Matilde Lampronti had stopped singing overnight. Not because she had lost her voice or because the businessmen no longer sought her out, but because she no longer wanted to play Violetta, Tosca or Mimi. To sing again, after what happened, she would feel pathetic, and she had stopped. As a young woman, she had studied singing in the conservatory of the city where she was born, a cold northern city, crossed by a river that had a diminutive for its name, the Adigetto.
She had sung the first few times to replace famous divas, who gave up for a hoarseness or a spite, and slowly she had made a name for herself. She had a beautiful bearing, walked confidently on the stage, and with those generous breasts, which she willingly exhibited, she gave satisfaction to the costume designers. Certainly she had never become an opera star, but critics had dedicated articles to her in which they praised the color of her voice and even more often that of her hair, which was red and which in the spotlight took on fire. .
But perhaps, as they wrote, the critics were thinking above all of the milky whiteness of her breasts. Then Matilde had married the accountant, they all called him that, as if she didn’t have a surname, while she was Lampronti or Lampronti from Rovigo. Matilde thought she had achieved what she wanted: a husband who knew how to count, controlled the contracts to be signed and defended her from the demands of the entrepreneurs, and a house in a gray déco building in via delle Orsole.
Then came the little girl, whom they had called Odabella, as the most successful character Matilde had played. Sometimes, while she was putting stones and beads, Matilde thought that it was that name that brought bad luck to Odabella: they would have to choose another name, Maria or Lucia, and not that name that suggested battles, daggers, massacres and poisonings, such as in Verdi’s Attila. After the baby died, the accountant left with the secretary. Matilde should have known this before her, because when she suddenly entered the accountant’s office she could smell that smell, the smell of the young lady’s sweat, as he called the secretary.
It was a strong smell, and perhaps the explanation – thought Matilde – was all there. The accountant was intoxicated by that smell which seemed bad to her, but which he liked so much that he always wanted to smell it. So Matilda’s husband had moved to another city and had children with the young lady. Their little girl, the accountant had forgotten her right away, because she had died so little. The doctors had told Matilde that Odabella had a congenital defect, and that she would sooner or later die. Better before, those doctors and nuns had told Matilde, so she would have other children who would fill that void. But Matilde had not wanted to fill that emptiness with anyone, and then it was that word, vice, used for that small and defenseless, lifeless body that hurt her more.
That was when he stopped singing. Since she had a lot of free time, Matilde had begun to buy, at the Sinigaglia fair, the flea market in Milan, glass beads, pieces of coral, semi-precious stones, and she had started making necklaces. She sat in the house that was now too large and a little empty (she occasionally sold a piece of furniture bought from the accountant, she didn’t like them so much, it was heavy, dark furniture, with inlays and figures in relief) and she slipped the colored pieces into the wire . Only in this way, in the silence, bent over the table, while she moved an agate next to a carnelian, or an aventurine after two moonstones, did Matilde forget the accountant and the young lady, and even the little girl. She felt, as she arranged the beads, that she was back on the scene.
Odabella’s cavatina repeated: “When the forts run like lions to the brando, your women stand, oh barbarian, on the chariots weeping” and other famous pieces, and he would see himself again in the theaters of Denver, Stuttgart, Bratislava. When the money ran out, she started going to the Sinigaglia market to sell her necklaces: a little theatrical, with all those colors, but they attracted the eyes of the ladies who were looking for something new. Many of them came away with a necklace or two in a package. They would have had an effect on the black dress at the next dinner – they thought – but they were left with a doubt: if a friend had asked them who had created the necklace, what would they have answered? Which was an Odabella necklace. So it was written on a sign next to that old woman with a little red and a little white hair, dressed in old-time costumes full of embroidery and lace, who was humming strange verses in a low voice. But who she was, that Odabella, they just didn’t know.