In 1762, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart played his first concert for Empress Maria Theresa in a room called the Hall of Mirrors in the Schoenbrunn Palace in Vienna. He was six years old.
Yesterday was hot. Guided tours distress me. I don’t like someone telling me where to look and for how long, and I loathe being in a herd. So, my boyfriend picked up a booklet and read from it as we wandered the palace. By the time we arrived in the Hall of Mirrors, all I saw was my own reflection. He nudged me, pointed to a couch and whispered in my ear, “that’s where Mozart first performed.”
Oh god, that moment, I swear I saw him. Or I heard him. I had a sudden and clear belief that energy’s waves may over time grow longer and farther between but they do not dissipate. They shift back and forth like a lazy tide. A little child composer, playing for Maria Theresa, mother of Marie Antoinette and of Emperor Joseph II who is purported to have famously said of Mozart’s compositions: too many notes! Was young Wolfgang scared? Fearless? Did he have the safe secret of who he was to be already? Our booklet said that after his performance, he leapt into the lap of the Empress and “showered her with kisses.” Were those mirrors original, I wanted to know. Had we—Mozart and me—each seen ourselves in the same object?
I’m not supposed to be in Vienna tonight. I had an afternoon flight to London and reservations for dinner. My boyfriend was too ill to travel, and so we’ve rearranged our plans. It wasn’t until a few moments ago, once he fell asleep, that I realized I even was in Vienna. I dug out a small bottle of Austrian white wine from the back of the mini-bar, poured a glass, and came out to the balcony where beneath me an outdoor screening of an opera has conducted a loose stream of people to sit and form an organized crowd. Two little girls jump and shriek on a lawn, the music rises in pitch as well, a woman emerges from the escalator of a U-Bahn station, and at first I don’t understand how she is arriving vertically from under the ground because the scene is that terrifying: anything feels possible, including that I have somehow ended up at the top of a tower under the spell of a wind that spins my hair into a weapon, and I’m acutely aware that I could leap without a single consequence and, even more dangerously, without a regret. The scene is as terrifying as anything beautiful is: you’re at once fully prepared to die and wanting from that red, bottom corner of lung that heaves, even when you’ve got no breath left, to live forever.
I’m not really sure how to let you know right now how sad I’ve been in my life, not always, but in particular times when I’ve lost big. Call it everything, all my chips, when I most wasn’t bluffing. Consider it the sort of sad that leaping off a tower would neither be terrifying nor beautiful, but merely an indifferent and cold proof of gravity. Think now of something I happened upon yesterday in a hall of mirrors. I looked to myself the same in all of those reflections, different strides in the same striped skirt and yellow shoes, those familiar legs attaching them moving by, when I paused a step outside my body and saw Mozart at six, his head swallowed by a white powdered wig, his whole life ahead of him, him stopping to run childishly to the lap of the empress. Then I remembered that Mozart was buried in an unmarked, pauper’s grave, and I realized none of us will ever know our own reflection. None of us will ever see ourselves, and none can stop looking at the sight of us.
This is one of the most demanding arias in all of opera, and in my opinion the most powerful. Undo your ascribed genres and listen to this loud.
posted by holly, who played the Queen of Night in the sixth grade.