WE SPED down to Washington Monday night to hear the local girl make good.
"This will be something special," I confided to Wife as we cruised down the parkway. "Keyontia Hawkins of Baltimore will one day be recognized as our fair city's fairest bequest to the grand opera houses of the world."
"You are talking like a libretto," Wife complained. "And besides, you have a tin ear."
That hurt my feelings. Didn't Wife know perfectly well that I had been struggling diligently for years to overcome the limitations of a tin ear by practicing Gilda's aria from "Rigoletto," Il caro nome, in the shower each morning?
Of course she knew. Nobody forced her to flee the house whenever I hit the high notes. Even Maria Callas occasionally experienced a slight metallic timbre in the upper registers. And Callas was a soprano, unlike me.
"What you have heard of my singing Il caro nome in the shower," I observed, "is merely the predictable consequence of the obvious fact that nature endowed me with a tenor voice rather than a soprano."
"I thought Pavarotti was a tenor," Wife said. "You don't sound like him. Or Maria Callas either, for that matter."
"My dear," said I, "however painful it may have been for you, years of diligent showertime singing have enabled me to overcome completely the misfortune of being born with a tin ear.
"Thus I can state with absolute confidence that in Keyontia Hawkins, we have discovered a jewel of a singer who will bring honor to our fair city, joy to her parents and everlasting glory to her teachers at the Baltimore School for the Arts."
"Will you stop talking like a libretto!" Wife snapped.
By then we were at the Kennedy Center in Washington, where Keyontia was scheduled to appear along with 11 other outstanding young performers from across the country selected by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts to
become Presidential Scholars.
"Ah noble edifice!" I exclaimed. "An altogether fitting forum for our local girl to make good in!"
"You're talking like a libretto again."
We took our seats in the plush carpeted concert hall.
I scanned the program. To show Wife a thing or two, I secretly wished Keyontia would sing Gilda's aria, Il caro nome from "Rigoletto." But no, the listed piece was the lovely "Mein Heir Marquis" by Richard Strauss, in German.
The competition was keen. Among the 12 young Presidential Scholars who performed were dancers, actors and musicians wise beyond their years in artistic matters. At last our local girl appeared on stage, resplendent in a purple gown.
I turned and whispered to Wife:
"Now you will hear what the young Maria Callas sounded like before the voice went slightly metallic in the upper register."
"Tin ear," she said.
A breathless moment of anticipation, then the hall filled with glorious song. A triumph! The local girl was making good before our very eyes!
Suddenly the audience bestirred itself. A thousand pairs of eyes glanced at their programs. Was something amiss? A realization rippled through the crowd:
Keyontia was singing in English! She wasn't singing Strauss at all!
How could she do such a thing? Wife was dumbfounded. The ushers shuffled nervously at their posts as the audience calmed down, finally recognizing the piece as Copeland's beautiful setting of Edgar Lee Masters' "Spoon River Anthology." Everyone was amazed.
A few minutes further into the piece, during a quiet pause, the audience rose as one in a tumultuous ovation. Keyontia, poised stately as a queen in the curve of the piano, remained utterly motionless for an instant. Then, without missing a note, she resumed singing the piece to the end.
We expected her to walk off in triumph. But she didn't. Instead, she opened her mouth again and out poured the Strauss this time!
The audience was rapt. Two numbers! No other performer had done more than one all night! The local girl was knocking 'em dead!
Afterward, Wife was sorry she said I had a tin ear and talked like a libretto.
"The local girl was really great," she murmured. "But how come she got to do two numbers when everybody else only did one?" I had to smile at that. For what did she think I had sung Gilda's aria in the shower for years if not to be able to penetrate such mysteries?
"That," I replied gently, "was simply the diva taking her encore."