Al sings that it is true; worms don't do much to liven up a place. This inspires Mrs. Applegore (that's her name) to an aria about the tedium of selling bait to fishermen:
Place? A penitentiary for bass.
A crazy house for addled bream.
A prison where they lock up gars.
Look at me. Have I started growing scales?
Mr. Applegore, overhearing, thinks Al and his wife are having a love affair. Mrs. Applegore lends Al money to telephone Sally Anne. But Pill, meanwhile, has emerged from the swamp and is snuggling with Sally Anne in her room and planning how the two of them can trap Al and the $4,000. In the final scene Al is momentarily overjoyed when Sally Anne runs into the bait shop and calls on him to leave at once. (Pill is waiting outside with a knife.) Mrs. Applegore sees him and warns Al and gives him her husband's gun. Disillusioned by Sally Anne's treachery, Al refuses it, singing that Pill can take the money and Sally Anne and go. As Pill enters, Mr. Applegore grabs Al, pushing him toward Pill, who stabs him, as Mrs. Applegore, shooting wildly with her husband's gun, kills Pill also. At this point the workmen with shotguns who have been looking for Al make their entrance. They find the bodies and the scrip on the floor and force Sally Anne to pick it up, singing:
It's two cents on the dollar that
they're paying, girl. Easiest
eighty bucks you'll ever make.
No opera in history has ever been so intimately connected with bass fishing, trout streams and duck blinds as $4000. Ten years ago Vance Bourjaily, then 36, was a visiting lecturer at the University of Iowa, where he met Tom Turner, 45, the son of an Iowa governor and head of the department of music theory in the university's school of music.
A novelist who also has been active as a television and outdoor writer, Bourjaily mentioned that he was going trout fishing, which aroused Turner's skepticism, as he did not believe there were any trout in Iowa. The result was that he and Bourjaily went to a stream about 60 miles north of Iowa City that actually contains trout, and a hunting and fishing collaboration began which eventually developed into their opera with a fishing and poker-playing background. "I get damned sick of operas that always seem to be about 15th century peasants," Bourjaily said.
In 1962 while he and Turner were hunting pheasants, they began to discuss an opera with a native setting and plot. "Even after we decided to do it," Turner said, "I just couldn't bring myself to make the commitment. You know, something like this ties up a lot of people and money over an extended period of time." Once the decision was made, Bourjaily turned out the libretto in three weeks.
The Daily Iowan, the student newspaper, praised the chase through the swamp, its critic saying it reminded him of Eliza crossing the ice in Uncle Tom's Cabin. Other reviewers praised the orchestral brilliance of the score and the novelty and originality of the venture. With bold staging and lighting, the opera played to capacity audiences in its first four performances, and now Bourjaily and Turner are looking around for another production. "Maybe opera can be made to appeal to the contemporary man," Bourjaily said. "We're trying to take it out of the drawing rooms. I would much rather have seen the review on the sports pages, where it more properly belonged, than on the society page."
Be that as it may, a few more operas that present fishing in such a deplorable light as does $4000 might galvanize the Izaak Walton League to underwrite the Metropolitan's productions of Tosca and La Bohème. Not to mention construction companies.