There was never any way of knowing how a performance would be received. Whilst the moody playwright and composer at Renaud’s often incorporated elements of current events and political commentary, these themes did not always reach his audience. From time to time, the avant-garde must yield to the financial ledger.
The rumored youthful director of the enterprise was a prodigy with nearly any topic his fellow guild leaders raised. If not his intellect or exceptional beauty, then his equanimity in managing the notorious whims of his idiosyncratic creative director were often a focus of speculation. Like any family, the company frequently entertained many a squabble, even in public at the gala events on opening night.
Renaud’s helmsman was famous for valuing his privacy, whereas at this point of our story, its creative director only exercised what discretion the female owner was able to exact from him. Many a bet was made over just what means, but the objects of their prurience are a lady and a gentleman, and it wasn’t true anyway. At least, not between Nicolas and the elegant woman he often referred to as ‘soeur’ or ‘cousine’.
Some pondered just how youthful the young master Armand was, but few wished to brave the perils of ever placing a bet on *that*. His business was his own. The priest at Ste-Catherine’s had sworn that it was the older man who was the ward and not the other way around. From the way Nicolas de Lenfent had almost been *shoved* at his conductor’s podium by Armand’s long hands, at the very minimum, the young genius was permitted great latitude in his leadership. He did possess a box seat, after all.
So it was a complete surprise to seasoned patrons of Renaud’s ambitious little productions when an ingenious cut-away theatre set was revealed on the charming stage. Eyes slowly swiveled towards the brunet manager, however, when a wisp of a female wearing a wig of russet brown traipsed onto stage. The assembled audience members tittered, and not a single eye failed to rise and fall between parody and original, as if the theatre were a tennis court. She darted up and down the stage, nitpicking at details and licking the strings of rosaries in her hands.
The overture was sumptuous, full of Slavic mountains and the colorful embroidery of the East, picked out against a dark sky of wood winds. Armand’s false doppelgänger inspected the theatre-within-a-theatre that was also putting on its little show with its little blond actor. He walked about expertly on his knees, waving his pasteboard sword, arguing and flirting with the audience and other actors alike. He brought whistles and laughter from some gentlemen in the audience, which seemed to be the queue for the violent pizzicatos and dizzying tremolos to begin in all the strings.
Nimble fingers blurred over the keys of the harpsichord. On stage, the two battled over the meaning of love and art and war whilst the Third Estate pointed and laughed at these painted ponies prancing with one another. The second violinist (here, the first violinist after the concertmaster), created a whinnying of horses on her violin so expertly that several audience members shrieked in surprise, to their own embarrassment.
But there was no stopping the show. The natural curl of Nicolas’ hair sprang back out of its tie, and he seemed a whirl of energy as he snatched up his violin to join the fray. The audience members clutched at one another, strangers and lovers alike, as the music galloped forwards and the other peasants on the stage began to raise pitchforks. The fire in their torches looked astonishingly real.
Those seated nearest to Nicolas de Lenfent claimed to see holy blood pouring from his God-touched temples. For those who heard his solo, it felt as if the world was burning for their cold indifference. The violinist had taken his guardian’s icy calmness and splashed molten feeling over it as if spicing it with gunpowder and setting it alight.
Not everyone believed it, but those who could recall the events of the evening claimed that they had felt the strongest compulsion of their lives to climb the box seats and capture the boy sitting in them. Universally, they remembered the mad laughter and the words “come and see”.
You can say all you want about the mental health of Van Gogh who, during his lifetime, cooked only one of his hands, and other than that did no more than cut off his left ear … … demented as this assertion may seem, present-day life goes on in its old atmosphere of prurience, of anarchy, of disorder, of delirium, of dementia, of chronic lunacy, of bourgeois inertia, of psychic anomaly (for it isn’t [people] but the world that has become abnormal), of deliberate dishonesty and downright hypocrisy, of a mean contempt for anything that shows breeding, of the claim of an entire order based on the fulfillment of a primitive injustice, in short, of organized crime. … So a sick society invented psychiatry to defend itself against the investigations of certain visionaries whose faculties of divination disturbed it.
Antonin Artaud, “Van Gogh: The Man Suicided by Society” 135.
When love flies it is remembered not as love but as something else. Blessed are the uneducated, who forget it entirely, and are never conscious of folly or pruriency in the past, of long aimless conversations.