In The Shadow Of The Phoenix
4 Episode Screenplay/FD - in 1996, an African American ‘detective, musicologist and adventurer’, uncovers a mysterious scrap of music from 1835, leading to a journey in time that uncovers, genius, deceit, and ultimately, an unsolved murder..
AUTHOR’S NOTE: the census context of Italy in the 1830’s, with hundreds of years of Middle East trade in Venice, an Africa diaspora in the heel of Sicily, as well as residual mix of Norman Conquest bloodline along the spine of the country, existing adjacent to the Hapsburg / Austrian / French culture of occupation, is a unique ethnic crucible of peoples, in a mix of societies and cultures.
This is a work with a rich vein of characters, across the period narrative, while centering culture threads of opera as art form, social ladder, class magnet and anomaly that offers an incredibly complex texture of color, within a period of fiery politics of identity/allegiance.
IN THE SHADOW OF THE PHOENIX, being centered in such a moment in time, allows for an organic opportunity in casting, which should reflect a unique BIPOC presence -not just across race, but across the social, class, ethnic influences of Italy’s occupiers.
I offer some suggestions in these Character Profiles.
PRINICIPAL CHARACTERS / in 1996
late 46; African-American, re-knowned Musicologist;
fastidious in detail, bit of a dreamer and often distracted;
long term lover of Mirina, as well as her Artistic
Associate, and Manager.
late 50’s; Roma-East European opera star; soprano of
a certain age, worrying into 'what is next';
existing in easy glamour, and uneasy diva;
long in love with Leslie, and wondering ..is that all there will be..
Early 50’s; British impresario,
balding, ambitious, always
stylishly dressed, exudes an oppressive
self-confidence. Would like to
manage Mirina and possibly
replace Leslie Welsh in her affections.
19; young Eastern European singer;
a stupendous natural talent
PRINICIPAL CHARACTERS / in 1835
39 - Italian/Sicilian - Catania; Composer, short, thin, wiry,
frenzied, dresses in high fashion, imperious, petulant
and high strung, fearing eclipse by BELLINI
Mid 20’s - Italian/Genoa; Pacini’s copyist and aspiring composer,
indistinct, dark, nondescript, tidy, pale from lack light,
partisan loyal to Austria
COUNTESS ELENA POMILISKI*
30s - Russian; outstandingly beautiful, rich,
alluring, clever; related to royalty, duplicitous;
patron of the Art; Pacini's patron and lover;
a partisan loyal to Austria.
40’s - Italian/Sicilian-Arab; dark, sensual, dangerous,
Intelligent; a commanding leader,
rogue and patriot for Italian Unification and
Garibaldi; used to getting his way with women
of any station.
60’s -Italian/Milanese; celebrated Italian Impresario,
Florid of complexion, stout, shrewd,
1996 LONDON / LESLIE, IN THE DRIVER'S SEAT OF A PARKED BMW.
THE SUDDEN, STARTLING SOUND OF LESLIE’S CELL PHONE RINGING! HE REALIZES IT HAS FALLEN OFF THE CAR SEAT! HE MOVES TO REACH FOR IT BUT IS CAUGHT- STRAPPED STILL IN HIS SEATBELT; HE UNFASTENS HIMSELF AND STRUGGLES A HAND TO RUMMAGE UNDER THE PASSENGER’S EMPTY SEAT..
UNTIL HE FINDS THE PHONE!
-hang on -sorry, car chase. Hello?
Here..? ..-is it here, this chase? In Vienna..?
‘No’, then. Not in Vienna. Where you are meant to be in. Or coming to..?
LESLIE ..-Still in London-
When you are supposed to be-
In Vienna. ..in Vienna. ..yes. Yes. And I will be. For tomorrow night’s performance, as we-
No. Did not say. Did not agree to that. -I debut
-tonight. It is still tonight I need you..
There is no care for me at all in this, is there? No care at all.
..please don’t.. -please don’t do this..
Me, Do this.
I mean, you know I mean - I, care very much. I care all the time. I care in every-
Well I cannot tell by this.. this horrible.. place!
EXT: FESTSPIELHAUS, PLAZA - VIENNA, MONDAY, JANUARY 29, 1996 - AFTERNOON
But then, I am only a -what? A circus pet? Some, parrot, squaking notes..? ..-a, THING, deserving-
It is the Festspielhaus, Mirina..! In Vienna..! How can you call that
INT: FESTSPIELHAUS, ARTIST DRESSING ROOM - TIGHT ON: A CLOSET DOOR - SAME
I am not mere instrument, you know this. Or a toy. A thing to place somewhere. I need to be looked after.
I swear I have! And they love you in Vienna-
INT: INSIDE CLOSET - SAME
MIRINA, is seen in the sharp illumination of a mobile phone screen, which she is tightly holding, looing furious and anxious and.. lost..
The Press, they adore you. Your fans adore you. And they’ll both be there tonight, all at this preview. While I- I promise, I promise: all will be as I promised for this recital.
And I will be there!
Yes. Tomorrow. And tonight, you will be where? Doing what, more important?
1996 / Venice
..GIACOMO TAKES A STEP INTO A SMALL ROOM’S DIM LIGHT.. IT IS AN ARCHIVE!
AS LESLIE MOVES AROUND THE SPACE.. RUNS HIS HANDS OVER VARIOUS ITEMS.. AND OLD BOOKCASES..
..when building is finished renovation.. all this, to computer. All this paper, and dust, and bad handwriting.. put out of the house.
Tonight last time is possible to be in the room..
WE SEE: LESLIE AT A SHELF OF LEATHER BOUND BOOKS WITH THE WORD (”LIBRO MASTRO”) ‘LEDGER’ ON THEM.
(with a sense of awe and reverence..)
..this is how I learned to breath, Giacomo.
Rossini.. Donizetti.. Bellini- Verdi.
I’m not crazy. .. and I’m not Italian- but I was brought up on these names and works.
(as if in memory of the child KEN...)
I.. breathed, in the passions of melodies and music they created.
I dreamed in this world of theirs! Dreamed in this different language, Giacomo, all the way to my own block, in Harlem.. a black kid.
-So to be here, in this room.. in the midst of their handwriting .. these composers of the 19th century..
History, is history, Professore. You leave as you come, yes?
I don’t know that I’ll ever leave..
-ah, si? Ok. Maybe good to know there is no music in Venetian jail, Professore. Bah.
-yeah..; point taken.
GIACOMO LEAVES, CLOSING THE DOOR TO THE ROOM.
LESLIE REMOVES HIS NOTEBOOK from a pocket and looks for a clear surface.
WE SEE: LESLIE opens the Archive door, makes certain no one is coming, steps into the hallway, and swiftly moves along the corridor. Anxious, LESLIE breaks into a run, breathing hard!
SFX/(O.C.): Disjointed and at a distance, various men’s voices are heard yelling.
Fuoco!! Fuoco! Auito!
WE SEE: At a fork in the corridor, and just as LESLIE approaches it, SMOKE BILLOWS FROM AROUND ONE CORNER - FILLING THE SCREEN.
LESLIE stops running; his breathing stops for a second. He looks ahead with alarm.
SFX/(O.C.): From above LESLIE’S head are heard heavy desperate, running footsteps.
WE SEE: LESLIE, coughing, looks both ways down the maze of corridors. The one on his right is ghostly with smoke. He tightens his grip on the ledger and runs down the opposite corridor. As he disappears, the smoke, coming from behind him thickens and follows, obscuring any further view of his flight..
Everything becomes dense smoke! Suddenly -
(screaming with rage!!)
Basta! Basta! BASTA!
INT. VENICE 1835, STALLS OF LA FENICE - NIGHT -
WE SEE: GIOVANNI PACINI (39) [ITALIAN/Sicilian; composer; curly dark hair, short, thin, wiry, frenetic, dressed in high fashion, imperious, petulant and high strung] appears, stepping forward through the smoke!
It is an effect! An EFFECT! It is meant to be an avalanche! Not an inferno!! An, AVALANCHE!
WE SEE: The auditorium of LA FENICE OPERA HOUSE slowly emerges out of the smoke. It is shown in the light of many candelabra and lit sconces. It is a jewel! The ceiling is a beautiful cupola depicting "The Hours". Balconies are tiered and trimmed in cream and gold. The chairs and recliners in the loge boxes are luxuriously upholstered in satin and velvet.
Throughout today we have endured the orchestra torturing my music. And now, my stage directions are being ignored.
Maestro, perhaps with a little adjustment...
Perhaps with professionals instead of-
Maestro.. Maestro, please..!
(turning on BRIGNOLE)
I give the Public just what they expect. Behaviour perhaps. But if you please..
(shouting at the stage)
Give to my opera the service it is due!
SFX/(O.C.): As response, something heavy drops backstage!
CLOSE ON: PACINI’S look sours, turning surly.
PACINI turns on his heel, and makes his way out of the auditorium!
Carlo di Borgogna (1835)