Vivaldi's Muse: A Soapy Opera
By Tony Zurlo
Act I: The Conflict
Antonio Vivaldi’s spirits paused at the brink of a bipolar episode, and he turned away from his idle harpsichord, twisted his torso toward his alluring teenage mistress, and observed, “Life seems a bit dull, doesn’t it Buxi?”
Young Miss Buxomia Bernardi sauntered over to the piano stool and pecked Antonio just beneath his powdered wig, inhaled deeply, and dropped to one knee. “Antonio, amore mio. When I’m with you, all seasons feel like Spring.”
Antonio shook his head dramatically, looked to the heavens, and said, “Virgin Mary, such ripe fruit you send! And still my music turns sour.” He bent over to kiss her forehead. Some powder from his wig slipped softly onto her eye lash, paused for a holy moment, and slithered down her cheeks.
Her nostrils flared and pierced the stilled air with a five-note crescendo sneeze.
Antonio made the sign of the cross over her long, wavy hair, as she blew her nose on his sleeve, then he twisted back around to the keyboard and lifted his hands above the keys for a chord in the key of A, an inspiration for some Alpine Blues overcoming him.
A bark at the door interrupted his concentration.
“St. Rochus, patron of dogs!” Buxomia cried out in a melodic soprano. “The bark of a St. Bernardi.”
“I thought your pater was vacationing in the Sicilian Alps this winter, my Little Strawberry.”
“Swiss Alps,” she corrected.
Antonio slammed his hands onto his harpsichord, but missed the A chord by a major third. The St. Bernard howled from the front door in the key of D major. Vivaldi leaped from his stool screaming and shaking his hands, and sang out, “I’m ruined, I’m ruined. I’m ruined.”
Buxi improvised lyrics for the second bar: “I’m pregnant. I’m pregnant. I’m pregnant!”
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” Antonio responded in a deep bass. Kneading his fingers, he stared down at Buxi, who had collapsed from an overload of emotions onto the floor, and ordered, “In the name of the Holy Ghost, tell me the name of the father of the son.”
“Oh, I pray thee Tonio,” Buxi began. “Imagine one misty evening in Venice in July past. Twas the day of Saint, Saint…Whathisname, the canal saint. Taste again the bubbling communion wine. Envision yet again the plump burgundy moon like a communion pie slowly sliding along the canal toward the western sky. Then…”
Antonio sang out, “The dessert…” Yes, he remembered. Like strawberries topped with cream and sugar.
“The tender touch of rain drops,” Buxi responded.
“The rocking gondola,” Antonio replied.
“The hidden passageway,” they sang spontaneously together, as their eyes crossed.
Antonio’s breathing thickened and he reached for Buxi. But another bark at the door froze Antonio in mid-grasp. “My Little Strawberry,” he began. “You mean we, us, me! I’m the blessed…You mean at my age, the Holy Trinity has…”
“Oh, Tonio, what if it’s not a son?” Buxi squealed off key between sobs.
The barking grew more intense.
Antonio alighted onto his piano stool, swirled himself excitedly in circles, and flexed his holy fingers above his instrument. Then he shouted loudly enough to frighten the Huns into hiding: “We Vivaldis produce tons of sons of…” and he hit a complex, double-hand, ten-fingered chord that, in a more peaceful time, could have inspired an Olympic concerto, perhaps celebrating Italy’s ancient heritage. But Antonio was interrupted again by a bark at the door.
“Who’s that yelping at my door?” Antonio growled.
“There’s a drug,” Buxi sang. “The monks in the mountains make it.”
“Will it silence St. Bernardi dogs?” Antonio replied, ending on a B flat.
“It’s made from the hemlock and pine,” Buxi continued.
The barking intensified.
“Mixed together they form a drug that will guarantee…” Buxi started.
Act II: The Flashback
Antonio’s young mistress had been orphaned as a baby in the Italian Alps. A canine St. Bernard had staggered upon her frail, pale body wrapped in a priest’s cassock lying in the snow.
The tipsy dog towed the half-frozen infant to the monastery where an obscure order of monks lived training dogs for distilleries.
The young mistress had blond hair and blue eyes. The dogs recognized her for a foreigner, but the monks were short handed, so they trained her to perform errands around the monastery, such as boiling cabbages and making sure wine chalices were emptied and cleaned by midnight. On her sixteenth birthday, exhausted from years of laundering monks’ dirty habits, she pleaded with the Master Pater for her freedom. Staring at her hips so wide and breasts so round, Master Pater decided to call all the paters together later to debate her fate. By a show a hands, they voted to release Buxomia from her servitude.
After much prayer and chalice-draining, the monks and Buxomia mounted dog sleds loaded with empty barrels and headed south. The monks stopped at their favorite Venetian fast-food wine-and-cheese bar owned by the elder Antonio Vivaldi, the younger Antonio’s pater. When Buxomia entered, the silver-haired Antonio was huddled over a harpsichord pounding out requests from drunk sons of dukes and duchesses. Soon the monks and drunks drank together in merriment.
Antonio Senior had a son who played some get-down, soulful sounds on the mandolin and keyboard with a local church bingo club combo. Junior was in his early thirties when Buxomia arrived, so, naturally, Junior had been some kind of priest for years. But he also had not made his peace with raging hormones. When Junior peeked through the backroom door keyhole, he saw Buxomia’s hips so wide and breasts so round, and he banged out a blues progression on the harpsichord, and his heart sang out:Buxomia, Buxomia
my life so lonely
come speedily to me
forever with me only
Buxomia overhead Junior’s lyrics and realized he could use a second opinion, so she decided to feign a pizza headache and sneak off to edit Junior’s song lyrics. By late evening, the monks had consumed enough macaroni and wine to immobilize Italian royalty, with whom, in fact, the monks were secretly planning to exchange Buxomia for an additional keg or two. So she tiptoed away clutching her temples while the drunk monks and sons of dukes and duchesses were snoring, slobbering, and belching at their benches. She entered the back room, stumbled over some empty wine bottles, and fell gently against a door.
Antonio let out in an operatic tenor:Buxomia, Buxomia,
blooming blossom Buxomia,
Antonio Vivaldi Junior, here,
so lonely so lonely
come to me only
Buxomia answered, in a compassionate voice:Antonio, Antonio Junior,
Your lyrics need polish.
My long-lost Romeo.
In nomine Patri, Filio,
The door swung open, and Antonio responded in a commanding bass:
Et Spiritu Santus.
She fell into his arms and muttered:
After having valiantly preserved her virginity for more than a decade in the house of monks, Buxomia discovered that late nights with Antonio Junior could be more exhilarating than spending an evening listening to St. Bernardi monks and their hounds chanting in Gregorian. Antonio progressed from B-flat to C major, the far-off church bells tolled midnight, and Antonio swooped Buxomia into his hairy arms and stumbled into the bedchamber. Then to the rhythms of imagined Alpine avalanches, they undressed each other and explored life’s mysteries.
The next day Antonio Junior and Buxomia escaped Venice and fled into the mountains. Antonio, inspired at night by Buxi’s loyal love and the musical curves of her youthful body, composed in daylight. Antonio’s religious calling descended into whispers.
Act III: The Climax
An authoritative voice at the door commanded, out of tune. “Open this damn door. I know my foster daughter is in there.”
Buxi ran over and threw herself into Antonio’s lap and sang, “Save me, save me, my valiant hero.”
“Save you? Moma Mia, save me. No. Save the baby,” Antonio sang out in a noble pose.
“Save me, save your baby!” Buxi responded, her ice-blue eyes peering into Antonio’s soul.
More barking and louder pounding at the door threatened all three. “I’m getting in there,” St. Bernardi yelled. “And then I’m going to show you why ‘monk’ is a diminutive of monkey, as in angry gorilla.”
“You want a boy, it’s a boy,” Buxi sang. “But if you want a boy, you better come up with a plan. Are you a man or monk?”
The door began to shake and rattle.
“Quick,” Antonio said, pushing Buxomia off his lap. He raised the lid of his harpsichord. “Get in and keep quiet.” He shoved her against the strings. “Do it for our son,” he sang. “Our son! What name shall we choose for our first born?”
Buxomia struck a G major chord with her toes and sang, “Antonio, Antonio. Another Antonio.”
Momma Mia, he thought, Antonio the Third. I’ll teach him everything I know. Antonio the Second sat down and began to improvise a new beat that sent vibrations that shook snow boulders loose in the mountains, a beat to tap one’s foot to, a rocking and a rolling rhythm. And he began to sing: “An-ton, An-ton, To-ni-o. The Thirdio . . . Struttin’ through the hood, Tonio the Romeo. An-ton, An-ton, To-ni-o. No daughter’s safe from Romeo Tonio.”
“Stop it, Tonio,” Buxomia giggled. “The hammers are tickling my erogenous zones.”
“What’s that music?” St. Bernardi shouted as he began to dismantle the front door. “What’s going on in there?” He punched a hole in the door and peaked through. “I’m coming my blue-eyed, blond-haired madonna. I’ll save you from that depraved demon who composes Satan’s songs.”
“Wait, pater St. Bernardi. I’ll open the door,” Antonio shouted. “Don’t tear it off. We’ll freeze to death.”
A seven foot monk, his cassock barely touching his kneecaps, stomped into the room. A pile of snow covered the bald circle on his head, and ice cycles melted from his full black beard. “Turn her over Antonio,” he sang off key. “Or I’ll break off your eleven fingers and nine toes and feed them to my dog.” The dog hiccupped and belched.
“She’s run away, Herr Monk. I’m her…”
“I said turn her over.” Herr Monk didn’t even bother to elevate his voice into song.
“All right, all ready. Just restrain that monster hound,” Antonio sang.
The monk stared down at Antonio, raised his left eyebrow, and bellowed, “If you don’t turn her over, I’ll loosen this monster hound.”
Antonio walked toward his harpsichord, hoping to buy some time. What should he do? Should he pick up his harpsichord stool and break it over the monk’s head? Or over the hound’s head?
“St. Francis of Assisi!” he swore, looking up at the monk. He couldn’t even reach high enough to hit the monk’s belly button. If he uncovered Buxi, would the monk leave him alone? Never in a millennium. But if he uncovered Buxi, she would be naked, and maybe the monk’s passion would kick in and then Antonio could ad-lib from there. Perhaps a madrigal or a…”
He tried one last ploy. “If you promise to be gentle, I’ll compose a piece for you. We can call it ‘The Big Hunk of a Monk’. It’ll race to the top of the Vatican Hit Parade.”
“Dr. Monk to you, punk.” The Monk unhooked the keg of wine from the St. Bernard’s neck and threw the keg at Antonio, who leaped through his paper-covered window and rolled across a pile of firewood onto his feet. He grabbed his ax and went to the front door, now hanging by a wooden thread.
“Momma Mia. Padre Deo?” he screamed in falsetto, his teeth chattering in the frigid temperature, saliva freezing on his whiskers. The keg had broken and a shiny black liquid was sliding across the floor. Antonio took one step inside and slipped, flying into the air.
The axe sliced into the harpsichord, scaring Buxomia, who shouted out of key, “Antonio, ‘tis truly the end. What shall we do about our future Antonio?”
“You whore,” the Big Hunk of a Monk roared.
Buxomia raised the harpsichord top and leaped out.
“You destroyed my door, you bastard Hunk of a Monk?” sang Antonio as he completed two flips with a double twist.
On his way to the floor, Antonio clipped the Monk’s nose, causing him to twirl faster and faster on the oily floor. The St. Bernard began to howl, and Buxomia joined in her highest soprano. The harpsichord lay crumpled in a heap, impotent.
Antonio slid across the floor, pausing only to lick the black liquid on his hands. “So!” he began. “You’re brewing illegal olive oil, you slime.” The St. Bernard skidded over and licked the oil from Antonio’s face, whiskers, hands, and hair.
Antonio sprung to his feet and veered toward Buxomia, flinging her over his shoulder as he skated past. He mounted the St. Bernard, and the couple rode off into the icy afternoon not knowing their destination. Only knowing they had to stay together come hail or sleet, rain or snow, fog or smog; whether fame and fortune awaited them, or pauperism and anonymity. Stick together side my side, like front and back, top and bottom, in and out. An inseparable pair for life: one for the other, what is mine is yourn.
Antonio and Buxomia didn’t stop until they had exhausted their pairs of metaphors. They had arrived at a small town along the Adriatic shore. St. Bernard, the dog, collapsed in front of the St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral. The overcast skies belched a rapid downpour, sighed, and took an afternoon nap. What could Antonio do now? Unmarried, accompanied by a young maiden pregnant with Antonio Vivaldi the Third, his conscience vacillated about the honorable thing to do.
Buxomia interrupted his thought. In C major, she sang, “You know that olive oil was no olive oil, Antonio. What those monks store in those barrels isn’t olive oil. It’s…”
Antonio placed his cold finger to her chapped lips. “Hush, sweet Buxi. I’ve a secret for you.”
Just then she felt a slight tap from inside her belly. “Your son, Antonio.” She grabbed his hand and pressed it to her belly.
Antonio crooned for the whole world: “I quit. I resign my monk-hood. Italy needs music, not priests.”
Buxi began weeping.
“But why does thou weep, my pregnant Buxom Buxi?” Antonio moved his hand upward to one of Buxi’s rounded breasts.
She wept torrents of tears.
“Careful, Little Strawberry, my love. Little Antonio might get turned around, tipped upside down.” He moved his hand down along her belly, paused, and continued the descent.
“You’re a priest,” Buxi managed to spit out between deep sobs.
“Oh no, my Buxi. I’m a special case. As long as I compose music, I’m allowed some on the side. A family is part of the bargain.”
“Oh Antonio,” Buxi sang out in a jubilant voice.
“Oh Buxi,” Antonio answered in a tender tenor.
He dropped to his knees and hugged her wide hips. Then Antonio raised his balding head and begged: “We can marry and continue the Antonio Vivaldi line.”
“We can make music together. You write the notes, and I’ll write the words,” she sang, with a smile that evaporated the clouds.
Act IV: The Denouement
Antonio the Second changed his name from Vivaldi to Vibaldi so he wouldn’t be confused with a distant cousin. Antonio the Second wrote popular music that celebrated the four seasons of Italy. Buxi wrote the lyrics so they would appeal to teenage sons and daughters of dukes and duchesses. And together they raised St. Bernards to carry the compositions to music producers in Rome.
Antonio the Third grew up addicted to food. He learned the art of cooking with altar wine and moved to Sicily where he invented Anti-Pasta, which became a ritualistic food for an underground, revolutionary cell of insurgents who conspired to overthrow the dominance of the noodle multinationals. But that’s a new-dle story that needs more sauce and spice before serving up for public consumption.
Tony Zurlo is a writer/educator living in Arlington, TX. He has published poetry and short fiction in more than sixty five journals, magazines, and anthologies including Writers Against War, Red River Review, New Texas, Di-verse-city Anthology 2003 Founders' Edition, Poetic Voices, and Snow Monkey. He also has published non fiction books on Vietnam, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Japanese Americans, West Africa, and Algeria. His Op-eds and reviews have appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram , Democrats.US, Peace Corps Writers, and in other journals and newspapers.
Photo courtesy of Levi Szekeres.
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