Opera: The Inside Story
Saturday, December 28, 2002
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(GK: Garrison Keillor; SS: Sue Scott; TR: Tim Russell; FN: Fred Newman; RF: Renée Fleming; MB: Maria Bamford)

(A BIG OPERATIC PIANO FANFARE, CRASHING CHORDS, THEN DIM. AND UNDER…..)

GK: Time now for----

TR: OPERA: THE INSIDE STORY. (MUSIC UNDER)

RF: My name is Renee Fleming and I have a dream about once or twice a month in which I'm sitting at home in the evening, reading a book and the phone rings (RINGING, PICK UP)----

SS (ON PHONE): Honey! Where are you? Did you forget??

RF: Forget what?

SS (ON PHONE): I've been frantic. Calling everywhere. What happened? You're on stage in half an hour!!

RF: Tonight???

SS (ON PHONE): Listen, there's a helicopter on its way----
(CHOPPER INCOMING)

RF: And the helicopter lands in my garden and (FOOTSTEPS) I dash out the door ----

TR: Watch your head, Miss Fleming----

RF: I climb in and (CHOPPER UP AND AWAY) we fly off to Lincoln Center----

TR: Be there in two minutes, Miss Fleming.

RF: You don't know which opera they're doing tonight, do you?

TR: I don't. (CHOPPER DESCENDING)

RF: And the helicopter lands on the roof of the Metropolitan Opera House and I climb out and---

SS (OFF): Hey, it's Renee Fleming! Look!

RF: The patrons wave to me from the terrace-----

SS: Big fans of yours, Miss Fleming! This is my husband's favorite opera.

RF: Really--- Which one is it?

SS: This is my second husband. My first one didn't care for opera at all. (MUSIC, RUNNING FOOTSTEPS)

RF: And I head backstage and there's old Pops, the
stagehand.

TR (GEEZER): Evening, Miss Fleming.

RF: What're we doing tonight, Pops?

TR (GEEZER): Huh? Whazzat?

RF, LOUDER: What're we doing tonight??

TR (GEEZER): I'm doing fine, thanks for asking.

RF: And they hustle me down to the dressing room----

SS (MICHELLE): Oh, am I glad to see you! (OFF) Get the make-up! And the green gown. And tell the stage manager to hold the curtain. (TR ITALIAN) Here's the hairdresser. (TR FRENCH) (COMMOTION OF VOICES, DOORS OPEN AND CLOSE)

FN: Make-up, coming through----

SS (MICHELLE): Hurry.

RF: Michelle, could you tell me one thing----?

SS (MICHELLE): Where's the green gown??

TR (SPANISH)

RF: What opera am I singing tonight?

MB: Miss Fleming, I'm Jean from the office. We're going to need your social security number. (LAUGH)

SS (MICHELLE): We have two minutes, people! Two minutes!!

TR (ITALIAN)

MB: I need you to fill out this W-2 ----

TR (SPANISH)

SS (MICHELLE): Excuse me, honey, we've got to take this dress off you---- (BIG RIP)

TR (FRENCH)

FN: Look up at the ceiling---- (SWOPPING AND MOPPING OF MAKE UP)

TR (ITALIAN)

SS (MICHELLE): What are you gawking at? Haven't you ever seen a soprano before?? Get out of here! (TR ITALIAN)

RF: Will somebody tell me which opera this is?

MB: Coupla more forms we have to fill out. This is a release form, and you'll want to read the small print.

TR (FRENCH)

SS (MICHELLE): Here comes the green gown!!!

FN: Hold still! Gotta do the eyebrows! (SQUOSH, SQUISH)

RF: I look at the costume for a clue ---- it looks sort of French, but it has puffy sleeves that make me think Italian peasant girl, and yet there's a Wagnerian aspect to it, too.

TR (FRENCH)

SS: Two minutes!

(TR ITALIAN)

FN: Close your eyes, Miss Fleming. (TR FRENCH) Can I have absolute quiet for one minute? Please, people. (TR ITALIAN) Oh shut up.

MB: This part there, you're surrendering your right to sue in the event of injury from aerial stunts.

FN: Turn your head that way----

(TR SPANISH)

MB: I know you're busy, but ---- when was your most recent dental checkup?

SS: I hear the overture---- thirty seconds----

FN: Look up----

SS: Where's the stagehand with the dog?

RF: Would someone mind zipping up my gown?

(TR FRENCH)

MB: This will just take a moment: is the address on the driver's license correct?

(TR FRENCH)

(DOG BARKING)

RF: It's an opera with a dog?

(TR RUSSIAN)

RF: Is it "Marriage of Figaro"?

MB: How about a home fax number? Area code first----

RF: It's not Rosenkavalier, is it--- (TUMULT OF VOICES ENTERING, SHOUTS, RUNNING)

(TR ITALIAN)

MB: Just one more signature here--- and there----

RF: Is it in French?

SS (MICHELLE): Don't worry, you'll be fine. You're going to be just great. This way-----(TR RUSSIAN)

RF: Is it something I've sung before?

(DOG BARKING)

MB: And if you could sign right here. Thank you for your patience.

SS (MICHELLE): You go out there and let them love you, honey. Go out and be a star-- (WOOFING) shut up!

(TR ITALIAN)

SS (MICHELLE): There you go---- break a leg----

RF: And I walk out onstage (FOOTSTEPS) as the curtain rises (SQUEAKING AND RUMBLING) and it's a long walk (FOOTSTEPS CONTINUE) with a huge dog on a leash (GROWLING) and --- there is no applause--- absolute silence (FOOTSTEPS) --- the audience sits there breathing in and out --- and it's about a hundred yards out to the middle of the stage where there's a tree trunk, a peasant's cottage, a sundial, and a guy in leather shorts holding a big silver hammer. (FOOTSTEPS STOP)

TR: Hi.

RF: What opera is this?

TR: I donno. I'm not a singer. Just an extra.

RF: You don't know which opera it is?

TR: Nope. Just hired for three hours. This act and the finale.

RF: You don't pull a sword out of a rock?

TR: Nope.

RF: Is there a poisoned goblet around?

TR: Haven't seen one.

RF: How about a chorus of Masons?

TR: Nope.

RF: Was there some sort of a name on the slip you got from the union?

TR: Just my name.

RF: Hold the dog, would you? (FOOTSTEPS) ---- Maestro?

TR (OFF, GERMAN, CURSING QUIETLY)

RF: Which opera, Maestro? Wo ist das libretto, mein schatz?

TR (OFF, HISSING IN GERMAN)

RF: And just below me in the pit are the woodwinds and there's music on their music stands and I lean forward to see what's written at the top and---- (CRY OF ALARM) I fall into the pit. (CRUNCH OF WOOD) Onto a violist. (FN WHIMPER OF PAIN) And that's when I wake up.

GK: Interesting. And it's always basically this dream?

RF: Yes.

GK: And in the dream you never find out what you're singing ----

RF: Sometimes I walk out on stage and the conductor says----

TR (OFF): Tiramisu………by Mascarpone!

RF: I never heard of it.

GK: So in the dream you never know which opera it is?

RF: Never. There's a horse in it sometimes (HORSE WHINNY) or a swordfight (SWORDS). And sometimes I jump off a parapet. (PLUMMETING SFX AND BOUNCE) And at the end I walk out for the curtain call (TAPE: APPLAUSE) and there's the tenor and the baritone and the mezzo ---

FN: Beautiful.

TR: Bravo.

SS: I never heard anything like it.

FN: I never heard you sing like that before.

RF: Neither did I. What was it?

SS: Look! They loved it!

RF: And then the conductor comes out onstage--- (FOOT STOMPS)---

TR (NAZI): You were brilliant. Perfect intonation, phrasing, everything. Perfection. And the violist whose arm you broke was one I've been trying to fire for years. I owe you a debt of gratitude. And your German ---- ach---- it is to die for. Bravo. Bravo.

RF: And the orchestra is on its feet, clapping---- and an old bassoonist looks up at me and he cries out----

TR (JIMMY STEWART): That was some singing you did, sister. By golly, I been tooting this here bassoon for forty years now and ---- doggone it, now it feels like there's a purpose to it all.

RF: And up in the President's box, sits the President.

TR (OFF, GEORGE BUSH): You sure took care of them evil-doers, kid. Proud of you.

RF: And Queen Elizabeth comes out to give me a corsage---- (FOOTSTEPS, YIPS OF CORGIS)

TR (QUEEN): We wish you to have these flowers, and also these small irritating dogs, and this large ugly purse.

RF: And the entire defensive unit of the New York Giants comes out---- (HEAVY CLEATED FEET, MANLY GRUNTS, BIG CLACK OF SHOULDER PADS BEING SMACKED TOGETHER) ---- and they carry me on their shoulders to my dressing room, the one with the gold star on it---- (MURMUR OF VOICES, HANDCLAPPING, OOHS AND AHHS) ---- and I smile and I go in the dressing room (DOOR CLOSE) ---- except it's actually the door to the street (TRAFFIC) and I knock on the door (BANGS ON BIG METAL DOOR) and nobody opens and finally I have to catch a bus (AIR BRAKE RELEASE) ---- and the driver is Placido Domingo. (TR TENOR NOTE) And I don't have correct change.

SS (OLD BROAD): Here. Lemme help you, kid. (DINGS OF COINS IN COINBOX) (TR TENOR NOTE) There. I'm going down to the financial district. Tetrazzini's the name. Maria.

RF: Maria Tetrazzini? I saw you in Carmen when I was five years old. You were touring in Carmen. I got your autograph.

SS (OLD BROAD): Really.

RF: You were fabulous.

SS (OLD BROAD): Hey. One day you're fabulous and the next day you're scrubbing floors and doing walls and windows.

RF: What happened to you?

SS (OLD BROAD): What do you mean, what happened? I got old, kid. That's all. I got old. (REVERB) I got old. Got old. Got old.

GK: And then the dream ends?

RF: That's the end.

GK: And you have this every couple weeks. Interesting.

RF: What do you think it means?

GK: It means that your life has become too controlled, too predictable. You're rebelling against yourself in your dream and you're having a great adventure that you can't allow yourself in your waking life.

RF: Hogwash. (POOF) (CHICKEN)

TR: You---- you turned that man into a chicken.

RF: I did. And I can do it again.

TR: But why? --- (CHICKEN)

RF: There isn't always a Why. That's one thing we learn from opera. It goes into our subconscious lives and ----- (HOWL, OFF) shows us things we didn't know we knew. (SWAN HONKING, WINGS FLAPPING, APPROACH) Excuse me, I've got to catch a swan. (SWAN GOES FLAPPING AND HONKING PAST) Giddup! (SHE WHOOPS) (MUSIC)

GK: This has been---

TR: OPERA: THE INSIDE STORY.

GK: The secret life of Renee Fleming.

(MUSICAL PLAYOFF)

© Garrison Keillor 2002

Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

Old Sweet Songs

Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).

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