- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
American opera lovers, dismayed by the news that the Metropolitan in New York, will not open this season on schedule, can take heart from recent developments in music and fishing in Iowa. The University of Iowa has produced an opera called $4000, which is unquestionably the only opera in existence in which the characters sing about fishing, bait and the horrors of life in a place where fishing supplies are sold. First shown last month to startled audiences, $4000 so far has racked up four performances, accompanied by a 60-piece orchestra and enthusiastic notices.
Among its other distinctions, $4000 is the first opera since Puccini's The Girl of the Golden West, back in 1910, to be set in the great outdoors. Comparisons stop there, however. The Girl of the Golden West comes to a climax with a poker game. This new venture into outdoor opera begins with a poker game. The game in Puccini's opera is crooked: the heroine plays cards with the sheriff, with the life of her boy friend as a stake, and wins by plucking three aces from her stocking, where she evidently carried them for just such emergencies. The poker game in $4000 is on the level, but the money is no good. The scene is a construction camp in a Southern swamp, with the workmen using company scrip, not knowing the scrip is worthless.
Al, a surveyor, has been winning steadily, despite the fact that his mind is not on the game. Or on his work, for that matter. As he rakes in his winnings he sings about his girl, Sally Anne:
I only think about her all the time.
No wonder the construction company officials have decided to give up the project. To make matters worse, Pill Donovan, the villain, leading baritone and foreman, is equally absent-minded about the game and his work. He too sings about Sally Anne. He sees her with him at the races, drinking juleps.
At the first performance of $4000 at the University of Iowa the orchestra played so loudly it drowned out the singers' lines. Whether this was an unmixed blessing is still in dispute. In any case, the other poker players become so incensed at Al's continued good luck that he takes the $4,000 in scrip that he has won and goes to his shack. It appears that employee relations in the construction company are in pretty bad shape. Pill persuades the losing workmen that Al has cheated, and they start after him with shotguns. The first scene ends when the paymaster arrives from the company headquarters and sings that it is all over: the company is busted.
But Al and Pill do not know that, and throughout Scene 2 they run through the swamp, to the accompaniment of music that one critic said "strongly suggests slithery, slimy, crawly swamp creatures." Al means to get away with his $4,000 and marry Sally Anne. At dawn he appears in a tiny hotel-and-bait-selling establishment. The wife of the owner befriends him, thinking he must be a fugitive from the law, which indicates the kind of fishermen who patronize the place. Al sings:
Can I buy clothes and shaving stuff in town? I mean, when things open?
She sings in reply:
What town? When things are open here the town's still closed.