Danny the Opera Dog
Saturday, December 25, 1999
(GK: Garrison Keillor; TK: Tom Keith; AF: Al Franken; RB: Roy Blount)
(THEME ON SYNTH)
GK: And now Thompson Tooth Tinsel for shinier, more festive teeth, presents the story of..... Danny, The Opera Dog of New York.
(PIANO, TRAFFIC PASSING, HORNS)
GK: Tenth Avenue in New York, the stage door of The Metropolitan Opera, a Friday night....(LIMO ARRIVES, STOPS, FOOTSTEPS SCURRY) a pearl gray limo pulls up to the curb and a doorman opens the back door and the diva emerges (TK LADY: Buono notte....Buono notte.....grazie.....grazie) with her entourage(VOICES, FOOTSTEPS) and parades past the photographers (FLASHBULBS.....GK OFF: One more, Miss Manicotti! This way! TK LADY: Grazie...grazie.....con molto....) and as she disappears into the opera house, an old springer spaniel with a cape around his shoulders (TK DOG HUMMING TO HIMSELF) strolls unnoticed through the stage door....(TK DOG: Hi, Jimmy.)...past the guard and gets on the elevator (DOORS CLOSE, DING) and rides up to the sixth floor where the opera animals have their dressing rooms. (WHINNY) The horse from Rigoletto and (MEOW) the cat from Hansel and Gretel and (PIGEONS) the pigeons from La Boheme and (SHEEP) the sheep in Parsifal and (GOAT) the goat from Pagliacci and of course (CAMELS) the camels from Aida and the elephant (ELEPHANT) --- and in the dressing room next to Danny's, a collie named Marcel, a younger dog with very pretty hair, Danny's understudy.
TK (DOG): Understudy!! Ha! I never missed a show in my life!! (HE SNORTS) Ridiculous!!
GK: He passed Marcel's dressing room door. It was closed.
TK (DOG): Hmmmmppph. Probably in there scratching his privates.
GK: And he comes to his own dressing room. (DOOR OPEN. PAWSTEPS) There's his gold water dish. (LAPS UP WATER) And the picture of him and Birgit Nilsson. (TK: Now there was a great gal. They don't make em like her anymore.) And one of him and Placido Domingo. (TK: What a talent.) And one of him and Leontyne Price autographed....(TK: "To Danny, who is doggone terrific...." Gosh, she was a class act.) He jumps up into his big leather chair. (TK EFFORT, HE LEAPS UP) And looks into the mirror with the lightbulbs (TK: Boy, this weather is rough on my hair. Look at that. And I better do something about those floppy lips.) He reaches for his makeup kit and just then....(KNOCKS ON DOOR)
TK (DOG): Yeah? Who is it?
AF (MUFFLED, OUTSIDE DOOR): It's me. Murray.
TK (DOG): Come in. (DOOR OPEN, FOOTSTEPS)
AF: Hey. Danny Boy. You're looking great. (COLLAR JINGLES) You old dogster! Huh? How's it goin?
TK (DOG): Quit messing up my hair ----
AF: Just scratching your head. ----Hey. What you got tonight? Giovanni, right? Mozart. That's great. Who's singing?
TK (DOG): I donno. New cast.
AF: Didja see the ad I put in Opera News? Huh? Look at this. See? Full page? Color? Nice big picture of you, huh? And above it, very tasteful---- "Murray Richards & Associates salutes Danny on His Three Hundredth Performance at the Metropolitan Opera....What a dog!" How about that? Huh? You like it?
TK (DOG): Very nice.
AF: Nice!! What--- I put a full page ad in Opera News, and it's "nice"????
TK (DOG): Why the old picture?
AF: It's a good picture.
TK (DOG): That picture is from 1982.
AF: You looked good in 1982.
TK (DOG): What're you trying to tell me, Murray? Huh? What's that supposed to mean?
AF: I'm telling you, it's a good picture. You were young, you had that gleam in your eye. You were slimmer. (GK SOPRANO VOCALIZING OFF)
TK (DOG): Who in the Sam Hill is that?
AF: You want me to take care of it?
TK (DOG): I hate it when they do that.
AF: I'll take care of it. (FOOTSTEPS, OUT DOOR, UP HALL, KNOCK ON DOOR. OPEN DOOR. GK VOCALIZING) Hey! Hey! (GK VOCAL STOP) Would you mind? You're making my dog nervous. Thanks. (CLOSE DOOR. FOOTSTEPS BACK DOWN HALL, IN DRESSING ROOM. CLOSE DOOR.) All taken care of. What else can I do for you?
TK (DOG): Did you talk to the tenor? About him singing right into my ear?
AF: I'll talk to him.
TK (DOG): The director wants me to climb up on his lap. But that doesn't mean he can sing three inches away from my ear. It's cruelty to animals.
AF: I'll see what I can do about it.
TK (DOG): It hurts. The guy is a half step sharp. And a little Listerine wouldn't hurt either.
AF: Can I get you some more water? anything? more kibble? can I brush your hair?
TK (DOG): I don't eat kibble.
TK (DOG): Twelve years you've been my agent, Murray, and you forgot I don't eat kibble?
AF: I'm sorry.
TK (DOG): You're supposed to know these things.
AF: Well, let's not quibble over kibble.
TK (DOG): How about the new contract? How's that coming?
AF: They're not going to budge, Danny. Five hundred is tops.
TK (DOG): Hmmmphhhh.
AF: It's more than anyone else gets. Not even the elephant gets that.
TK (DOG): The dog at La Scala gets a percentage of the house.
AF: That's Italy. And remember, if you don't want to work they can get Marcel for two hundred----
TK (DOG): Marcel!!! What about Marcel??? (GROWLS)
AF: Okay. Okay. Easy.
TK (DOG): Don't you ever say his name to me again? You hear? (SNARL)
AF: Okay. Down. Sorry.
TK (DOG): Marcel!!! The guy is late for his cues!! Misses his mark. Stands and stares at the audience. Drools. Doesn't know one opera from another. Total amateur!!!
AF: Okay, okay.
TK (DOG): What about the lighting? Did you talk to the director? They've got to brighten it up for my entrance.
AF: I talked to him.
TK (DOG): I need a follow spot. I mean, Why put a dog on stage if nobody can see him? Huh?
AF: Danny, I gotta say this, okay? Don't bite me. I'm only the messenger. The director said, "I'll give him more light if he'll lose forty pounds and get his hair colored."
TK (DOG): What???
AF: That's what he said.
TK (DOG): They're talking about me being heavy?
AF: Well, we've had to let your collar out three times in the past year. And your lips are getting floppy. And one more thing. They want you to start using flea powder. Here.
TK (DOG): Get out of here. Go! (HE BARKS) (MUSIC BRIDGE)
GK: You may be wondering, Why does the Met pay a dog like Danny so much for a performance? Well, because animals are an important part of opera, and here to explain why is New York Sun senior opera critic, Alton B. LeRoy Jr.
RB:Thank you. An animal onstage in an opera has an effect on the audience similar to that of caffeine. You sit for a couple of hours listening to large people who can't act sing in a foreign language and your chin sinks down to your chest --- but if a dog walks out on stage, or a horse, a camel, even a kitty cat, the audience sits up and pays attention, there's electricity in the air. Next to nudity, animals get people's attention. With an animal, there is always a chance of something unexpected happening. There may have been no drama onstage whatsoever for two hours, but now, there might be. There is a chance that this dog might leap at the tenor and grab him by the throat. There is, of course, the chance that the animal will defecate ---- what we call the "poop factor" --- and if the animal does, this will be, for half of the audience, the highlight of the entire performance. They will go home smiling, thinking "Boy, those sheep in Act Four. Weren't they a bunch of cut-ups?" This is why the opera uses animals. Because people are paying a hundred, two hundred, three hundred bucks per seat and in addition to all the artistry they would like some entertainment.
GK: Thank you, opera critic Alton B. LeRoy, Jr.
RB:No problem. (BRIDGE)
GK: Danny the Opera Dog did his hair while he waited to go out for Don Giovanni and while he did, he put on a recording to calm his nerves. (PIANO, VOI CHE SAPETE, AND THEN GK SOPRANO)
TK (DOG): Boy, that burns me up. Flea powder. And telling me I need to lose weight. Hmmmmphhhh! Take a look around. Compared to some of these people I'm practically anorexic. (KNOCKS ON DOOR) Go away! Leave me alone! ---What's this? Somebody shoved a note under the door. Hmmmmphhh. (UNFOLD PAPER) "Dear Danny, It is with deep regret and great gratitude for your years of service....." (HE READS SILENTLY)...."tonight's performance will be your last at the Met".....Well, I'll be jiggered. Just like that. (HE SNIFFLES, LISTENING TO THE MUSIC) My last show. My last chance to realize my lifelong dream and sing at the Met. (MUSIC ENDS, SEGUEING INTO BRIDGE)
GK: And that night Danny stood in the wings warming up for his singing debut.
TK (DOG): (SINGS) Mi mi mi.....do mi sol. Sol la ti do.
AF: Hey. Danny. Just wanted to say, I heard the news, and I'm terribly sorry, and anything I can do for you, just let me know. Okay? Anything. Come, Marcel. (FADING) They need you in wardrobe...
TK (DOG): (SNARLS) (BRIDGE)
GK: It was a memorable night at the opera, as senior opera critic Alton B. LeRoy wrote the next morning in the New York Sun....
RB:The singers were in excellent form, particularly the dog who joined in the duet, "La ci darem la mano," giving it a plaintive and burnished legato tone in his upper register that brought the audience cheering to its feet....
GK: And afterwards all of the opera animals came by Danny's dressing room and gave him some going-away presents. (WHINNY) The horse gave him a lucky horseshoe (MEOW) and the cat gave him a tennis racquet and (PIGEONS) the pigeons gave him a statue and (SHEEP) the sheep gave him a sweater and (GOAT) the goat gave him some goat cheese and the elephant (ELEPHANT) gave him an ivory comb and (CAMELS) the camels gave him a pack of smokes.
TK (DOG): Thanks a lot, you guys. You've been swell to work with and I'll remember you as long as I live. (MUSIC)
GK: And he collected his pictures and his water dish and headed out the stage door for the last time.
TK (DOG): So long, Jimmy. (TRAFFIC AMBIENCE) What a night.
GK: He headed up the avenue toward home, smiling, one of the few performers at the Met to make his debut and give his farewell performance the same night. (MUSIC)
TK (DOG): What a night.
GK & RD: "LA CI DAREM" FINALE, WITH TK HOWLS, AND FINISH, AND PIANO BUTTON
(c) 1999 by Garrison Keillor