The Book

Introduction from Letters to Mozart

the theatre of the imagination

In real life, I write & illustrate children’s books about nature. When I visit elementary schools to talk about my books, some kids ask where story ideas come from. I hear myself telling them that ideas for stories could be anywhere. You have to be very alert to find them. But once you now how to look for them, you will see creative book ideas all over the place.

Sometimes, if you sit still, they will sneak into your imagination when you least expect it…

On 6 October 2005, I went out to dinner with John Sant’Ambrogio at a little Chinese place in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I happened to be visiting from St. Louis to do a workshop with some local 4th graders. I was thinking about waterbirds when John picked me up. I hardly remember the food. What gripped me that evening was the fire in John’s eyes as he explained the idea for Emerald City Opera’s next performance: telling the story of Mozart’s adult life through arias from his seven mature operas. ECO (Steamboat’s local company) was looking for a writer to fill in some descriptive dialogue between the musical numbers…

I could see a pair of ornate doors in the back of my imagination. I crept closer. John kept talking. I pushed the door open and peered inside. What is a dark & dilapidated opera theatre doing in the back of my imagination? I wondered. Hello? It seemed like crowds of people had laughed, cried, performed & applauded here. The place was deserted now. I tripped over a pile of programs stacked by the door, & picked one up, but there wasn’t enough light to see what was printed on the cover. The paper felt old and fancy in my hands. I ran my fingers over what I knew to be letterpress type sunk into the surface. I had the feeling I was either very early, or very late…

A small light flickered far down by the stage. A man & a woman seemed to be rehearsing for a show. The woman’s laugh rang clearly through empty darkness. Two things occured to me: she must be a singer! and what are Great-Grandmother Groener’s opera glasses doing in my pocket? I put these gold & pearl binoculars up to my eyes to have a better look. I’m sure I would’ve packed my green rubberized Bushnells for birding if I’d remembered to bring binoculars at all, I thought. The woman wore a silvery cerulean gown. The man wore a long red jacket. He seemed small for a guy – almost my size – but he held his shoulders in a way that seemed very important. You don’t remember packing this theatre in your suitcase either, & yet here you are… Good point. I assumed, from the conversation that was happening outside my head, that the guy onstage was Mozart. Who was that woman with the musical laugh?

At first, I had no idea what they were talking about. I dragged my backpack full of art supplies closer to the stage, & got out my flashlight to do some studying. Soon, I understood almost everything, except the technical music details. The orchestra & vocalists started showing up for rehearsals. I tried to record what I saw by any means I could; I wrote, painted, photographed & photoshopped about what was happening on stage. Two months after I stumbled into this theatre, the actress with the musical laugh walked off the stage & came over to see what I was doing. By then, I’d guessed her identity…gorgeous Aloysia Weber,
who broke Mozart’s heart & then became a star soprano in Vienna. I cleared some books & drawings out of the way. She sat next to me & looked over my shoulder as I drew a picture of a red carnival mask. “I’ve been saving these for a very long time,” she whispered, handing me a worn box.

I lifted the lid to find a stack of handwritten letters tied with a pink ribbon. Aloysia smiled & returned to the stage…

Welcome to the secret theatre of imagination.
Enjoy the show.

Kristin Serafini
March 2006