Day 376: Quince-Brogels’s Lost Operas

originally published January 10, 2013

We are extremely fortunate to have acquired the private journals of Elias Quince-Brogels, the noted early 20th-century composer of such memorable operas as Tessitura di Spinach and Luogo’s Serenade To His Coffee Table. And while some of the journals allow us a tremendous insight into the man himself (it seems Quince-Brogels was really into latex balloons. Like, seriously – this stuff is disturbing), we are most pleased to have unearthed his ‘Libretto Sketches’ book, which details some of the concepts the master was working on shortly before his premature death in 1941 from drowning in tartar sauce at the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown.

These excerpts demonstrate Quince-Brogels’ movement away from the political themed works that dominated his New York tenure in the mid-to-late 1930’s (such as Burletta mi Hawley-Smoot Tariff Negotiations and his poignant retelling of Weimar-era economic struggles, Puke-Sack). Indeed it appears Quince-Brogels had become enraptured by the Tragédie en Musique, exploring dark topics with a remarkably cynical eye for a man in his late 30’s. Also, his willingness to experiment clearly surpassed that of all his contemporaries. Let’s have a look:

Okay, I want to do a Verismo in the purest sense, something like Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier but without all that homo-erotic subtext. Also, it should take place on a zeppelin. I think we’re far enough away from the Hindenburg thing so that bitch reviewer for the New York Times won’t cry ‘Too Soon’. I’ll call it Ultima Corsa Torero – the Bullfighter’s Last Ride.

I want the stage to be elevated to the level of the first balcony, supported only by a large hydrogen balloon. Each scene will end with a fioritura, one of those happy, heavily embellished vocal lines that gets people clapping even if the rest of the scene was crap. Hey, maybe they can send the balloon-supported stage out above the audience. The New York City Center probably isn’t built for it, but maybe at Carnegie.

If I can find a coloratura soprano, I might be able to pull off that piece I wrote last year, Scimmie Cazzo Troppi – Too Many Fucking Monkeys. Steven McHume at the Bronx Zoo told me I could borrow nine capuchins. If I can make a similar arrangement with people at six or seven more zoos in the area, that should be enough.

The comprimario roles will steal the show if this one makes it to the stage; I don’t usually like to overshadow the divas with strong supporting roles, but if the comprimarios can be played by monkeys, I think that would place this piece in its own little volume of operatic history. Ultimately, all the monkeys will have to die – not literally, but I’m going to have to figure out how to convince the audience they’re dead without actually harming them. It’s crucial to the story.

Or, if I’m really lucky, at least one of those zoo guys will let me kill a couple, just on opening night so that it gets into the reviews.

Vincent Fiori, that tenore di grazia from the East Village, has been bugging me to write a piece for him. I think I can get away with sticking him in the lead for that experimental chiaroscuro concept: Canto Roba Casuale – Random Singing Stuff. I want to get a large slot machine produced, then invite audience members on stage to pull the handle and determine the next stage of the story. Two cherries and a bell? Fiori’s character dances to a bel canto performed by a mezzo-soprano, or maybe some castrati (if I can find any). Horseshoe-cherry-orange? A kammersänger delivers some kind of melodramatic twist. Three lemons? Everybody dies, the end.

Ideally, the giant slot machine will also take actual nickels, which could serve as a great supplementary income for the New York City Opera. If each show continues until three lemons show up – which could mean a 6-hour or a 6-minute show – we could bring in some serious money. Patrons will need to bring their own change.

As long as everybody dies at the end. That’s the real statement about chance and uncertain existence. We all die.

I’d like to compose an insertion aria inspired by the brilliant Bela Lugosi film Dracula. The company will keep it on hold and drop it in arbitrarily into some other piece at the director’s choosing. Lots of legato, and enough squillo to send the audience home with a hernia.

I want to alter the story though. Instead of living in a far-off Romanian castle, Dracula will be an American teen. He’ll meet a young woman, and maybe I’ll throw in a werewolf character to appease Lon Chaney Jr. fans. The key is that the young woman will be perpetually moody and only able to emote on two levels: brooding and mopey. I’ll need to commission the costume department to begin work on a large coat with sequins for the Dracula character, in order to create a sparkling effect. Very theatrical.

The characters won’t perish in the end, however the audience (and indeed the general public) will find them all so repulsive that the very fact that they don’t die will in itself be the tragedy of the piece. I see this one being stupidly popular.

For years I have been striving to create the perfect monodrama, and I think I’ve nailed it. A one-man show, done in sprechgesang. I know, not a lot of New York audiences respond well to that form of expressionist singing-speaking, but I think it just needs the right setting. And that setting is the Canadian Arctic.

What Wagner and Schoenberg failed to achieve was the perfect encapsulation of the sprechgesang experience, and I believe that can be found among the Eskimo population in the heart of the tundra. The performer, likely a tenore contraltino like Nicolai Spaanksoff, will lament lost loves and baby seals whilst a melancholy leitmotif reminds the audience of the foreboding doom and also the snow. Lots of snow. Were the New York winters more reliable in their winter precipitation, I might try performing this one in Central Park. I’ll probably have to settle for turning the temperature in the house down as low as it will go.

I have heard those Eskimos have more than two dozen words for snow. I’d like an arioso about each one. Then, at the end, the character will freeze to death, his teeth chattering as he convulses upon the stage until the audience gets tired and leaves.

Just reading these words from Elias Quince-Brogels envelopes me with a deep sadness at his early passing. I’m sure we can all agree, the world of opera throughout the 1940’s would have been so much richer with his presence.

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