Melismo Perez Perez gazed at a complete manuscript of the score of “L’Avare,” a lost, early comic opera by Mozart based on Molière’s play of the same name. Hernando Fernandel Jimenez had found the manuscript in the basement of a mansion he’d acquired to fix or raze. Hernando had heard that Melismo was some kind of musicologist and collector of independent means, and as Hernando had bought the mansion under another name and wanted to avoid publicity, he contacted Melismo with the hope that he could sell the manuscript under the table.
Melismo told Fernandel Jimenez that the manuscript was only a minor Mozart score rendered by the hand of a copyist and it could not do well in the marketplace. He offered to buy it from Hernando because he collected Mozartiana as an extension of his love for the music. Fernandel Jimenez took Melismo’s first offer, somewhat disappointed. Melismo spent the next week confirming the authenticity of the manuscript — paper forensics, handwriting analysis, its stylistic resonance with other work from the same period — and hummed with glee. Behind the closed doors of his music room, he played the score, sung the parts, improvised a ballet and imagined grandiose set designs for the work.
On social meetings with colleagues, he constantly fought the temptation of boasting of his find. When asked to play the piano at parties, he would interpolate little bits of the score into other compositions as a kind of secret joke that no one could get. Owning “L’Avare” was a major coup on its own merit, but keeping it to himself offered a sentiment he could not otherwise acquire. It made him feel as if he finally possessed something that no one else could have and no one could take away from him.
A few years later, the adult children of the Marrero Sanz family lost their parents to a disaster at sea and hired Melismo to catalogue and appraise part of their estate. Their mother, a long-retired contralto, had amassed an enormous collection of opera scores in her spare time. Amongst the boxes of material, he found a few pages whose scoring he instantly recognized, and he lost his breath.
Melismo praised their mother’s taste in music and expressed a strong enthusiasm for the job, so the Marrero Sanz children were only too happy to accept Melismo’s request to stay in the otherwise unoccupied mansion and dedicate all his time to the project. Within a few weeks, Melismo had quietly assembled another complete original manuscript of “L’Avare.” It had been scattered and hidden amongst the pages of printed scores and manuscripts of modest value. It seemed, to Melismo, that the other scores were acquired, not as worthy collectibles, but as hiding places.
What would he do with it? If he told the children of the find, they could make it public, perhaps endow a library with the recovered material. The score would be reproduced and performed widely; the opera would no longer be his own private amusement. He could certainly find a way to withhold the material from its owners. But his own copy was no longer unique; two copies of the score spoiled the delight of owning just the one.
Melismo Perez Perez presented his catalogue to the Marrero Sanz children and they admired his exquisite attention to detail. Melismo raised the question of the second half of his fee and offered to accept payment in collectibles. He suggested, as a professional courtesy, that another appraiser could look at the manuscripts he’d like to keep and verify his estimate of their value. The children instantly agreed to the exchange and waived the need for a second pair of expert eyes.
Melismo took home a trunk of scores and unpacked them, leafing through the musty pages to retrieve the manuscript he’d hidden. Relieved, he collated the second copy of “L’Avare,” then set it on fire in his backyard. He only needed one.