Chapter I

Roza made her way through the dense hustle and bustle of the afternoon flea market. She knew not what she was looking for nor why she came. Her restless soul compelled her to wander through the seemingly endless rows of antiques, collectibles and superficial priceless junk. Roza was a young opera singer. Today was her day off from her relentless study as a graduate student at the conservatoire. What better way to spend it than to stroll down the old village market and browse for props, relics and better yet, vintage clothes? The month before, Roza had picked up an exquisite Empire style white lace gown that made her feel as prim and as regal as the opera heroine in the operatic scene she was currently studying. Who knew what other wonderful treasures this month's antique market could hold?

As Roza was strolling down the final row, a sudden flash of bright light caught her attention. It was a large, dark, antique full-length mirror. The great structure loomed before her, its gothic beauty enticing her to approach it. She reached out to touch it.

"You are a singer aren't you?" a voice behind her suddenly inquired. Roza started and spun around to face a strange old woman adorned in gypsy attire who was the dealer of this booth.

Roza looked at her. "How did you know?"

The gypsy woman smiled strangely. "I don't know. I just know. You look like a singer to me. And this mirror..." she walked over to it slowly and stroked its intricate carvings of angels, cherubs, flowers, lyres and nymphs. "This mirror belonged to a great one once."

Roza was intrigued. "Really?"

The gypsy woman nodded. "Her name was Alexandra Vilis. She was an extremely promising young singer at the conservatoire back in the 1920's. There was nothing that this girl couldn't sing. And did not only she possess the most exquisite of soprano voices...but also a stage presence to match. Her interpretations were considered out of this world, she inspired the directors to take the stagings down new roads. Nobody knew how she did it...how such a young and relatively inexperienced young singer could create such authentic and exquisite art. Word of such a divine talent traveled fast, and opera lovers and officials from all over came to see her student performances alone. Such a prodigy she was..." the gypsy woman trailed off and then gave a great sigh and Roza who was intrigued and therefore, listening to every word of this fascinating story picked up on it. Something was not right.

"So what became of Miss. Vilis?" Roza asked eagerly.

There was a long silence and the gypsy woman turned and looked away, a far away look in her eyes. "No one knows. She was bound for world-wide stardom, everyone knew that. She was even engaged to sing at the Metropolitan. But then...one night...not long after a glorious gala performance at the conservatoire...she just disappeared."

"Oh my goodness..." Roza said with a gasp. "That's terrible...And they never found her?" she asked.

The gypsy woman shook her head. "They never found her. They searched everywhere. It was a terrible tragedy for the world of opera. It was as if she had disappeared off the face of the earth..."

"Oh my..." Roza commented, once again approaching the mirror. "And this was her mirror?"

"Yes it was. One of her most cherished possessions, they say. It always hung in the dressing room wherever she happened to be singing."

Roza gazed at the mirror. "It's so beautiful. I've always wanted a mirror like this one."

"I can offer you a fair price," the gypsy woman said suddenly.

"Really?" inquired Roza, wondering what her definition of fair was. She happened to know that valuable antiques ran for prices that her meager student funds could not sufficiently cover.

"Five hundred dollars?"

"I cannot afford that."

"Then how about two-hundred fifty?"

Roza thought about it hard. Something compelled her to possess that mirror. Something that she could not explain. "I'll take it." She heard herself say. And what a bargain that was. "That is practically a steal."

"It is perfectly fine by me. I somehow knew that you were the right one to have this mirror the moment I laid eyes on you." The gypsy woman said solemnly. "I think Alexandra would want you to have it. Especially since you are a young singer like she was. May you find the same inspiration that she did."

"Thank you," said Roza meaningfully, still extremely perplexed and amazed by her good luck.

The gypsy watched Roza as she left, a sly expression on her wise, weathered face.

Mesicku na nebi hlubokem...O moon in the velvet heavens,

svetlo tve daleko vidi...your light shines far,

po svete bloudis sirokem,...you roam throughout the whole world,

divas se v pribytky lidi...gazing into human dwellings.

Mesicku postuj chvili,...O moon stay awhile,

rekni mi kde je muj mily!...tell me where my beloved is!

Rekni mu, stribrny mesicku,...O tell him, silver moon,

me ze jej objima rame,...that my arms enfold him,

aby se alespon chvilicku...in the hope that at least for a moment

vzpomenul ve sneni na mne...he will dream of me.

Zasvet' mu do daleka,...Shine on him, wherever he may be,

rekni mu kdo tu nan ceka!...and tell him of the one that awaits him here!

O mne-li, duse lidska sni,...If a human soul should dream of me,

at' se tou vzpominku vzbudi;...may he still remember me on awakening;

mesicku, nezhasni, nezhasni!...o moon, do not fade away!

Roza held the climax note in the final phrase, a high Bb flat, long and effortlessly and soulfully. How she adored this absolutely exquisite Slavic aria by Dvorak more than any other. It was a piece of alluring mystical beauty that transcended the incarnation of a yearning, irrevocable, passionate love that could tragically, never be fulfilled. How this piece utterly reflected Roza's own thoroughly Slavic soul and the bittersweet melancholy that had filled her life so far. She had loved like that once! She had loved unconditionally with a soul-searching conviction and passion. Although it had been many years ago, Roza felt as if it just happened to her yesterday. The emotions were vividly fresh in Roza's mind, especially when she sang an aria like the Dvorak. The passion that monopolized her then once again flooded her heart and soul, often reducing her to tears.

Roza had loved and she had lost. She had known disillusionment, deceit, betrayal...the heartbreak of a shattered romantic dream. Her adolescent years had been a dark time, but she found her peace in her art, her music. Music, which would never abandon her or betray her. Music, which would always brilliantly illuminate her life. She immersed herself in the wonderful world of opera, absorbing as much as possible both musically and spiritually. She gained a reputation as being incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about anything opera and her luscious lyric soprano voice blossomed. She was accepted to a fine conservatory, studying under the best and making wonderful progress.

It should seem that Roza should be completely happy, now that she had was truly in her element and had found her place in life, but she really wasn't. It was that soul-searching Slavic influence...that overwhelming yearning to love and be loved. She lived constantly in the world of her operas, those very human musical creations and knew in her heart that she could only find happiness with a mysterious man of melancholy who would know her soul and love her for herself, as she so wanted to be loved. It was a pity that she lived in the present modern day...a time when romanticism and chivalry are sadly ignored or frowned upon. The male population all but ignored her completely. It was not that she was not pretty enough. Roza was tall and slender, but shapely and had waste-length curly dark brown hair, large dark eyes and a clear, creamy complexion. Her quiet ways, old-fashioned dignified romantic air and great integrity and depth tended to scare off most. Roza loved the 19th century fashions and ideals and had felt all of her life that she was born in the wrong century. She wondered if she would ever find love.

Roza snapped out of her reverie and left the cozy haven of the little practice room, closing the door behind her. She must have spent a good twenty minutes or so after her singing, engaged in her restless thoughts. She glanced at her watch and saw that it was a quarter after five and that she was late to her apartment for the scheduled mirror delivery.

That evening, Roza stood in her Victorian apartment adorned in her elegant old-fashioned white lace dress, admiring herself before the new mirror. Her dark curly hair cascaded to her waist and her soulful dark eyes wore a thoughtful expression. How perfect this mirror fit in her romantic world of fancy. Her room was done up in attractive hues of ivory and pale yellow. A canopy with elaborate lace stood next to one wall, a large bookshelf which displayed an extensive array of opera scores, collections and recordings sat at another, while the closets and broad windows with matching ivory lace curtains and a mahogany rocker made up the rest of the space that was Roza's room. Here was a place where she could dream to her heart's content in peaceful solitude and study her scores without interruption. Roza loved that; for she was very much a loner. Dreams had been her main companions since she was a child.

It was twilight and Roza was sitting in the mahogany rocker in the corner, reading through a small pile of opera scores that made up her current repertoire. She had waited for years and was at last mature enough to begin studying complete operatic roles. Contessa in Le Nozze di Figaro, Marguerite in Faust, Juliette in Romeo et Juliette, Gilda in Rigoletto, Violetta in La Traviata, Micaela in Carmen, Tatyana in Yevgeny Onegin, Antonia in Les Contes D'Hoffman, Mimi in La Boheme, Magda in La Rondine, Liu in Turandot and the title role of Rusalka. These were her core roles as a lyric soprano and she very much adored each and every one of them. Many a night she had fallen asleep studying the scores and discovering the secrets that they held.

Tonight, the score was Yevgeny Onegin and the role of Tatyana. She had recently decided that she loved this opera more than any other that she had ever experienced. How completely she identified with the shy, dreamy romantic country maiden, Tatyana Larina she felt that through everything she said and did, she could be herself. Except of course, in the final scene when Tatyana, (now the Princess Gremina) refuses to follow her own heart and settles for duty and honor instead. Although she admits she still loves Onegin she rejects him and he is left devastated and alone. Yevgeny Onegin, who was the most complex, fascinating, and alluring opera character Roza had ever encountered. This was by far, to Roza the most tragic of all operas. She felt that she would rather die than endure such a fate.

"Honor? What is honor? I call it a living a lie if you ask me!" Roza said aloud. "Tatyana is lying both to herself and to the man she married!" She felt a sudden urge to cry. She didn't know why a mere opera upset her so much, but it did. Reservations aside, one day she would sing this role, and then it would be her that would have to reject that handsome, desperate, melancholic man. Opera just wasn't fair!

"I wish I could understand," she said with a long sigh. A passionate impulsive thought shot through her like lightening. I wish I could do more than that.

A sudden intense flicker illuminated the room!

Roza jumped from the chair with a start that took her breath away. What was that? What? It was as brief and as blinding as lightening, yet it seemed to issue from inside the room! But Roza knew that that was utterly impossible so she ran to the window and looked out as to find the source of it. Perhaps a thunderstorm had crept up without her having realized it. But no, that was not the case. The night was silent and cold and clear. The stars shone from above and a full moon illuminated the realm of the night. Roza shook her head in disbelief. She thought at this moment that she might be going a little bit mad, but easily convinced herself that it was merely a product of her overactive imagination.

And then it happened again. It came just as suddenly as the first time, with a renewed vengeance. What is going on here? Roza wanted to know. She whirled around and gasped in utter disbelief. A severe woman adorned in navy and silver robes with long raven hair and a long diamond-studded veil stood before the mirror with her arms raised as if she had just come from somewhere. She stared at Roza with piercing bright blue eyes.

"Don't look so surprised, my dear," she said in her powerful, high voice, "You said the right words."

Roza regarded the mysterious women in immense confusion and disbelief, even fear. "W-What d-did I say?" Roza stammered. "W-Who are you?"

The imposing woman stared at Roza in disbelief. "You don't know who I am? You, the child of opera incarnate? You don't recognize me?"

Actually, Roza did have some idea, she had an idea all right. An idea that seemed extraordinarily eccentric and impossible. Being the opera excerpt that she was, she would have immediately recognized this being as a character from a Mozart opera. But in reality, it made no sense that this character was standing in her bedroom.

The mysterious woman was waiting impatiently for Roza's response. "Perhaps this will refresh your memory," she said. Promptly she began to sing exquisitely a passage from an aria known well for its fiendish virtuosity. She spun off coloratura passages with immense ease and with an intensity in her person that Roza had never experienced in this music or in any other.

"The Queen of the Night," Roza murmured in extreme awe of what she had just heard. "Wow, that was amazing! I have never heard a better Queen," she said dumbly.

The majestic woman laughed, a high piercing sound. "That is because I am The Queen of the Night. "

Roza could not fail to believe her. Somehow, some way in her very being, she knew that it was quite true. "But how?" was all she could utter.

The Queen of the Night laughed a musical sound, obviously enjoying Roza's shock and confusion. "Come, I will explain all." she said taking a few steps behind toward Roza and reaching out for her hand, but Roza took a timid step back. Her face became sympathetic. "Come now, I don't bite," she laughed and coaxed Roza to sit down with her on the peach sofa. "You must understand first and foremost that neither I nor the others mean you any harm at all. You are a champion to me, after all you will likely sing my daughter Pamina one day. You are many others' of the realm's champion as well...because it is beautiful young singers like yourself that keep opera fresh and alive. It is our duty to inspire you, to give back some of what you are giving to us. Living for opera as you do, you have been chosen to receive access to our world."

Roza was aghast. "O my, this sounds so wonderful...but I don't quite understand."

"The mirror," the Queen said lingering, gesturing to Roza's gothic antique mirror which glowed when the Queen referred to it. "It is a door to our world. A world of all opera and opera characters...Operarealm."

"Oh, my," Roza's hand moved up to her mouth. This was a bit much for her to take in.

The Queen picked up on Roza's sheer anxiety. "I know this all must be quite overwhelming for you, but it is all quite real. Imagine the possibilities, Roza-a whole world composed entirely of the passion which you live for...imagine the inspiration you shall receive."

"Oh, yes," Roza sighed, suddenly becoming very excited by the idea. "I'll actually get to meet the characters I portray! And their fatal tempters!"

"Yes you will," the Queen confirmed and then she became quite severe. "But you must do no more than that."

"How so?" Roza wondered aloud.

"My dear," said the Queen. "You will enter a world of unimaginable beauty but also a world of unjust tragedies and wasted lives."

"That is what opera is all about, " Roza commented.

The Queen of the Night nodded in agreement and then motioned for her not to interrupt her. "But you must remember that you are there as a sort of apprentice. You are there to observe Opera as it really is and then use this knowledge to enhance your art. You must remember this above everything and you must not become too involved."

Roza regarded the Queen with immense confusion. "What are you saying?"

"It is the one and only rule that governs the chosen visitor from Reality into Operaland," the Queen explained in solemn tones. "You must not become involved in the life of an opera character, no matter how much he attracts you or how you ache to heal his tortured soul with your love. For if a man of Operarealm makes love to you, you will remain in Operarealm forever."

Roza flushed, rather embarrassed. "I'm not that kind of a girl. I don't think you'll have to worry about me."

"You must remain that way, " said the Queen masterfully. "You must remain chaste to preserve the authenticity of your interpretations. You are a servant of your art and you must not forget that. The moment you neglect your duty in the most extreme way, you will be lost to Reality forever. "

Although Roza was chilled to the bone by the finality of the Queen's words, a part of her wondered if that wasn't such a bad thing. But no, no matter what, she knew had to be extremely careful to maintain total selflessness in her art from now on. Sacrifice. That was what the world of music performance was all about.

The Queen of the Night rose and began to walk towards the mirror. "I leave you now. For my drama repeats itself seasonally beyond my control as is what happens with all of us in Operarealm. You may begin your journey into our world whenever you wish as this door will always be open to you and only you. "

Roza followed the retreating Queen. "How does it happen?" she inquired.

The Queen turned to her once again. "All you must do is stand before it with you arms raised, truly desiring the knowledge it will give to you and the power to pass through will come to you. To return all you must do is find the mirror again. Farewell and good luck to you." And she disappeared into the silvery surface of the mirror as abruptly and as mysteriously as she had come.

Roza remained behind in her small, cozy room in utter shock over what had just occurred. She gave a great sigh and fell back on her bed, aspiring to allow her mind and heart to absorb the exquisite miracle that had just befallen her artistic life.