Brown Theater at the Wortham Theater Center in Houston, TX «archive page
TR: A dark night in a city that knows how to keep its secrets, but one man is still trying to find the answers to life's persistent questions--- Guy Noir, Private Eye.
GK: It was November, the week before Thanksgiving, and I was scraping along, avoiding my landlady, then suddenly I had something to be thankful for: a job, a real job, at the Houston Opera.
SS: This is Mavis Pritchard, Mr. Noir. Production manager. You've heard of the mezzo-soprano Sally Saltine, I assume.
GK: Yes, saw the story in the Business section last week. America's top-selling ringtone opera star.
SS: She's supposed to come here and sing the role of Kate Pinkerton in "Madame Butterfly" but she's stuck in Paris. I need someone to go get her.
GK: What's the problem?
SS: Fear of flying.
GK: Aha. (BRIDGE) So I flew over to Paris and took a taxi to the Ritz (TR FRENCH, POLICE CAR SIREN PASSING) and waited in the bar in the lobby, and listened to a 78 on the Victrola.
SS SINGS A LA PIAF:
Quand il me prend dans ses bras
Il me parle tout bas,
Je vois la vie en rose.
Il me dit des mots d'amour,
Des mots de tous les jours,
Et ca me fait quelque chose. (NEEDLE SKIDS ACROSS DISC)
SG: Please!!! No music. (TR OLD MAN FRENCH) I need silence. Silenzio. Schweigen. Shtill shtill shtill----- understand? (TR FRENCH MUTTERS)
GK: Miss Saltine?
GK: Guy Noir. Miss Pritchard sent me. We have tickets on the 3:15 non-stop to Houston.
SG: Oh. Right. You're not a singer, are you?
GK: No, ma'am.
SG: Not a hummer either?
GK: No, Ma'am.
SG: Not somebody who breaks into song suddenly, or starts whistling?
SG: Good Because it drives me nuts. I had an assistant once who, without being aware of it himself, would start humming "Send In The Clowns" and it drove me right over the edge---- Igor!!??
FN (IGOR): (FOOTSTEPS, DRAGGING ONE FOOT) Yes, mistress.
SG: Bring the car around. And have the bellman bring my trunks down. There are five of them. And take Fifi for a walk.
FN (IGOR): Yes, mistress.
SG: Bartender? Don't play that CD, I'm warning you.
TR (DYLAN, CD): O come all ye faithful
Joyful and triumphant
SG: Shut it.
TR (DYLAN, CD): O come ye, O come ye
(VOICE SLOWS, DEEPENS, AS CD STOPS)
GK: Miss Saltine and I were flying Million Air, the all-first-class airline, and she sat in seat 1A and Fifi in 1B-----(DOG YIPS) and I was in 2A, right behind her.
SS (HOSTESS): Miss Saltine, may I bring you a glass of wine?
SG: Double bourbon. No ice, no water.
SS (HOSTESS): Right away.
SG: I'm sorry if I'm a little testy, Mr. Noir ---- I've got a lot on my mind---- I've just become president of I-MISS, the International Mezzo-Soprano Society.
SG: We're launching an ad campaign: Mezzo ---- The Mellow Voice, Voted No. 1 by 7 out of 10 Americans.
FN (ON P.A.): (SINGS)
This is your pilot, Jim, and welcome aboard,
We're heading back to Houston, Texas, praise the Lord.
SG: Oh please. Stop.
FN (ON P.A.): (SINGS)
Never mind the turbulence, the rock and roll,
I'm in control, I'm in control.
GK: We're about to take off ---- can I get you anything?
SG: I just need deep breaths and calming thoughts.
GK: Good. You do that.
SG: I'm going to listen to my meditation track right now, Mr. Noir ---- so excuse me-----
GK: On your iPod?
SG: Yes-----a guy I know made it for me ----- it works every time. (CLICK)
TR (BUSH): You're afraid of flying but it's going to be okay. Just imagine that I am your pilot. I am sitting up front in my flight suit and my flight helmet and I have the stick in my hand and I am going to bring you in safe and sound. Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh. Doing a heckuva job up here.
GK: Feeling better?
SG: Much better.
GK: Must be quite a guru.
SG: Not for everybody.
GK: Oh. Indian?
SG: I don't think so. (BRIDGE)
GK: We played some cribbage and she had a few drinks and a big steak for dinner. ----- So what's the ad campaign: Mezzo ---- Voted No. 1 by 7 out of 10 Americans.
SG: The campaign is about the fact that when we played an aria sung by a soprano and then the same aria sung by a mezzo, 71% of the people preferred the mezzo. People prefer the lower, richer, less screechy female voice. It's been proven time and time again.
GK: I had no idea.
SG: That's how I made all that money singing ringtones ----- (SHE SINGS)
O mio babbino caro
Mi piace è bello, bello
Vo'andare in Porta Rossa------ see? It's just more appealing in a mezzo voice and you don't have all that caterwauling. (HIGH SOPRANO NOTE, SHARP) That's the thing that drives people away from opera. Sopranos.
GK: But most of the big title roles are written for sopranos.
SG: Right, because in the 19th Century, in the time of Verdi and Puccini, sopranos were idolized. A lot of weird stuff happened in the 19th Century. Women wore corsets to give themselves 18-inch waists. In China, there was foot-binding. Men loved those high squeaky voices because they didn't want to accept women as real people. Mezzos are real. (SHE LAUGHS AN EARTHY LAUGH) Oh boy are we real.
GK: So you're on a campaign to change all of that.
SG: For two hundred years, we've been stuck in supporting roles, character roles, the heroine's best friend, the evil sorceress, the old aunt, the cleaning lady, whatever. Sometimes we play men. So the pay isn't great. I'm going to change that and you're going to help me, Mr. Noir. (STING, BRIDGE)
GK: We landed in Houston and she said she wanted me to manage her career. I told her I didn't know much about opera-----
SG: Good. Then you're perfect.
GK: You want a manager who's ignorant?
SG: I want a manager who isn't part of the opera world that has been oppressing mezzo-sopranos for the past two hundred years.
GK: So what do you want me to do?
SG: I want you to get me the role of Madame Butterfly.
GK: You mean-----
SG: Exactly. Cio-cio San. They signed me to play the role of Kate Pinkerton. Feh!!! What a piece of nothing that is. A walk-on part. The wife of the jerk. Basically she stands around and wrings her hands.
GK: So you want to-----
SG: I want to be the star. At last. I have never died on stage, Mr. Noir. I've never flung myself from a parapet or drunk the poisoned wine or fallen on my sword or gone mad. I just stood around and watched. And now I'm going to. I'm going to walk behind that screen with the big knife and let out a cry (SHE SINGS A DEATH NOTE) and collapse and lie there in a heap as the curtain comes down and the audience is in tears and I take six curtain bows and men carry me through the street and a restaurant names a dessert for me.
GK: But how are we going to do that?
SG: You're my manager. You figure it out. (STING, BRIDGE)
GK: So I did what I had to do. I got the costume shop to make a kimono in Miss Saltine's size -----
TR: She's tall, huh?
GK: Make it long.
TR: When you need it?
GK: Tomorrow night.
TR: No can do.
GK: Here's a hundred says you can.
GK: Here's two hundred.
TR: Can do. (STING)
GK: I had the prop man make a fan with the words of "Un bel di" written on it.
FN: What's this for?
GK: She's new to the role.
GK: Never mind.
FN: It's gonna cost you.
GK: Two hundred.
GK: Two forty.
FN: Two fifty.
FN: Okay. Hey, wait a minute. Wrong direction. Two-fifty.
GK: Two fifty. (STING)
GK: An hour before curtain, I entered the soprano's dressing room ---- I slipped past her manager (TR SNORING, GERMAN) and into the dressing room as she was warming up (SS VOCALIZE) and I slipped a muscle relaxant into her tea and a minute later (SS VOCALIZE, OFF-KEY) she was out of commission and when the General Manager went in his office to call in a sub, he found the phone dead (RAPID TAPPING OF PHONE BUTTON) (FN: Hello? Hello? (TAPPING) and he found his door locked (THUMPING ON DOOR. FN MUFFLED: Lemme out of here. Hey. Unlock the door) and when the conductor came backstage (TR ITALIAN) he found the mezzo.
SG: Hi Guido. Like my kimono?
TR (ITALIAN): Miss Saltine----
SG: We're on in three minutes, pal. Tell the orchestra to take it down a fourth. "Un bel di" in B-flat. And don't rush. Or else you're going to finish early.
GK: And she went out there and she did it. She went out there and blew them all away.
Un bel dì, vedremo
levarsi un fil di fumo
sull'estremo confin del mare.
E poi la nave appare.
GK: And when it was time to die, she did it so beautifully behind the screen (SG VOCAL IMPROV, DEATH) that the audience wouldn't let her die and she had to jump up and sing an encore right there.
From this valley they say I am going,
You will miss my bright eyes and sweet smile
For you know I am taking the sunshine
That has brightened your pathway a while.
(ROAR OF AUDIENCE)
GK: Her recording of the ringtone of "Un bel di" shot up to No. 1 and wherever you went in Texas, wherever people had cellphones you heard her over and over (SG MUFFLED: Un bel dì, vedremo……) And last I heard she was back in Paris . She had her eye on the role of Don Giovanni. A long shot for a mezzo, but she's from Texas and you should never sell a Texas woman short.
TR: A dark night in a city that keeps its secrets, but one man is still trying to find the answers to life's persistent questions.....Guy Noir, Private Eye.
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).