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Sailor Moon Presents: The Phantom of the Opera

Chapter Text

 

The Opera Ghost really existed...yes, he existed in flesh and blood, although he assumed the complete appearance of a real phantom...”

—from Gaston Leroux’s  “Le Fantôme de l'Opéra”


 

Paris, 1925

 

“Sold! Your number, sir? Thank you. Lot 664, ladies and gentlemen…”

The auctioneer’s booming voice was the only source of liveliness present amongst the ruins of the Palais de l’Opera. What had once been considered the finest of all buildings in Paris had been reduced to a sad, empty shell of her former glory. Dust and debris gathered in hollow corners, entangling with cobwebs that hung from faded drapes and broken theatre seats. The floorboards creaked under foot, hinting at rot; in some places they were gone altogether. The glass roof, a feature the opera house had been infamous for during its heyday, was completely shattered, leaving a large, gaping hole from which the occasional pigeon flitted in and out.  

The people present did little to alleviate the mood. Dressed in sober greys and blacks, they seemed to absorb the dreariness of the atmosphere. No one made a sound, save to call out a bidding price.

Within this small crowd, an elderly gentleman shivered in his wheelchair as the auctioneer dribbled on about a wooden pistol and three human skulls, and promptly adjusted the blankets wrapped around his legs. He was in the winter of his life, his once-dark hair now grey, save for a few strands in his well-groomed bread. His face was weighed down with age and wrinkles, and his body was a good deal thinner than it had been in his youth.

Mon dieu, he thought, how much longer was this going to take? The auction had been going on three hours now, and the item he longed for hadn't appeared amongst the stock. He had been assured that it would be up for sale, but now was beginning to lose hope of obtaining it. The only other item that had caught his interest was a poster from the house’s first production of Chalumeau’s Hannibal, yet that purchase did little to bolster his spirits.

“Lot 665!” the auctioneer announced.

The old man startled. He hadn't realized they had moved on.

“A musical locket in the shape of a star. Within the device lies a miniature of a couple in evening dress dancing the waltz. This item, discovered in the vaults of the theatre, is still in working order ladies and gentleman.”

“Showing here!” the attendant called out. He twisted a knob on the device, opening the lid. A soft, tinkling tune emerged from the locket, the type of music that spoke of wistful memories that one might cultivate on a moonlit night with a lover.

The old man stared at the item, entranced. This was it.  

“May I commence at fifteen francs?”

He tapped his nurse’s wrist and whispered to her to start bidding on the music-box.

“Fifteen thank you. Do I hear twenty?” The auctioneer noticed the old man’s nurse raise her hand. “Yes, twenty from you sir, thank you very much. Do I hear twenty-five?”

An elderly woman on the far side of the auctioneer's platform raised her hand.

“Twenty-five on my right, thank you Madame. Twenty-five I am bid. Do I hear thirty?”

The nurse raised her hand again.

“Thirty! At thirty-five?”The auctioneer eyed the lady expectantly, but she shook her head, relinquishing her bid.

Disappointed, the auctioneer said, “Selling at thirty francs then. Going once, going twice...SOLD! For thirty francs, to the Vicomte d’Élysées. Once again, thank you, sir.”

The attendant walked over to the Vicomte and placed the locket gently in his outstretched hands. It was a relatively small device, easily fit into his palm. Tarnished gold and enamel decorated the exterior, with delicate carvings of roses and vines etched in the base. The lid was adorned with a crescent moon, and when opened the entwined figures of a man and woman appeared next to the device’s clockwork, dancing against a starry backdrop. Every detail, exactly as she’d said.

He idly wondered if it’d still play when all the rest of them were dead.

“Lot 666 then: a chandelier in pieces.”

The crowd’s attention turned to the large, sheet-covered mass that lay in the centre of the room. Two attendants came down from the stage and went to either side of the bulky mass that contained the chandelier, ready to unveil it to the spectators.

“Some of you may recall,” began the auctioneer, “the strange affair of the Phantom of the Opera, a mystery never fully explained. We’ve been told, ladies and gentlemen, that this is the very chandelier which figures in the famous disaster. Our workshops have repaired it, and fitted parts of it with wiring for the new electric light.

“Perhaps,” he added with a chuckle, “we can frighten away the ghost of so many years ago, with a little illumination. Gentleman,” he motioned to the attendants, “If you please.”

A thousand memories went through the Vicomte’s mind as the chandelier was unveiled: glittering parties, soft candlelight, the scent of roses, distorted mirrors, damp passageways, the audience’s screams as glass rained down….

Yet chief among these buried memories was the image of the chandelier floating high above the crowd, shining its crystalline light on the stage below where a bright-eyed, golden-haired soprano once performed.

Chapter Text

 

The trumpets of Carthage resound!

Here Romans, now and tremble!

Hark to our step on the ground!

Hear the drums—Hannibal comes!

—from “Hannibal”, Act I Scene I


 

Paris, 1885

 

The theatre was bustling with activity. A seething mass of stagehands, set designers, seamstresses, and artisans littered the backstage area as they hurried to finish their tasks for today’s rehearsal, occasionally colliding with an unfortunate workman or passerby. Onstage La Esmeralda stood unperturbed by the chaos, brandishing a severed head as she sung her opening lines. Her voice trilled throughout the theatre, sharp and powerful, demanding the attention of all present.

It was the perfect moment for a young, unassuming ballerina to sneak in. No one paid her any mind as she made her way to the stage.

“Céline!”

Well, almost no one.

The girl in question halted mid-step and turned to meet the fervent blue eyes of Marie-Nathalie—Mina to her and their friends. Flanked by Renée on one side and Aimée and Madeleine on the other, the four senior ballet soloists made an imposing sight. Their faces were a stark blend of concern and exasperation, with Renée’s quizzical brow attesting to the latter.

She gulped. “Oh, Mina! Good morning les aimes! I was—”

“Shhh! Keep your voice down,” Renée hissed, pulling her into the wings. “Esmeralda’s on.”

Madeleine chuckled. “You slept in again, didn’t you?” she asked, not unkindly. 

Oui,” Céline nodded, feeling her cheeks warm. She rubbed the place on her forearm that was still tender from Renée’s firm grip. “Was Madame Meillot upset?”

“She didn’t notice your absence,” Mina said reassuringly. “André summoned her to his office a few moments ago.”

“What for?”

“Something to do with the gala, I presume.”

The fair-haired girl exhaled in relief. Madame Meillot was very particular about punctuality. The last thing she desired was another lecture from their kind, yet demanding, ballet mistress.

“Regardless,” Aimée added, handing her friend a pair of fake chain cuffs, “you cannot continue to show up late for rehearsals, Céline. It will affect your technique.”

She was about to retort that her technique was already hopeless when the orchestra struck up, signaling the end of Esmeralda’s solo.

“And that’s our cue.” Mina adjusted the skirts of her slave girl costume and secured her own chain cuffs.  The others followed suit and glided onstage between the female chorus singers.

Amongst the corps de ballet Céline was one of the least impressive dancers of the troupe. It wasn’t for lack of passion on her part; on the contrary, the twenty-year-old had been dancing since she was a little girl and found great enjoyment in it. There was a certain freedom in the movements of ballet that almost felt like flying, that if she extended her legs and arms high enough she could reach the stars and cup the moon in her hands. However, she was prone to laziness regarding practice, and unlike her friends lacked the stage presence required of a soloist. Seven years at the Palais de l’Opera had neither cured her of her habit for running late nor inspired her to become more dedicated.

Yet this had never bothered Céline. So long as she danced well enough to please herself, what did she care for fame? She twisted her limbs in time to riveting cellos and booming drums as the music reached its crescendo, announcing Hannibal’s arrival.

Signor Rufino was a tall man with flaming red hair and an arrogant smirk that some company ladies found attractive, but Céline thought made him look cruel. Adorned in a garishly elaborate general’s costume, he looked every inch the proud, conquering hero as he puffed his chest and began to sing:

“Sad to return to find the land we love! Threatened once more by Roma’s far-reaching grasp!”

“No! No non!” The music came to a halt as the male lead was interrupted by Zacherie, their director. His unruly, tawny curls seemed to bounce with agitation as he marched up from the orchestra pit to the stage. “Signor, if you please, it’s ‘Rome’,” he enunciated, opening his sheet book with flourish. “We say ‘Rome’, not ‘Roma.’”

Taken aback, Rufino spluttered, “’Rome’, ‘Roma’, it’s all the same! And it’s very hard.” He tried to enunciate the word in the same manner. “Rome, Rome...”

The director sighed. “Let us try this again, Signor. ‘Sad to return’...”

Rufino resumed his line and corrected his pronunciation, though he shot an irritated glare at Zacherie when he got to ‘Rome.’ Following his final note the music segued into the ballet. Mina took centre stage as head of the slave girls, twirling amongst the members of Hannibal’s court in a playful, seductive manner while the others assembled in a cloistered group, executing a series of stiff arm and leg extensions allegro to signify their bondage. 

Céline was observing Mina perform a set of fouettés when she caught sight of André and Madame Meillot making their way into the theatre, followed by a trio of men she’d never seen before. Cocking her head, she tried to peer over the moving limbs of her fellow ballerinas.

The current manager of the Palace was engaged in conversation with two of the gentlemen, one a silvery-blonde fellow, the other a brunette with long wavy locks. She couldn’t make out the third, other than that he had short dark hair. She strained to hear what they were discussing, but only managed to hear the silver-haired man say, “Monsieur, you still haven’t explained to us exactly why you’re—” before the chorus drowned out his words.

Céline inched closer, but was thwarted by Madame Meillot shooing the gentlemen aside. And the rest of the dancers were moving in the opposite direction. Merde! The girl fumbled with her steps, struggling to get back into place before anyone noticed.

The scene reached its climax with Esmeralda serenading her lover farewell as Rufino mounted a large prop elephant. As the cast dispersed and the stagehands cleared away set pieces, André took advantage of the lull to address the company.

“Ladies and gentlemen!” he gestured grandly to them. “Uh, ladies and gentlemen? If I could have your attention for just a moment...”

The cast, too busy conversing amongst themselves, ignored him.

André motioned to Madame Meillot for assistance. With a solid rap of her cane the company fell silent.

Satisfied, he resumed his speech. “As you know, for some weeks there have been rumours of my imminent retirement, and I can now tell you that these were all true.”

Céline was stunned. André, retiring!? Yes, she had heard the rumours, but thought them nothing more than that. The Favreau family had been running the Palace for years, and André had only just taken over management from his father three years ago. Surely he was too young to retire!

“However,” André continued. “It is now my pleasure to introduce the two gentlemen who now own the Palais de l’Opera.” He motioned to the newcomers: “M. Malcolm Kearny, formerly of London, and M. Henri Neveu.” The company politely clapped.

Mon dieu, they are good-looking,” Madeleine whispered as M. Neveu thanked the crowd for their warm welcome.

“Indeed,” Mina agreed. Her eyes gazed speculatively upon the pair. “They appear to be affluent businessmen.”

Renée snorted. “More likely they’re rich, bored men with nothing better to do than gawk at the dancers.”

“André isn’t a fool,” her blonde friend insisted. “He wouldn’t hire shoddy replacements. They must be well-versed in management if they’re to take over. Besides,” she added, “It’s not as though they need to be artistically inclined for the job.”

“Of course, so long as they flatter you and Esmeralda with gifts and praise.”

“That is not very kind of you Renée.”

Aimée urged them to hush before their remarks turned into a full-blown argument. Madeleine took this opportunity to ask Céline if she too thought the new managers were attractive. Yes, they certainly were, she mused, but in different ways. Kearny’s pale hair was tied neatly back, revealing a sharp jaw and cool grey eyes. Neither crease nor speck was present on his clothes, and he carried himself in an assured, professional manner. By contrast Neveu was dark, broad-chest and rugged, hair unbound and reckless. He smiled genially at the cast, seemingly more pleased to be here than his sober-faced partner, who was now speaking.

“...and we are pleased to present our new patron,” Kearny spoke in fluent French. “My Lord, the Vicomte d’Élysées.”

Céline froze, her chest constricting tightly at the mention of the name. No, it couldn’t be....

The third member of the managers’ party emerged from his spot in the wings, a strikingly handsome youth. He had a fine, angular face set against a backdrop of hair like spilled ink. His figure was athletic, and he bore himself with a noble mien. But it was his eyes that drew her in; a dark blue that reminded her of the sea on a sunny summer’s day, deep, fathomless, and breathtaking.

Despite the years between them, she still recognized those eyes. In a barely audible tone she whispered, “Mathieu.”

“Pardon?” Mina questioned, but her friend paid her no heed, her eyes transfixed on the stranger.

“My family and I are honoured to support all the arts throughout the city, none more so than at the world-renowned Palais de l’Opera,” the Vicomte said. The company broke into applause once more, charmed by the young man’s praise.

Esmeralda approached André and hissed in his ear, pointing towards the new managers with her fan. Clearly she was no longer content remaining in the background.

“Messieurs, Vicomte,” said André, taking her arm. “May I present Signora Esmeralda Marchesi, our lead soprano for the past five seasons.”

“Of course, of course!” Neveu grasped her hand and kissed her knuckles. “I’ve witnessed all your greatest roles Signora.”

The diva beamed.

“Signor Rufino Borgogni, our male lead,” André continued. The tenor merely grunted. “Zacharie Monet, our chief repetiteur, and Madame Meillot’s newest principle dancer, Marie-Nathalie Mayenne,” he finished. Zacherie shook hands with the new managers and patron while Mina curtsied gracefully to the gentlemen.

“Delighted to meet you all,” Neveu praised. Returning his attention to Esmeralda, he said, “If I remember correctly, Elissa has a rather fine aria in Act Three of Hannibal. I wonder Signora, if, as a personal favour, you would oblige us with a private rendition? Unless, of course,” he added, acerbically, “M. Monet objects....”

Kearny pulled him aside. “Neveu, what are you doing?”

“Being amiable. You should try it sometime.” He brushed off his partner and approached Esmeralda once more. “Signora?”

“If my manager commands,” she cooed. “M. Monet!”

The director looked up from his book and snapped it shut. “If my diva commands,” he said, with a touch of sarcasm. “Will two bars be sufficient introduction?”

“Two bars will be more than sufficient,” Kearny murmured.

Satisfied, Esmeralda ordered the company to be quiet as she prepared to sing again. The Vicomte, meanwhile, was preparing to take his leave.

“Will you not stay, M. le Vicomte?” André inquired after him.

“Unfortunately, I have other business to attend to,” he replied, checking his pocket watch. “And I am running late. I shall be here next week for the gala. Messieurs, Signora,” he shook hands with the managers and bowed to Esmeralda, “Good day and good luck.”  He left the stage and exited through the nearest corridor.

A pang of sadness washed over Céline as she watched his retreat. He hadn’t even recognized her...

Her thoughts were interrupted by the tinkling of piano keys. Zacherie sat at the piano, music book opened to the aria arrangement and fingers hovering over the keys in anticipation. He gestured to the lady before him. “Signora,” he said.

“Maestro,” Esmeralda replied. The music began, a two-bar intro, and she sang:

 

“Think of me, think of me fondly

When we’ve GOOD-bye!

Remember me, once in while

Please promise me YOU’LL try!”

 

The diva’s strong voice rang majestically, like a fine-tuned clock at eventide; a little melodramatic when she hit certain notes, but nevertheless pleasing to the ear. Neveu gave Esmeralda his full attention, eyes fixed upon her like he was admiring a finely-polished jewel. She circled him once and draped her shawl around him flirtatiously, drawing him in with a coy gaze; he returned the look in kind. Kearny remained stoic through all this, though Céline could just make out a twitch in his left eye. The sight made her giggle.

Had she been less distracted by his facial expressions, or had anyone been paying a little less attention to the aria they may have noticed an odd shuffling noise from the rafters. To the untrained ear, one may attribute the sound to a crew member making his way across the catwalks. But crewmen don’t shuffle when on the catwalk; the swinging suspensions make that impossible. Regardless, the noise passed by undetected.

Seconds later, a backdrop crashed down on Esmeralda.