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The Essay
Show #473
il dogpera
David Gunn

Giuseppe and Flora Quincanamus were arguing again. They argued every day, morning, noon and night--or so it seemed to their neighbors in the little Italian village of Pelivasto. Their house reverberated as Giuseppe screamed at Flora, and Flora yelled back at Giuseppe. Sometimes, the vocal duels would last for hours. One well-documented fight went on for three days without a break. Remarkably, the arguments never escalated into physical violence. The two seemed content to limit their bickering to verbal assaults. No matter the seemingly interminable hot-headed nature of the pair, there was the occasional respite from the fracas, and in those moments, the neighborhood was abruptly filled with an unsettled calm. Snippets of polite conversations wafted through the air, forming a quiet counterpoint to the susurrus of gentle eructations from the nearby soap factory's cation transponder and the murmur of junkyard dogs politely playing poker. But then some trifling difference of opinion from inside Casa Quincanamus would precipitate another strident squabble between the two loud speakers and indeterminate sonic chaos would return.

In Pelivasto there lived also a poet named Gianuzzi. His poems were all variations on a single theme. He wrote only about dogs--Canis alpo--and, frankly, he didn't write very well. He spoke of their diuretic relationships with fire hydrants and of the elaborate shows they produced with their pony pals. He wrote irrationally about prairie dogma, petty fogdogs, overbearing underdogs and dog-eat-hotdogs. A critic once called him the Town Doggerelist, a label he immediately embraced with pride. One day, as he was following the spoor of a pack of feral dalmatians for Dog only knows what reason, he happened upon the neighborhood of the Quincanamuses as they were furiously going at each other. The din washed over him like a big, wet, vitriolic tongue, exciting him like no dog's mouth organ ever could. Inspired, he began to write down the vocal jabs and ripostes in the form of a diadogue. This particular argument persisted for six hours, and Gianuzzi dutifully scribbled the quarrelsome quotations into the two notebooks that he was carrying. When he ran out of paper, the poet drew his scimitar and continued to etch the pithier comments onto the birch trees that fronted the Quincanamuses' house. At last the couple reached a tacit impasse and the aural space around them regained a kind of tentative tranquillity. The only sound was of a low, surly growl that sent a chill down Gianuzzi's back. Looking up, he saw that he was hemmed in by a pack of dalmatians that had apparently been stalking him. As they closed in menacingly, Gianuzzi instinctively began to utter the words he had just written down. But because he was jumpy (and rightfully so), they came out as a sort of singsong. The frequencies he unwittingly intoned rubbed the ears of the dogs the wrong way, and they began to howl in torment. Straightaway, the Quincanamuses emerged from their house to see what the ruckus was all about. Flora thought the dogs had started it; Giuseppe was sure it was the fault of the doggerelist. And so was born another argument. In concert with Gianuzzi's affected monologue and the dogs' slavering ululations, the collective result was of a dramatic recitation set to a sort of music with canine obbligato--in other words, a dogpera.

The mayor of Pelivasto, Sindaco Sarducci, was not a fan of opera, but he liked what he heard emanating from the front yard of Casa Quincanamus as he strolled past that day. There was something about the combination of the three cacophonies that he found oddly alluring. He sensed that, if marketed properly, the dogpera--whose name he coined on the spot--could be the revenue source for the town. "Pelivasto: la sede del dogpera"--already he was envisioning numerous merchandising opportunities. He sent for il cane-collettore to "collect" the dalmatians. Then he placed both Gianuzzi and the Quincanamuses in protective custody and hauled the lot off to La Scala in Milan. In those days--and did I mention that this was the end of the nineteenth century?--the Italian public road system was in its infancy, and cross-country travel was lengthy and arduous. After a week of constant clashing among the dogs, the poet and the squabblers, Sarducci could especially attest to its arduousness, but he was determined to see his vision through.

At last, Milan loomed before them. Sarducci shepherded his disparate troupe to the famous opera house where he demanded and received an audience with the conductor, Arturo Toscanini. Giuseppe and Flora had already found the opera house a subject of intense debate. Gianuzzi had had much to write down during the polemical week, and he launched into a sing-song synopsis, prompting the dalmatians to slip into paroxysms of unbridled howling. It was all marvelously chaotic, and Sarducci was positively enthralled. He glanced over to see if Toscanini shared his fervor. The pistol that the maestro was brandishing at the Quincanamuses suggested he was not. Glumly, he deduced that his idea was slightly ahead of its time.

Apparently, it still is. Whenever a dogpera has been staged since then, it has evoked equal parts of incredulity, disdain and pistols. But perhaps Sindaco Sarducci's inspiration can finally find a receptive audience in present-day Bazaarland. Perhaps today's 473rd special egalitarian episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar can offer that long sought sympathetic forum.

Or maybe not. Details, plus an in-studio composer birthed in New Jersey's primordial asphalt bogs, follow.