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Italian opera.

Il Grandioso The Cast
Orlando Grandioso, slayer of shibboleths   Newt Gingrich
Malocchio, an evil prince                  Bill Clinton
Gwendolyn the Good                         Peggy Noonan
Beadle, a sage                             Alvin Toffler
Der Meisterschelter                        Kenneth Starr
Moth, a journalist                         Peter Jennings
Cobweb                                     Susan Molinari
Seraphina                                  Arianna Huffington
The Duke of Revlon, a Moor                 Vernon Jordan
Balthazar                                  Robert Bork
Rubato, a minstrel                         Rush Limbaugh
Ringwort                                   Henry Hyde
Bearpaw                                    Dick Armey

SCENE 1 --Stormy night in a forest on Kennesaw Mountain

A band of fierce partisans assembles around a fierce campfire, swearing patriotic oaths, despising platitudes. It is clear they have come in haste. Trouble broods upon the land. An evil prince rules in Washington. The partisans brandish a motley assortment of weapons--shotguns, scythes, Ronald Reagan's magic zither--and they wear a motley assortment of costumes--gypsy shirts, cavalry boots, Viking helmets, a few fishing and duck-shooting hats.

For twenty minutes the partisans sing of their grievances, the bass voices accompanied by a scherzo rhythm in the strings, and through the agitated counterpoint we hear enough of the words ("cultura brutta," "omosessuale," "madre non sposata") to know that the prince is a foul liberal. Rubato emerges from the forest with a dead television anchorperson stretched across his shoulders. He pitches the body into the fire. The excitement in the woodwinds mounts to a triumphant braying of the horns.

The partisans separate, and suddenly in their midst, we see, alone in a magenta spotlight, Il Grandioso, slayer of shibboleths, revealer of wisdom. A surprisingly boyish figure, his head cocked to one side like a remarkably alert parrot, Grandioso wears lederhosen and a military cape inherited from an ancestor who died in the Napoleonic Wars. In his left hand he holds the "Contract with America," and with his right hand he sweeps the ostrich plume off his head and sings, in English and a high tenor voice, the stirring march "I Am the Duke of Wellington." The partisans vow to conquer the wicked cities of death and time. They sing "Dov'e Andata la Liberta?" and the scene ends with the ensemble rushing resolutely offstage to the sound of kettle drums.

SCENE 2 --The Rotunda of the Capitol, early afternoon

The partisans have won through to victory, capturing all the radio stations south of Boston, and the best people in Washington nervously await the coming of their new speaker of eternal truth. Noble lords, gracious ladies, regal lobbyists, miscellaneous oracles, jesters, professors of economics. The orchestra plays waltz music while perfumed servants pour glasses of champagne for the perfumed guests, who respond with hearty gusts of stage laughter. The corps de ballet dances tableaux vivants depicting famous scenes in American history--Washington crossing the Delaware, William Jennings Bryan crucified on the cross of gold. Rubato and Cobweb sing the romantic duet "I Never Thought I'd See This Day."

Grandioso enters with an escort of his rough-hewn partisans, who glare suspiciously at the champagne and Cokie Roberts. Bearpaw stabs a well-wisher whom he mistakes for Dan Rather. The orchestra expresses the confusion of sensibilities by giving to the flutes the angry leitmotifs of the forest horns, and after a sustained tremolo in the violins, Gwendolyn the Good restores the sense of general rejoicing with the immortal aria "Bliss to Be Alive." Children distribute flowers. Moth proposes a toast and bravely smashes his glass against the bust of Millard Fillmore. A contented Grandioso, still in lederhosen but now wearing Teddy Roosevelt's campaign hat instead of the ostrich plume, strides downstage center to lead the company in the singing of "La Via Mia," the deathless ode to free enterprise.


--Early morning in an American Opportunities workshop

Grandioso sits on a high chair in front of a computer monitor, busily revising the history of Western civilization, adding and deleting paragraphs, revoking the sexual license of the 1960s, scattering papers on a stage already littered with blueprints, memoranda, old books. The orchestra seethes and chatters with furious energy. Aides rush in and out with bulletins--from Rupert Murdoch, who wishes to present a gift of money; from Mongolia, where Grandioso has been named the last of the Ming emperors; from Arkansas, where Ringwort and Bearpaw have learned the Spanish word for penis. The Heritage Foundation sends four birdcages the size of newspaper kiosks, in each one of which a tame policy intellectual swings back and forth on its perch, humming 1950s Broadway show tunes. The corps de ballet performs the dance of the Delphic oracles ("The Six Major Changes," "The Five Basic Principles," "The Three Essential Reasons"), which illustrates Grandioso's theory of the universe.

Beadle enters with his pet owl, Grandioso climbs down from his high chair, and together they declaim the recitativo "The Ideas Are Too Big, the Issues Too Important."

Interlude for the corps de ballet

The dancers enact Grandioso's fateful struggle for an important seat aboard Air Force One. Grandioso arrives by limousine at Andrews Air Force Base; Grandioso walks to the plane; Orandioso starts to ascend the stairs.

But no. It's not to be. Orandioso doesn't know how to play hearts, and so he can't sit up front with Malocchio and Moth and the macadamia nuts. An aide-de-camp points imperiously to the ramp at the rear of the plane.

Shock. Horror. Wild alarm. The percussion erupts into a frenzy of chromatic scales. America is no longer a democracy. All men are not created equal.

Grandioso protests, shakes his fists, draws his dagger, lunges at a flight attendant. The dancers rush frantically around the stage, miming the gestures of truth denied, virtue rebuffed. All to no avail. Men in uniform restrain Grandioso and lead him up the ramp with the lettuce and the towels. The music droops into a sullen muttering of oboes. The dancers crumple and fall like wilting flowers.


--The Tidal Basin, dawn

Grandioso gazes pensively into the mist. He now knows that Malocchio is more dreadful than he had thought. More dreadful and far more devious. The music recalls the heroic march from Scene 1 ("I Am the Duke of Wellington"), but the melody drifts into the key of D minor, bringing to mind the myth of Troutbeck and the sadness of willow trees.

Grandioso opens Chinese fortune cookies. None of the messages assuage his sorrow, and without giving any thought to his action he throws the crumbs to the ducks. His idle gesture accomplishes a miracle. The crumbs restore one of the ducks to her true form as Seraphina, the tragic Lady of the Tidal Basin, who rises majestically from the water in a gown of white damask, holding the invincible dragon sword believed to have been lost by John Wayne in a stagecoach accident in Benedict Canyon. Seraphina presents the sword to the astonished Grandioso, explaining as she does so ("Ecco, Farfalla") that it cost $32 million and was thrice blessed by Charlton Heston. The emboldened Grandioso seizes the sword and rushes offstage to renew his attack on Malocchio.

Interlude for the corps de ballet

Reunited with Bearpaw and the forest partisans, Grandioso shuts down the operations of the federal government. The dancers mime the functions of the Mint, the Post Office, the Department of Agriculture, and one by one, as Grandioso strikes them with the invincible dragon sword, they stop moving.


--The office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, a year later

The coup d'etat has failed, and once again Grandioso has been disgraced. Malocchio continues to play him for a fool, and Gwendolyn the Good no longer hears in his voice the sound of trumpets. The music wanders around in the registers of German despair as Grandioso sings the haunting aria "Why Won't They Let Me Lead?" He looks for comfort to the dead shibboleths mounted on the walls. He has slain so many of them, tracked them through the wilderness of the New York Times, brought them down at conference centers, cut their throats on C-Span. How is it possible that nobody noticed? Why has it not occurred to the friends of Moth (Gli Illuminati) to invest him with the powers and divinities of a philosopher king?

A loud knocking on the door interrupts Grandioso's elegiac monologue. Ringwort and Balthazar burst into the room with great news. They have just come from the House of Scolds (Das Scheltenhaus), and they know that God is just. Malocchio has ravaged Fidelia, the fair maid of Rodeo Drive, and the citizenry clamors for revenge. Together with Grandioso, Ringwort and Balthazar sing a jubilant reprise of "I Never Thought I'd See This Day."


--Noon, the Jefferson Memorial

The hour of judgment is at hand, and the scene is large and festive. Acrobats, happy villagers, handsome cavalry officers, buxom peasant girls, children rolling hoops. The best people in Washington stand around at stage left, drinking champagne, exchanging hearty gusts of ribald laughter. Balthazar strums Ronald Reagan's magic zither, Grandioso fires Teddy Roosevelt's target pistol, Moth proposes a toast and bravely smashes his glass against a marble column.

Suddenly in the distance we hear the high clear note of a single Waldhorn, announcing the approach of doom. As the crowd falls silent the carnival music subsides into a sinister murmuring of cellos, and the palace castrati drag Malocchio onto the stage in a tumbrel. He stands with his hands tied behind his back, but he has lost nothing of his feckless and buoyant spirit. He winks bawdily at Angelina, the unwed gypsy mother, and we know that were it not for the rope on his wrists, he would be off among the peasant women like a beagle chasing squirrels.

The trial takes place at the stone altar in the center of the stage. Der Meisterschelter presides. A basso profundo wearing the costume of a seventeenth-century Puritan clergyman, he sings, a cappella and for two hours, the beloved fulmination "Tu Sei un Cane Sporco." The lyrics fall on the head of the evil prince without visible effect. Given a chance to defend his honor, Malocchio sings a nursery rhyme remembered from his childhood in an Arkansas gambling den, "La Fortuna e Sempre Con Me." A magistrate asks for a verdict--first from the high-born lords and gracious ladies, then from the happy villagers.

The splendid people jeer and mock and point their jeweled fingers, and among all their glittering company only the Duke of Revlon, the noble Moor, comes forward to sing a rebuttal to the charge of treason, "Lascia Che il Cane Mangia." For a long moment it looks as if the evil prince must suffer an evil fate. Grandioso smirks. Rubato gloats. Bearpaw stabs another well-wisher whom he mistakes for Dan Rather.

But when the magistrate puts the question to the common people, they forgive Malocchio. The common people like evil princes; they hope he will bless their crops and look favorably upon their daughters. A court jester unbinds Malocchio's wrists, Grandioso retires in confusion, and the corps de ballet dances the rite of eternal spring. The scene ends as it began--acrobats, carnival music, children rolling hoops.


--The lawn behind the Jefferson Memorial, twenty minutes later

The fierce partisans have lost the appeal to conscience, and they search for The Five Basic Principles, The Three Essential Reasons. Bearpaw stabs Grandioso, Grandioso stabs Balthazar, Balthazar stabs Ringwort, Ringwort stabs Cobweb, Cobweb stabs Bearpaw. Moth proposes a toast and bravely smashes his glass on Balthazar's Viking helmet.

Beadle returns with his owl, and together they carry off the wounded Grandioso, declaiming a reprise of the recitativo "The Ideas Are Too Big, the Issues Too Important."


--Twilight, the forest on Kennesaw Mountain

Grandioso enters alone, leading his horse. Once or twice he looks back over his shoulder at the burning city of Rome, but we know by his imbecile grin that he no longer cares for the trifles of Mammon. He has found inner peace and spiritual contentment, and as he climbs higher up the mountain toward the old partisan campfire, he begins to sing, faintly at first but then in a stronger voice and with the accumulating support of more instruments and brighter harmonies, "I Am the Duke of Wellington."

He is far from the tumult of politics, far from Balthazar's maps and the intrigues of Moth, and there is nobody to join him on his march. Nobody but the little woodland folk--the timid rabbit, the shy chipmunk, the cheerful sparrow--who gradually emerge from the forest as Grandioso mounts ever nearer to the sky. They align themselves in military formation, intrepid in the fading light. We hear a chorus of soprano voices, and we know that Grandioso has recruited another army of the faithful, that his song can never die.

--Full orchestra with brass choir Curtain
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:impeachment satire in form of Italian opera
Author:Lapham, Lewis H.
Publication:Harper's Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 1999

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