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The Essay
Show #43
Le flambeau opera
David Gunn
Even though our program is proudly subtitled "It's Not The Opera," there are occasions when the creepy ululations of an overweight vocalist in fright wig and armor crooning about a prurient relationship with a vegetable are entirely suitable to our ears ... like now, when our ears are five time zones away. The ears of you, our listening audient, however, are right where they should be, tuned to Episode 43 of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Sesquihour, this portion of which is brought to you by that segment of last week's show which escaped radiophonic delivery due to pilot error, for which we offer neither apology nor sustenance. What we do offer is opera, a modern one from Belgium, penned by Bengt Gunnar Ekelof and inspired by no less a model than the food fight scene from Bellini's "Norma." The name of the opera is, of course, Le flambeau oriange, and it has already begun, so let's get right to the synopsis so you may enjoy the remaining tunes without interruption, except during passages of extreme musical duress.

The opera opens as the empress Delrio Impala, played by Christa Ludwig, is alone in the palace courtyard. It is early morning and she is wearing pajamas with propellers affixed to the elbows and knees. In front of her is a pile of rocks, probably sedimentary, which she is quietly counting. As the orchestra churns out one unrelated motif after another, she stands up and commences to fling the rocks towards a third story window, singing "Amore, du bonny laddie avec fromage." At last the window opens and a swarthy man wearing only pantaloons peers out, wiping bits of pudding from his beard, which is the same color as the orchestra. It is Zanamuse, the tailor, played by pyrrhic tenor Arthur Godfrey. He smiles, waves, hiccups, and closes the window. We see him sing the counter-aria "Bon a fond, bon a gauche," though we cannot clearly hear him. As the orchestra struggles valiantly to retune to a concert Eb, three moors enter the courtyard. They are Loptop, Lodi and Lubbock, played by Cecil Taylor, Lester Young and Nat King Cole, though not respectively. They explain to the empress that they have just escaped from a blimp prison, which made an emergency landing in the nearby village when the galley ran out of blancmange. This is all wittily summarized in a patter song called "Hick Hackmatack."

Jerry Lewis, playing himself, though disguised as a colossal zucchini, enters from the garden. He doesn't sing, but instead begins a series of vegetable pratfalls, to the delight of members of the Harlequin Guild, who have spontaneously appeared from France to award him the Legion du Honour. The orchestra keeps up a lively accompaniment by mixing melodies of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco with some of Roger Sessions. Lily Boulanger, subbing for Nadia, calls for a volunteer from the audience to play a village choraleer. She singles out a 60ish woman in the second row and gestures her to come up on the stage. The audience roars its approval when they spot the propellers affixed to her elbows and knees. It is Teresa Berganza, though she tells Lili her name is Poktu, illusory envoy from Planet Zontar. She sings the aria "Toujours la merde," her voice electronically altered by alleged interference from space.

Soon, night falls, as -- like a raging Niagara without the spray -- does the curtain, ending Act 1. And also this operatic excerpt. Act 2 will be discussed later in the radiophonic season, though don't hold your horses' breath.

And now, direct from wherever it is we are at this moment -- probably in our rental Fiat Uno stuck behind a massive Eurotraffic jam -- I give you, free of charge, Kolvas.