Back in my college teaching days, I had my students write serial novels. Each person would contribute a chapter, one after the other, letting the story develop freely. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. But it was always an interesting challenge.
I thought we might write our own opera-related serial novel. I know most of us aren't professional authors, but we all enjoy writing (or we wouldn't be here). Anyway, this type of collaborative method isn't intended to produce a masterpiece. But with such a bright group of people, we may come up with something fun and memorable. So take a chance and join in!
The guidelines are simple: each chapter should develop already given characters, plots, and themes; provide exciting new interest of its own; and create opportunities for future writers. Make your own distinct contribution, but honor the conventions established in previous chapters.
The novel can become as long as we want. You can write more than one chapter, but let a few others have their turn before you jump back in. Let's try to keep these chapters anywhere between 500 and 1,500 words.
I've offered a first installment below. If you're interested in participating, write a short post reserving the second (or third, or fourth) chapter for yourself, so we don't have people working on the same chapter simultaneously. Once it's your turn, try to add your contribution within three days.
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To make things easier for our authors, I'll provide a running synopsis of the novel as the story unfolds:
Chapter 1 (Amfortas): Francesca Crivelli, the finest Tosca of her generation, is planning to give up opera for her lover, the tenor Marcello Gui. As the two give their final performance at the Memorial, an American regional opera house, Francesca contemplates the people who will be upset by her choice (her mother, her voice teacher, her agent) and those she will be happy to leave behind (the surly old conductor, the fat slob of a Scarpia, Marcello's jealous wife). She worries that her final stage fall is unsafe, and recalls a strange, silent stagehand. After the performance, Francesca is horrified to find that Marcello has actually been shot dead onstage. In the confusion, no one notices that the corpse holds a note with the words, "Come Palmieri."
Chapter 2 (AnaMendoza): Police detective Joe Green, who knows nothing about opera, investigates the scene of the crime. He talks to the company's general manager, who insists that every precaution was taken, and is more worried about losing his dream cast for Saturday's upcoming Opera Goes to the Movies broadcast. Green and his female partner interview the firing squad extras one by one, and learn that anyone could have tampered with the rifles and replaced the blanks with real bullets. An extra named Zach mentions a man who directed them to shoot the lady. As Green takes a walk down one of the hallways, he finds a photograph of a man with his hand stuck inside the jacket of his old-fashioned uniform.
Chapter 3 (Aksel): The great Baroque mezzo-soprano Amelia Wells gives what she claims is her last performance, in Dido and Aeneas, at the Lyric theater. Drinking from a prop bottle of poison, she feels dizzy during her final lament. After the show, General Manager Nathaniel Robertson is displeased with the performance, but even more so when singer Jennifer Graves cries out that Wells has died onstage. Robertson orders the curtain closed and announces the arrival of the police.
Chapter 4 (Amfortas): Soprano Helga Graunstadt, in her final performance as Brünnhilde at the Grand Opera House, dies leaping onto a pyre secretly rigged with a flame thrower. Detective Alberto Risi, an avid opera fan, brushes off a tactless remark by one of the police officers at the scene. He then gets a call from Detective Green, who in turn has heard from Detective Karen Lindstrom investigating the Amelia Wells murder. Green points out the pattern of opera singers murdered during their final performances. Risi, troubled by Green mentioning Francesca Crivelli and the photograph of the man in the old-fashioned uniform, says that he has something to tell the other two detectives.
Chapter 5 (Aksel): The three detectives meet in Risi's cluttered office. Risi identifies the photograph as his uncle, Giovanni Risi, a descendent of Napoleon who starred nearly twenty years ago in a Paris production of a new opera about his famous ancestor--and died of a heart attack during the final performance. Risi can't understand why the photograph would be at the Memorial, a theater where his uncle never sang, though he did sing at the Lyric early in his career. Green mentions the man who told the firing squad extras to shoot the lady, causing Risi to wonder if Francesca was the real target in that killing. The detectives agree to further question those involved.
Chapter 6 (CountessAdele): Several days after the murders, which the local media calls accidents, soprano Linda Freeman plans to tell Detective Lindstrom something her friend Amelia Wells had confided shortly before her death. She also contemplates a frightening secret admirer who has been sending her flower arrangements wherever she goes. As Linda goes onstage to sing Constanza in The Abduction from the Seraglio, a role she is about to give up because of pregnancy, she herself is abducted, but manages to stab her assailant with a hair pin. Detective Lindstrom learns about the kidnapping and the bloody pin from Linda's manager, Susan Parker, and informs the other two detectives.
Chapter 7 (Amfortas): Linda wakes up in a stone-walled room filled with flowers. Her captor, a white-haired young man named John in a tuxedo, cape, and domino mask, says he loves her and abducted her to save her from the killer. Meanwhile Detective Risi looks in on Francesca, who has been ordered to keep performing despite her fears. He tells her that regardless of their past together, he still loves her. Green and Lindstrom enter, with a photo of Amelia Wells's poisoner, a muscular man in his forties with grey eyes and a shaved head. Risi recognizes him as the tactless police officer from the Graunstadt murder. He realizes he may soon have to reveal more of what he knows about the descendants of Napoleon.
Chapter 8 (CountessAdele): John invites Linda to a candle-lit dinner in his stony lair. He tells her he has been following her career for a long time; Linda wonders how he knew she was the killer's next target. John asks about the father of Linda's unborn baby, becoming increasingly irate, and finally violent, as he demands the man's name. As Linda hurries back to her room, she is accosted by the shaven headed man, who orders John to keep an eye on her. Alone in her room, Linda contemplates the keys she stole from John.
Chapter 9 (Amfortas): The Opera Goes to the Movies live broadcast of Tosca goes on as planned. Detective Risi, along with his colleagues, keeps a nervous watch on Francesca. Robert Freeman, Linda's half-brother from overseas, demands results in the investigation. Risi asks if he is the father of Linda's child; Freeman is evasive. Meanwhile Linda, trying to escape, stumbles on John playing the piano; his strange sadness touches her, leading to a passionate kiss. But the shaven headed man, who is John's father, rails against corruption of the bloodline and drags Linda away. Back at the theater, Francesca stabs Bruzzini, her Scarpia, only to discover that the knife is real; the man dies before her eyes.
Chapter 10 (Countess Adele): As the shaven man manhandles Linda, he challenges John to stop him, but the latter meekly submits to his father. The villain drags Linda to her room, then begins choking her. Just as she is about to die, Linda draws the dinner knife from his pocket and stabs him in the chest. Outside, John hears signs of a struggle. Entering the room, he finds his father lying dead. Furious, he grabs Linda and the knife, then stabs her in the back and watches her die. Promising not to disappoint his father, he prepares for the live Tosca broadcast.
Chapter 11 (Amfortas): At the Memorial, Risi explains to the other detectives that Robert Freeman is not the father of Linda's baby. He reveals that the shaven killer, Marius Walewski, is from a line of bastard descendants of Napoleon who hate other branches of the family. Twenty years ago, Marius's father Sebastian murdered Risi's uncle Giovanni during a performance of an opera about the emperor. Risi is certain that Francesca, also a descendant of Napoleon, will be a target when she appears as Adriana Lecouvreur, a role created by her famous ancestor, the actress Rachel. Green suggests using her as bait to trap the killer. As they speculate on the unstable John Walewski's involvement, a package arrives containing Linda Freeman's severed head.
Chapter 12 (Almaviva): Shaken by the grisly package, Karen Lindstrom asks Detective Green to escort her home. Meanwhile a man hiding a bleeding stomach wound under his overcoat makes his desperate way through the city. In the cab ride, Green's comforting of Lindstrom quickly becomes erotic. On the subway, the wounded man, barely alive, recalls the aria from Werther he sang to great acclaim onstage. Green and Lindstrom arrive at the latter's apartment and begin serious lovemaking. A buzz at the door interrupts them. They go downstairs to find the bleeding man collapsed at the front entrance. Just before he dies, he warns them that Detective Risi is not what he appears.
Chapter 13 (Aksel): On the outskirts of the city, a rich elderly man is surprised by a visit from John Walewski. Calling the man his master, John announces that Francesca Crivelli will soon be taken care of. The master says that one other person will then remain to be dealt with, but refuses to give any more information. John announces that he murdered Linda Freeman because she killed his father; the master is displeased to learn of her kidnapping and death, and of her head being sent to the police. He angrily dismisses John, then orders a servant to kill the young man.
Chapter 14 (Amfortas): The detectives watch Francesca perform in Adriana Lecourveur, having made sure that no one can come near the prop violets to poison them. Nevertheless, Francesca is taken ill after she kisses the flowers. Risi tells Green that she has been saved by a special anti-toxin lipstick; now they can let the killer think she is dead and keep her safe in seclusion. Risi figures out that the poison was dripped down from above; looking up, he sees a grinning John Walewski on the catwalk. As he cries out in alarm, Risi is arrested by Green for the murder of tenor Philippe Duchamp, who had said that Risi is not what he seems. Risi admits that he has a secret, but not what Green thinks. A pleading voice from up above cries out that he did what the master wanted; there are sounds of a struggle on the catwalk, and then a man—not John Walewski—falls crashing to the stage floor.