Friday, January 6, 2017

An Inauguration Special, From Russia With Love: Prologue to the opera "Donald Trumpunov"

Donald Trumpunov: A lot on his mind.
Also worried: Chaliapin as Boris Godunov
Modest Mussorgsky's masterpiece, "Boris Godunov," has been on my mind for a couple of reasons: I was reminded of the bells topping the Coronation Scene (Scene 2 of the opera's Prologue, especially in Rimsky-Korsakov's orchestration) by the exciting finale of Taneyev's Piano Quintet, a recording of which I'm currently reviewing (post coming this weekend). Those of you familiar with "The Great Gate of Kiev" in Ravel's orchestration of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" know the effect. I've also had opera on my mind since posting yesterday about schedule changes of Indianapolis Opera, even though that company is going in a direction that makes a production of "Boris Godunov" extremely unlikely.

But mostly, I've conceived a staging of the Prologue, adapted to suit our fraught American moment, as a cultural contribution to the January 20 inauguration of Donald Trump. The following libretto excerpt, translated hurriedly from the Russian, reflects the closeness of the incoming administration to that of Vladimir Putin. But since it presents Trump with a jaundiced eye, it is believed to have emerged from Putin's increasingly marginalized opposition in Russia. You may remember, for example, that in the Prologue, Boris Godunov pretends to be reluctant to become tsar when in fact he has been scheming his way to get the crown; his reluctance is the subject of the first scene. After the popular support has built up torrentially, the coronation in fact takes place — a noisy public affair interrupted by the new tsar's soliloquy of second thoughts and apprehension.

So here's "Donald Trumpunov," Prologue, available on admittedly short notice for concert performance as part of the inauguration festivities surrounding our 45th president's assumption of office.
Exterior view, Scene 1. Trump International Hotel DC

Scene 1: The lobby and entrance of the Trump International Hotel, 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue, several blocks from the White House.  It's January 19, and the area is thronged with people milling about. They know Trumpunov is secluded somewhere on an upper floor within the palatial building (the renovated former Post Office headquarters) . He is rumored to be turning down the Presidency he won in November. The crowd is buzzing anxiously about this. 

[Enter one of the President-elect's private security guards, a force he has vowed to keep, supplementing the Secret Service.]


Security guard: Now then, you people! What is this? Are you children's discarded hand puppets or real Americans? Let's hear some noise. Those in front, on your knees!  The rest, lift your hands up in the air and sway like you do in church. And we got a few Rockettes over there, right? Well, keep dancing. Show him you care. You're not just here for a good time!

People (the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, starting to comply): Right you are. We hadn't doubted he really wanted it. Now we've heard otherwise. We took him seriously, but not literally. Or was it the other way around? Let us beg him for succor, for relief from the past eight years. He will protect us. He will make America great again! As for morality, we can be moral for him.

[Security guard leaves. People relax.]

First peasant: Who was that dude?  And why are we all so excited, exactly?

Second peasant: Hell if I know!

People:  We've got to welcome the new president. He's worried about his wealth. And so many people don't like him. You know the unfair, dishonest media has been against him for years.

Second peasant:  Well, I'm hoarse from shouting. Anybody have anything to drink?

Third peasant: I've got a little coffee left in this thermos you can have.

Second peasant (warily): It's not from Starbucks, is it?

Third peasant: No. I brought it from home. I won't have anything to do with any war on Christmas.

Second peasant (accepting the coffee):  Agreed. First the red cup, then the green cup! Why do they hate America?

People: Hey, shut up over there. Here comes that security guy again.

Second peasant: I'm getting out of here.  He looks like an ATF agent. I'm packing heat today. I don't need the hassle. (Leaves.)

Security guard: Saving your voices, are you? Make some noise, people. Do you really want Donald Trumpunov as your president? Well, let him know. He's conflicted.

People:  Do not forsake us, O Donald!  We are your people. We cheered for you in rally after rally. We chanted "Lock her up!" and "Build that wall!"  Come rescue our nation. You alone can fix it, you said, and we believe you. What isn't rigged is broken. Help!

Security guard:  That's enough for now. Listen up, dummies! It's the Vice President-elect!

Mike Pence (appearing on balcony above the lobby): The billionaire will not yield.  He doesn't want it anymore. You could have knocked me over with an ACLU pamphlet when I heard that.  So you might end up with me. (He feigns abashment.) But I can wait till 2020 —  I mean: 2024. We've all appealed to him. Mitch McConnell is in there on his knees, and Donald says: "You look good on your knees, Mitch." And this is a man with no sense of humor, mind you. Pray that the Lord will guide Donald as he — the Lord, that is — used to guide this once-great nation!

[A procession of blind wandering pilgrims comes by, consisting of border patrol agents on leave, students from Liberty University, several Rockettes, two Corinthians and an Ephesian (bless you!), all singing.]  

Pilgrims: Save us, Donald. We know a protector when the good Lord, or the Electoral College, gives us one. America will get better as long as everyone looks as much like us as possible — we're not even against the sighted — and goes to the same kind of church. You'll make America great again! You'll make Russia great again! That's two for one!

[Freshly inspired, the people renew their outcry, imploring the President-elect to reconsider and accept the presidency.]


Scene 2:  January 20, the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Trumpunov has shown up after all; the formal ceremony, including the oath of office, is complete. Prerecorded bells are ringing, and a prerecorded band of uncertain provenance is playing Mussorgsky's magnificent theme. The procession to the White House is about to get under way. A kick line of as many as a half-dozen Rockettes is in front. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, a few of them wearing Evan McMullin masks, follows close behind.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan: Long live President Donald J. Trumpunov!

People: Long life and happiness to our President!

Sean Hannity: Praise him!

People: Glory! Glory!  Hail Trumpunov! Rejoice, Americans!

Republicans (men of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir):  Whatever you want, as long as we want it too, we've got your back.

Trumpunov (frowning, looking out over crowd, half to himself):  My soul is sad, like the Democrats. Strange, dark forebodings overcome my spirit, like when I have to settle a case out of court. I hate that. Oh, may some prosperity-gospel preacher guide me as I lead this nation! Because I will still need my fortune, and there's that emoluments clause, which is a nuisance. So I will pray and look almost devout, and hope for the best. Reality game shows I can do, but maybe actual reality is too small a deal for me. Big deals are a big deal! So I am humble — I have terrific humility. And fear of the Lord.  I fear Him like nobody's business. I reach out to everyone. You are all welcome to celebrate this day with me — even my enemies who worked so hard against me and don't know what to do now. Love!

People: Glory, Glory!  All hail our new President! There will never need to be another!

[Curtain.]