Life on the riverboat never was more gay than in that spring of 1896. A troupe of singers had come aboard in Macapa for the long journey to Manaus, where they would perform La Gioconda at the newly constructed opera house.
Among them was Rigoberto Tuccini, the Italian baritone, who was to play the role of Barnaba, spy of the Inquisition. It was a part he was born to play, some claimed, as wherever he plied his trade some months later the Italian government got a foothold on the local trade. That now he was to visit a city that had flourishing from the rubber trade could not have been less of a coincidence.
But political intrigue hardly was felt on the boat ride up the jungle. Nary a night went by when there wasn’t an ebullient party fuelled by stroh rum and whisky. The singers would all come on deck and burst into song while scarcely clad girls shook their behinds to intoxicating salsa beats.
All singers? No. Missing was always Rigoberto Tuccini, who – citing his volatile vocal chords – would early in the evening withdraw to his quarters. None knew that I was waiting in his bed each time, bare-naked, to consummate our forbidden tryst.
Rigoberto was prone to let down his guard in these moments, letting slip intimate details of his double life and decrying the elaborate mistrust that was part and parcel of the spying game.
Not until he reached that emotional high note of anguish and betrayal on the Manaus stage did I realise why he had let me in on his innermost, darkest secrets during those nights.
Like all great performers, Rigoberto Tuccine was prepared to suffer for his art.
I, the naive cabin boy he threw to the Amazon crocodiles, had been his muse.
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