Say It Ain’t So, Joe!

Adapted from public record of the 2008 Vice Presidential Debate
Music and libretto by Curtis K. Hughes
Stage Direction by Nathan Troupe

Premiere: September 19, 2009
Location: The Zack Box at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee

The instrumental work showed major chops and energy.

The audience response was rapturous…. this was great music.

Hughes.Curtis_WebSarah Palin and Joe Biden is used as a point of departure for a musical and dramatic exploration of tragic and comic aspects of both characters. Yet, the opera isn’t about Palin and Biden as real individuals so much as it is about their public identities as constructed in the imagination of American citizens. Similarly, the depiction of the debate itself isn’t so much an attempt to
recreate what actually transpired as it is an evocation of the subjective experience of watching the debate, one in which a viewer’s attention sometime wanders, perhaps certain ideas and utterances stand out while others recede, and time itself doesn’t necessarily progress in a straightforward manner.

The words that are sung during the debate (even-numbered scenes), however, are “real” in that they are derived entirely from the public record. During the other scenes (all odd-numbered scenes), those that are interspersed with the recurrent glimpses of the debate, I took some considerable liberties with assembling the libretto. Nonetheless, the vast majority of the words, with the notable exception of most of Act 1, Scene 3, come from the public record, though generally culled from a wide variety of sources.

In composing the music I was also inescapably aware that politicians themselves are musicians of a sort. Nuances of tempo, phrasing and pitch language are so integral to the public verbal performances of politicians that in many places I chose to literally incorporate them into the music of the opera. Indeed, throughout Act 1, Scene 2, and for shorter stretches in other portions of the opera, you’ll be hearing the actual ‘melodies’ of the debate, rendered almost precisely as they were spoken, but in a musical context. The instrumental music sometimes assists in providing dramatic weight to Biden’s and Palin’s words, while at other times it diverges, or even belittles the candidates. Each of you in the audience might have your own interpretation of the drama, but one certainty is that both Palin and Biden are each the heroes of their own respective stories in this ‘light tragedy.’

Studio recording available on: iTunes & CDnow.