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Vivaldi recognises as evidence of a multitude of mice. Santurini’s
balding pate is decked in scabs and he keeps scratching behind his
ears. Gradually Antonio, too, begins to itch, beginning in his neck
but gradually descending through his back to his arms and legs.
He tries as discreetly as possible to ease the irritation by rubbing
his back against the chair, but this only makes it worse.
‘So, Signor Vivaldi, what is the proposal you wish to put to
Domenico?’ The impresario is busily digging dirt from beneath his
fingernails with his knife and does not even do Vivaldi the courtesy
of looking at him when he speaks.
‘I think that is a matter I should like to put to Lalli
personally,’ replies Antonio quietly. This man is beginning to
annoy him.
‘Ha! There are two things people want from Lalli, money
or a libretto. How do I know you’re not after his money?’
Ludicrous! According to Gasparini – the man was penniless,
where was he to find any money? ‘Libretto,’ replies Antonio curtly.
‘For whom?’ Santurini thrusts back, slowly slicing off a
piece of sausage and watching Vivaldi through narrowed eyes. The
impresario is playing with his knife like a circus artiste making his
audience gasp by holding the trembling steel against the temple of
a helpless girl in the stocks.
Antonio tries to ignore the blade. ‘For myself,’ he says,
wondering meanwhile whether he is capable of standing up and
walking out of here. Nobody saw him coming into the theatre and
the whole place seems deserted.
‘Ha!’ the old impresario cackles with laughter. ‘Another gold-
digger! What makes you think you can write an opera? You might be
able to do a few nice concerti, but if you want to keep an audience
entertained for a whole evening you’ll have to come up with something
better than that! You’re not the first, and you certainly won’t be the
last, to think there are a few ducats to be made from opere. Well I’m
here to tell you, forget it! But if you did insist on being pig-headed
enough to try, where do you think you could perform such a thing?’
For a minute the priest feels outmanoeuvred. ‘My mentor
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