Savage whispers fill the theater. We can distinguish nothing at first from this snakelike hissing save the word Salieri! repeated here, there and everywhere around the theater. Also, the barely distinguishable word "Assassin!"
The whispers overlap and increase in volume, slashing the air with wicked intensity. Then the light grows Upstage to reveal the silhouettes of men and women dressed in the top hats and skirts of the early nineteenth century--"CITIZENS OF VIENNA," all crowded together in the Light Box, and uttering their scandal. "
WHISPERERS: "Salieri! . . . Salieri! . . . Salieri!
Upstage, in a wheelchair, with his back to us, sits an old man. We can just see, as the light grows w little brighter, the top of his head, encased in an old red cap, and perhaps the shawl wrapped around his shoulders.
Salieri! . . . Salieri! . . . Salieri!
Two middle-aged gentlemen hurry in from either side, also wearing the long cloaks and tall hats of the period. These are the two "VENTICELLI": purveyors of fact, rumor and gossip throughout the play. They speak rapidly--in this first appearance extremely rapidly--so that the scene has the air of a fast and dreadful overture. Sometimes they speak to each other, sometimes to us--but always with the urgency of men who have ever been first with the news."
VENTICELLO 1: I don't believe it.
VENTICELLO 2: I don't believe it.
V.1: I don't believe it.
V.2: I don't believe it.
WHISPERERS: " Salieri!"
V.1: They say.
V.2: I hear.
V.1: I hear.
V.2: They say.
V.1: & V.2: I don't believe it!
V.1: The whole city is talking.
V.2: You hear it all over.
V.1: The cafes.
V.2: The Opera.
V.1: The Prater.
V.2: The gutter.
V.1: They say even Metternich repeats it.
V.2: They say even Beethoven, his old pupil.
V.1: But why now?
V.2: After so long?
V.1: Thirty-two years!
V.1: & v.2: I don't believe it!
V.1: They say he shouts it out all day!
V.2: I hear he cries it out all night!
V.1: Stays in his apartments.
V.2: Never goes out.
V.1: Not for a year now.
V.2: Longer. Longer.
V.1: Must be seventy.
V.2: Older. Older.
V.1: Antonio Salieri--
V.2: The famous musician--
V.I: Shouting it aloud!
V.2: Crying it aloud!
V.1: I don't believe it!
V.2: I don't believe it!
V.1: I know who "started" the tale!
V.2: "I" know who started the tale! "
Two old men--one thin and dry, one very fat--detach themselves from the crowd at the back and walk downstage, on either side: Salieri's "VALET" and "PASTRY COOK." "
V.1: " Indicating him . "The old man's valet!
V.2: " Indicating him ." The old man's cook!
V.1: The valet hears him shouting!
V.2: The cook hears him crying!
V.1: What a story!
V.2: What a scandal! " The "VENTICELLI "move quickly upstage, one on either side, and each collects a silent informant. "VENTICELLO ONE "walks down eagerly with the "VALET; VENTICELLO TWO "walks down eagerly with the "COOK.
V.1: "To" VALET . What does he say, your master?
V.2: "To" COOK . What exactly does he say, the Kapellmeister?
V.1: Alone in his house--
V.2: All day and all night--
V.I: What sins does he shout?
V.2: The old fellow--
V.I: The recluse
V.2: What horrors have youheard?
V.1: & V.2: "Tell us! Tell us! Tell us at once! What does he cry? What does he cry? What does he cry? "VALET "and "COOK" gesture toward "SALIERI. SALIERI: (In a great cry). MOZART!!! " Silence " V.1: " Whispering ." Mozart!
V.2: " Whispering . "Mozart!
SALIERI: " Perdonami, Mozart! Il tuo assassino ti chiede perdono! "
V.1: "In disbelief" . Pardon, Mozart!
V.2: "In disbelief" . Pardon your assassin!
V.1 & V.2: "God preserve us! "
SALIERI: "Pieta, Mozart! . . . Mozart, pieta! "
V.1: Mercy, Mozart!
V.2: Mozart, have mercy!
V.1: He speaks in Italian when excited!
V.2: German when not!
V.1: "Perdonami, Mozart!"
V.2: Pardon your assassin!
" The "VALET "and the "COOK "walk to either side of the stage and stand still. Pause. The "VENTICELLI "cross themselves, deeply shocked. "
V.1: There was talk once before, you know.
V.2: Thirty-two years ago.
V.1: When Mozart was dying.
V.2: He claimed he'd been poisoned!
V.1: Some said he accused a man.
V.2: Some said that man was Salieri!
V.1: But no one believed it.
V.2: They "knew "what he died of!
V.1: Syphilis, surely.
V.2: Like everybody else.
" Pause "
V.1: " Slyly . "But what if Mozart was right?
V.2: If he really "was" murdered?
V.1: And by him. Our First Kapellmeister!
V.2: Antonio Salieri!
V.1: It can't possibly be true.
V.2: It's not actually credible.
V.1: Because "why?"
V.2: Because why?
V.1: & V.2: "Why on earth would he do it? "
V.1: And why confess "now? "
V.2: After thirty-two years!
WHISPERERS: "Salieri!" " Pause SALIERI: "Mozart! Mozart! Perdonami!...Il tuo assassino ti chiede perdono!" Pause. They look at him, thenat each other. V.1: What do you think?V.2: What do you think?V.1: I don't believe it!V.2: "I don't believe it!" Pause V.1: All the same . . .V.2: Is it just possible?V.1 & V.2: " Whispering . Did he do it after all?!WHISPERERS: SALIERI!" The venticelli "go off. The valet "and the cook "remain, on either side of the stage. Salieri "swivels his wheelchair around and stares at us. We see a man of seventy in an old...
Peter Shaffer is a dramatist familiar to American audiences as the author of Equus and of a string of other theatrical successes: Five Finger Exercise, the Private Ear and the Public Eye, The Royal Hunt of the Sun and Black Comedy.