Post by Dorothy J Heydt Post by Quadibloc Post by Bill Gill
That was real Space Opera.
And here I was thinking this would be about opera performed in space...
A scene in The Fifth Element comes to mind, and of course the references
to Klingon opera...
And in fact, a title search for "Space Opera" on ISFDB
found 79 matches, including a novel by that title by Vance.
Which I haven't read; has anybody?
On the following day the theater was erected; the orchestra
ran through the score. At the time appointed a large company
of Mental Warriors marched across the plateau. Dame Isabel
met them at the entrance to the theater. The spokesman came
forward, indicated his fellows, and spoke. Darwin Litchley
translated. "We have come, in faithful accordance with our
undertaking. Once we are determined, neither persuasion,
trepidation, nor second thoughts can deter us. So now we
submit ourselves to your performance."
Dame Isabel uttered a short speech of welcome, then led
them into the theater. With quick looks to left and right,
they seated themselves in a compact group, each adopting
an identical, somewhat rigid posture: torso bolt upright,
arms pressed closely to the sides, feet planted close
Sir Henry Rixon raised his baton for the overture: the
Mental Warriors as one man fixed their eyes upon him. The
curtain rose on the first act; the Mental Warriors sat as
if frozen; indeed they did not so much as twitch until the
final curtain descended and the lights came on; even then
they remained motionless, as if not certain that the
performance was over. Then slowly, uncertainly, they rose
to their feet, filed from the theater, exchanging puzzled
comments. Dame Isabel and Bernard Bickel met them outside.
The spokesman conferred with his fellows, and it seemed as
if they were somewhat resentful though the dour cast of
their features made any such judgment uncertain.
Dame Isabel approached. "Did you enjoy the performance?"
The spokesman said in his most resonant voice, "My people
are neither exercised nor taxed; is this the most vigorous
performance you are able to provide? Are the folk of Earth
Darwin Litchley translated; Dame Isabel was surprised at
the question. "We have dozens of operas in our repertory,
all different. We conferred at length last night and decided
that you might enjoy something light and not too rigorous
The Mental Warrior drew himself stiffly erect. "Do you take
us so lightly then? Is this our reputation across the
"No, no, of course not," Dame Isabel told him. "By no means!"
The Mental Warrior spoke a few brusque words to his fellows,
turned back to Dame Isabel. "We will say no more of the
performance. Tomorrow we will honor you with an exhibition
by our trained company. You will attend?"
"Of course!" said Dame Isabel. "We are looking forward to
the occasion. Will you send someone to guide us to your
"This will be done." The Mental Warriors stalked off across
Bernard Bickel shook his head. "I fear that they weren't
Dame Isabel sighed. "Just possibly they might have preferred
Siegfried ... Well, we'll see. Tomorrow's performance should
be very interesting, and I must remind Roger to bring along
On the day following, a few minutes after the noon meal, a
pair of Mental Warriors presented themselves at the ship.
Not everyone was ready; Ramona Thoxted and Cassandra Prouty
at the last moment decided to change from afternoon frocks
to somewhat more casual clothes. Finally all who were going
assembled outside the ship: singers, musicians, Dame Isabel,
Roger, Bernard Bickel, Sir Henry, Andrei Szinc, and a number
of the crew. Neither Captain Gondar nor Madoc Roswyn was
among the group, and Roger felt an agonized pang at the
thought of the two together. Someone else seemed to have
similar feelings: Logan de Appling, the personable young
astrogator. He strode back and forth nervously toward the
debarkation ramp, and when neither Madoc Roswyn nor Captain
Gondar appeared, he abruptly marched back aboard ship.
At last all were on hand; in a festive mood they set off
across the plateau. Forgotten were little disagreements and
jealousies; various small cliques had temporarily dissolved,
and it was a good-natured group which walked chattering and
chaffering to the local theater. Ramona Thoxted and Cassandra
Prouty congratulated themselves on their decision to wear
casual clothes; the occasion clearly was not at all formal.
Even Dame Isabel seemed caught up in the spirit of good
cheer, and made jocular references to the book Roger was
supposed to be writing.
They passed behind the city, descended a wide stone-paved
path and found themselves in a natural amphitheater. The
walls were steep and the seats were all on the floor of the
enclosure: stone cylinders arranged in concentric circles.
Dame Isabel examined the amphitheater with lively interest.
"They pay not even lip-service to luxury," she observed to
Bernard Bickel. "The seats, or pedestals, whatever you call
them, appear absolutely uncomfortable. But I suppose we
must take things as we find them."
Bernard Bickel indicated the iron trusswork overhead.
"Evidently for special effects, or perhaps lighting
Dame Isabel looked about. "A strange sort of theater: where
is the stage? Where do the musicians sit?"
Bernard Bickel chuckled. "In my peregrinations across the
galaxy, I've learned to be surprised at nothing, not even
theaters without stages."
"Yes, we must not be too parochial ... Well, I believe I will
sit here. Roger, you take that seat or pedestal, whatever,
and Mr. Litchley, you sit there, beside Roger, so that if
necessary you can make interpretive comments into the
The company disposed itself about the amphitheater with
jocular remarks back and forth.
The individual who had acted as spokesman for the Mental
Warriors appeared. He clanked across the stone floor of the
arena to Dame Isabel. He spoke and Darwin Litchley translated:
"You have kept your word; you have not departed the planet."
"No, naturally not," declared Dame Isabel. "Such an act
would have been highly ungenerous."
At the translation, the Mental Warrior gave a brief jerk
of his head. "You are a strange folk; but certainly one to
"Thank you very much," said Dame Isabel, extremely pleased,
and Bernard Bickel added a smiling nod of acknowledgment.
The Mental Warrior departed the arena. Silence persisted
for two minutes, and was broken by the chime of a great
gong. This was the signal for a set of astonishing and
harrowing circumstances. Jets of flame thrust up from the
floor; iron rails fell from above to crash into the aisles
between pedestals. Six razor-edged pendulums were released
from above, to swing back and forth. A siren screamed, and
was answered by another; a great boulder toppled down, to
be caught by a chain inches above the heads of the audience.
The fire jets thrust out horizontally, then vertically, and
down from the trusses dropped chunks of red-hot iron ... After
two minutes and fourteen seconds the company was screaming,
fainting, giving way to various styles of hysteria.
Abruptly the performance was terminated. The Mental Warriors
appeared on the truss-work and to the side of the arena.
They emitted hoots, cat-calls, harsh cries of scorn. Darwin
Litchley later remembered something of their comments: "What
sort of pusillanimity is this?" And "We sat through three
hours of your worst and never flinched!" And "The folk of
Earth are weaklings indeed!"
In a disorganized straggle the group returned to the Phoebus.
Dame Isabel gave instant orders to strike the theater and
depart with the most expedition possible.
The Phoebus flew back to Earth-town, discharged Darwin
Litchley, and at once put off into space.
What's not in Columbia anymore..