward the grand entrance, dread inched icily up my spine. Dark and nearly deserted, only a small staff of maids and chamberlains had been left behind to oversee the building. The opera remained closed during Christmas, to open again on New Years Eve for the annual Bal Masque. With dreary daylight giving way to winter gloom, gas lamps and torches were lit on the grounds, and I clung to Madame Giry’s hand as she led me up snow-covered stairs. “Tomorrow you shall have the grand tour of our lovely lady,” she smiled. “But for now, we must get you settled in your room.”
With the opening of the massive doors, I drew in a sharp breath as we entered The Grand Foyer. Only a few lamps reflected and sparkled across the marble and golden surfaces, but even in near darkness, the beauty and size of the place was spectacular. From the main floor, we proceeded to the left of the grand double staircase, and entered a long narrow corridor to the very back of the building, and then on to a plain wooden door. Madame pulled a set of large keys from her handbag, and with a quick twist the door opened into yet another narrow hallway. I was immediately struck by the contrast between this quarter of the building and The Grand Foyer.
Whereas, the foyer sparkled with Parisian wealth and luxury, I could sense the age of these corridors, the damp musty odors souring my senses. Taking an oil lamp from a bracket seated in the wall, Madame held my hand as we wound our way down a flight of stairs. Her silk skirts and woolen cloak brushed the walls as the porter followed behind with my belongings. The stairway curved downward through rough stone walls on either side, giving me the sense that I was descending into an ancient castle.
Reaching the bottom, Madame smiled and tugged on my hand gently as we looked down a long stretch of wooden doors, each painted a different color. “This is the dormitory wing, where you’ll be staying just a few doors down from my apartment.” she said, guiding me to the end of the hall where a torch flared and smoked, casting long shadows across the plaster ceiling.
The hallway was quiet, with only the sound of muffled silence greeting our arrival at a rose-colored wooden door. “I chose this room especially for you, Christine.” Madame informed me cheerfully, slipping a key in the padlock. “Most of our girls must share common quarters, but now that I am your guardian, I’ve made arrangements for you to have your own room, close to mine.”
She led me into a small room furnished with a coal-burning stove that glowed from the corner, and a single bed draped in layers of quilts, with a pink lace coverlet overtop. A small chest of drawers, a cedar trunk, and a stuffed armchair upholstered in worn damask filled out the modest but homey furnishings. A rose-patterned carpet lay atop the wooden floorboards, and a rose-colored stained glass window embellished with brass fittings was set high in the wall above the bureau.
As an only child, I had always slept in my own bed, even if it was in makeshift quarters behind a kitchen pantry, or my own little corner in our small apartment. I was thankful for a room of my very own, fearful that I might not be welcomed by other children, and wishing to be left alone. Though it wasn’t fancy or richly appointed, the room was inviting and Cozy, and I was tired, longing to unpack my things and crawl beneath the covers. I sat down on the bed yawning repeatedly as the porter deposited my suitcase and violin on the floor.
“What do you think, my dear, will it do for now?” Madame asked, seating herself beside me.
Gazing about the room with another yawn, I nodded my head and whispered wearily, “It is very nice, Madame. Thank you.”
The room’s one truly remarkable feature was the floor length mirror dominating the wall opposite the bed. With its unusual size and golden embellishments, the mirror seemed an odd fit to the room’s shabby and girlish decor. Light reflected from the mirror, and strange shadows danced on the ceiling and across the floor.
The porter took his leave, closing the door behind him as Madame helped me remove my boots, hooded cloak and dress. I was an emotionless and obedient automaton as she opened my suitcase and pulled out my night clothes, slipping the nightgown over my head.
“I see you’ve noticed the mirror, Christine.” she spoke soothingly, doing up the little buttons on the back of my nightgown as I pulled off my stockings. “It is very old, and has been hanging somewhere in this opera house since before the ballet dorms were added many years ago. This room was mine when I was just a few years older than you, Christine,” she explained, rising up from the bed, and walking gracefully across the carpet. Caressing the golden frame, her slender fingers slid along the detailed leaf and vine carvings, and she glanced back at me, speaking with a hushed voice, “I once danced before this very mirror for hours at a time.” she said wistfully. “You will find many mirrors in the opera house, Christine, but this is my favorite.”
“It is beautiful.” I answered sleepily. My eyes feeling heavy, I dangled my legs over the side of the bed and asked her, “But, Madame, why do I need such a big mirror?”
There was something unsettling about this mirror, and I wasn’t at all certain I wanted those strange reflections and shadows looming over my sleep. Gliding back to my bedside, Madame shrugged off her heavy coat, draping it across the footboard.
Turning down the blankets, she began unpacking my cases and storing my clothing in the bureau. “Christine, my dear,” she answered with a patient sigh while emptying the carpet bag. “It was your father’s wish that you master all the performing arts under my care. You will be a student of dance, of voice, and of theater…and one day, if you work very hard, you may even perform with the opera company.”
I looked up wide-eyed, my mouth gaping open, unable to grasp her words. At only ten years old, I could not imagine how I would ever fulfill father’s wishes. With him gone, the very notion of performing was out of the question. My only thoughts were of his loss, and not of a future he could not share with me. My shoulders sagging, I folded my hands in my lap and tried not to cry, staring at the rose designs woven into the rug.
“A dancer must have a mirror, child, and a great singer must observe her reflection while she sings.” Madame instructed, as I puzzled over her words. It was in that moment when I began to realize how different my life would be in the opera house. I had never attended an actual opera, and now I was being groomed as a professional singer. Performing with father at country fairs and in small concert halls was far less intimidating. I had always loved singing with my father on those small stages for farmers and merchants. But what would it be like to sing on a real stage with lights and a large audience? The very thought terrified me.
Sitting down beside me, Madame unwound my braids, combing her fingers through the length of my hair as I closed my eyes, my head rocking back with each gentle tug. Removing a hair brush from a drawer in the bureau, she brushed out the tangles, and I found comfort in her hands on my scalp and neck. Separating my hair into equal sections, she expertly combed my chestnut waves until they shone, and again my eyes drifted back to the mirror’s reflection of myself and the strange woman who would now be a mother to me.
Following my gaze, Madame Giry remarked breathlessly, “Mirrors are enchanting things are they not, my dear? One could almost believe them magical,” she sighed, twisting my hair into two new braids, and fastening them with ribbons. “Well, I expect that is because they are often depicted as such in myths and stories.” she added, tying the ribbons into bows.
I looked up at her face, fascinated by her features and startling posture. Even when sitting, Madame’s spine was perfectly straight, her shoulders back and chin erect. She seemed never to slouch, and when she walked across a room, there was no hesitancy or clumsy bounce in her fluid movements. Following our move to Paris, I had seen her from time to time in our apartment, but I had never actually been bold enough to observe her beauty. Now with her close proximity, I studied her physical appearance with interest. Her hazel eyes were kind and mysterious, and reminded me very much of the tabby cat owned by Madame Valleria, father’s wealthy patroness. Madame Giry’s eyes could appear either green or golden, depending on the color she wore. Her ivory complexion and high forehead were smooth and luminous in the room’s soft glow, making her appear younger than her twenty-nine years. A thick braid trailed gracefully down her back, its rich auburn color accentuating her feline features.
She smiled at me and set the brush on my nightstand as I pulled my feet up onto the bed. “Christine, would you like tea before bed?” she asked kindly, cradling my cheek with her hand.
Shaking my head, I drew my knees up to my chest. Although I had eaten very little in the past two days, my stomach felt oddly full. “No thank you, Madame, I am not hungry at all.” I answered.
“That is understandable, dear,” she replied with a nod. “I will bring your breakfast in the morning, and after you’ve had time to adjust, you will take your meals with my daughter and me in the dining hall.”
Slipping my toes under the heavy quilts, I lay my head back against the pillow, grateful for the bed’s warmth as my legs stretched under the soft layers. Madame pulled the blankets up to my chin and bent over to kiss my forehead.
“You’ll see,” she said, pulling matches from her pocket and lighting the oil lamp on the bureau. “You will be happy here, and tomorrow, Christine, you shall meet my daughter. Her name is Margaret, but she prefers to be called Meg, the nickname her father gave her.” Madame added.
When I did not immediately reply, she stood regarding me for a few moments then turned toward the doorway. “Good night, my dear,” she said over her shoulder as she gathered her cloak, took up her lamp and tiptoed across the rug. “If you need me, I am just down the hall, mine is the blue door on the right.”
“Good night, Madame,” I answered, yawning and rubbing my eyes. With the soft rustling of silk, the door closed behind her, and I was alone. The room was deathly quiet, and I lay with the blankets pulled up to my chin, trying not to look at the mirror. I considered bolting out the door to Madame’s apartment, but I did not wish anyone to know how truly frightened I was. How would it look if I cried out for Madame on my very first night? It would surely shame my father, who had taught me to look after myself. With all our travels to foreign cities and villages, I had often slept in strange houses, and sometimes we even camped out-of-doors. Surely I was grown up enough to stay in this room on my own, but the terror of the moment and the weight of the day’s nightmarish events suddenly bore down on me like the heavy lid of father’s coffin. With my heart pounding, I could scarcely breathe and jolted upright, throwing back the blankets in a panic. Panting breaths came hard and fast, and I clutched my arms around my body as the memory of father’s death rose up in my mind.
Pain gripped my belly as I gagged back the meager contents of my stomach. Tears stung my eyes and flowed in a sticky mess as I sobbed violently, rocking back and forth until the neck of my nightgown was soaked through. I couldn’t comprehend that father was gone.
So quickly he had taken to his bed with fever, his violin ignored as Madame Giry brought a succession of physicians to his bedside. To no avail, potions were poured down his throat and tinctures rubbed over his feverish flesh. Day by day, I watched him change from a strong and
handsome man into someone I barely recognized. In the hours before his death, they allowed me into his sick room where he lay dressed only in his nightshirt. He was shriveled and dusky, his once handsome face gaunt with eyes sunken, his lips drawn back to reveal his yellowed teeth. With short gasping breaths and his frail hands clasping the sheets, he gestured for me to approach. Oily sweat coated his skin, and losing consciousness, he rose up from the death throes just long enough to gurgle my name. His voice was so weak that I had to put my ear to his mouth, and his breath reeked of death.
“Christine, I will not leave you alone,” he panted, a strange sucking sound in the back of his throat.
I could only lay across his chest, my little hands clutching his face, begging him not to leave me. “Papa, please don’t die,” I whimpered. “Please don’t go!”
“I promise,” he forced between violent gasps, “I will send the angel.”
“But I don’t want an angel. I want you to stay here with me!” I cried, holding onto him in desperation. Burying my face in his nightshirt, not caring that he was unwashed and sweaty, I prayed for God to let him stay. I didn’t want an angel, I wanted father to get better, to leave his bed and play his violin. I wanted him to eat meals with me, to sing with me and tell stories like we used to. What good was an angel? No angel, no matter how holy or beautiful, could ever take the place of my father. I had heard the legend many times, the story of the Angel of Music who appeared only to the most deserving of souls. The legend taught that the angel was sent from heaven to watch over special children who had been given the gift of music. Father explained that it was the angel’s duty to protect and nurture that sacred gift. The angel was never visible to the child and often appeared when least expected. If a child was lost and heartbroken, the angel would come to comfort her. Suddenly his celestial voice would call out in the night when the child was sleeping. Father said that those who were visited by the angel would experience an ecstasy unknown to the rest of mankind, but proud and foolish children were denied visitation because they were not found worthy. Only the humble and the gentle were blessed by the angel’s holy presence.
I imagined the Angel of Music to look like the stained glass seraphim in the chapel windows; with flowing robes, white swan wings, and golden hair. But now I wanted my father’s gentle brown eyes and soft dark hair. His tattered work clothes and his calloused hands meant more to me than any angel’s crown.
“I don’t want an angel,” I repeated stubbornly, “I want you, papa!
Please don’t go away.”
Father moaned and writhed in his bed, as Madame Giry tried to comfort me. He drifted in and out of consciousness for another hour, intermittently opening his glazed eyes and twitching violently. They wiped his brow and parched lips with a damp cloth, while I hovered in the corner, Madame’s arms wrapped tightly around my body. Finally, with a shattering wail as his back arched in rigid spasms, he called out my name. I ran to his bed and he took hold of my hands, looking into my eyes for the last time.
“I love you, Chris . . .”
And then, he fell back onto the mattress, his body going limp, the muscles and lines of his face becoming relaxed and smooth as if he were only sleeping. I waited, wanting him to move, watching for breath to fill his chest, but there was only silence. The only sound in the room was my sobbing and a ticking clock. I lay across his chest for some moments, clinging to him, listening for that familiar thrum of life and blood pumping through his heart. But there was nothing.
A mysterious dark power had taken my father to a place where I could not follow, and my grief was unbearable as I clung to his lifeless body.
“Papa!” I wailed, “Papa!”
The memories of his death were too vivid. I could not bear them. Sobbing and choking, I slipped down from the bed and knelt before the mirror, folding my hands in prayer as I had done nightly throughout my childhood, but father had always been at my side, waiting to tuck me in and kiss me goodnight. Now he was gone and who would hear my prayers? I believed in God, but on that night even God seemed too far away to hear the longings of a frightened child.
“Dear God, please let me hear his voice again!” I begged.
My prayer was met with silence and I had never felt so alone. Drawing my knees up to my chest, I sobbed into my hands, trying to stifle my tears in the sleeves of my gown. With all the loneliness of the world crushing me, I remained on the floor until my body ached with the cold.
Paisley Swan Stewart’s website: http://www.chansondelange.com
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