Carmen

Was it before the revolution or after the revolution—? No, that couldn’t have been before. It couldn’t have been before the revolution because I remember that joke of Danchenko’s I happened to overhear.

On that humid, rain-threatened evening, the stage director, T—, while standing still on the balcony of the Imperial Theater, with a cup of sparkling water in one hand, spoke with the poet Danchenko. With that flaxen-haired, blind poet Danchenko.

“This also has to be a trend of the times, don’t you think? Russia’s Grand Opera coming all the way to Tokyo, Japan.”

“It’s thanks to the Bolsheviks being opera fanatics.”

This exchange took place, I believe, five nights after opening day—the night Carmen took the stage. I was enamored with her, she who was meant to play Carmen, Ina Burskaya. Ina was a woman of large eyes, a wide nose, and a strongly sensual character. Naturally, I looked forward to seeing Ina as Carmen, but, upon seeing Act I, Carmen was not Ina. This was pale blue eyes, a prominent nose—some shabby-looking actress. In the same box with T—, our tuxedoed breasts lined up, I couldn’t help but be disappointed.

“That’s not our Ina as Carmen, is it?”

“It seems she has tonight off. And the cause terribly romantique.”

“What happened?”

“Apparently this markiz of the former empire has been pursuing Ina and arrived in Tokyo the day before yesterday. Ina, though, somewhere along the line came to be beholden to an American merchant. Finding this American, the markiz gave himself up to despair, and in his hotel room last night hanged himself.”

Listening to this story, I remembered the particulars of a scene. In a hotel room late at night, surrounded by a great crowd of men and women, Ina is playing cards. Wearing a black and red kimono, looking as though she’s performing a gypsy divination, smiling at T—, “This time, let’s read your fortune,” she said. (Or at least that’s what I’m told. Knowing no Russian beyond da, I naturally get no more than what T—, who understands the languages of twelve countries, translates for me.) After turning over and looking at the cards, “You will be happier than that person. You will be able to marry the person that you love,” she said. That person was a Russian speaking with someone on Ina’s side. I unfortunately cannot recall that person’s face or clothes or anything. The only thing I can recall, and barely at that, is the china pink pinned to his chest. Might not the one who hanged himself over losing Ina’s love been that night’s “that person”…?

“So she won’t be coming out tonight.”

“Shall we call it quits and step out for a drink?”

T— was of course also an Ina fan.

“Hm, why don’t we watch one more act and head out?”

Our conversation with Danchenko should have been during this intermission.

We were also bored with the next act. Within about five minutes after taking our seats, though, five or six foreigners entered the box just facing across from us. Not only that, standing right there in front of them all was none other than Ina Burskaya. Ina sat in the very front of the box, and while using a fan of peacock feathers, leisurely looked out over the stage. Furthermore, she appeared to be pleasantly laughing and talking with her accompanying foreign men and women (mixed among whom was certainly her American patron).

“That’s Ina.”

“Yup, that’s Ina.”

All the way until the final curtain—until José, holding Carmen’s dead body, lamenting, “Carmen! Carmen!”—we never left our box. Of course, that was more for the purpose of watching Ina than the stage. For the purpose of watching the Russian Carmen who seemed not to care she killed this man.

***

A night two or three days following that, I was sitting with T— around a table in the corner of a restaurant.

“Have you noticed? I believe Ina’s had her left ring finger in a bandage since that night.”

“Now that you mention it, it has been bandaged, hasn’t it?”

“Ina returned to her hotel that night, and—”

“Hold it, don’t drink that.”

I warned T—. In the pale light, there was in his glass a scarab beetle, squirming upside down. He dumped his white wine onto the floor, made a face and added, “She threw a plate against the wall, used the pieces as castanets, and paying no mind to the blood running down her fingers—”

“Danced like Carmen?”

And there, a white-headed waiter, whose face nowhere near matched our excitement, quietly brought our plates of salmon.

(10 April Taishō 15)

Akutagawa Ryūnosuke

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