Thursday, January 21, 2010

How Not to Write an Operetta: Being an Indictment Against Neil Gaiman's Cousin

Preamble: I had planned my next entry to be about living in the FUTURE and my many GRIEVANCES owing to the fact that I do not yet have a flying car nor a silver space suit. Yet, friends, I found something even more magical and possibly hilarious to discuss with you today.
Rarely does one have to consider if spending no money to attend a concert is a sound investment. Provided that the musicians at least give it a good college try, one really cannot walk away from the situation saying they had been slighted in any real way. If the performance be miserable, what has the person lost but a few hours time and learned a valuable lesson: don't see that awful ensemble ever again. Needless to say, dear reader, myself and sundry compatriots learned a VALUABLE LESSON on January 17 of the FUTURISTIC YEAR OF 2010!
January 2010. Everyone has welcomed the New Year - I by screaming Auld Lang Syne from the rooftop of one of the less - ahem - friendly neighborhoods of Brooklyn. A few days later, Empress Maria (TITLE BESTOWED BY ME ON THE GOOD FAITH OF NATURE AND OF NATURE'S GOD) and I received an email from our dear friend Sonja telling us that the Knickerbocker Orchestra was hosting a night of free music, the highlight of which would be Neil Gaiman, the celebrated author of a few of my favorite books including Coraline, narrating Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. Maria harbors no pretensions about her love for this piece, and immediately booked us to attend. I was more excited to see Neil Gaiman in person, if only for the chance to bestow upon him the MAYORAL MEDAL of EXCELLENCE for his creation of Neverwhere and his patronage which allowed Susanna Clarke to write Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. With anticipation written in our hearts, we set out on the 17th to the production.
The World Financial Center, with its marble floors framing several live palm trees whose sole source of photosynthetic sunlight is an architecturally stunning glass roof, a decadent palace dedicated to the GLORIOUS credo of our Great Nation: "America: Fuck yeah!" This was the chosen scene. Upon looking at the handbill, we should have sensed that something rotten was in the State of New York - or should I say NEW AMSTERDAM? (This is an example of foreshadowing.)
The production began with the introduction of Gary S. Fagin, the fabled conductor of such masterworks as John Adams in Amsterdam: A Song for Abigail and The Space, whose haunting and eloquent melodies have no doubt washed upon the porches of only the Noblest ears of the Crowned Heads of Europe - or some such shit. I urge visiting his website and listening to the clip of John Adams.
The production began with something by Peter Tchaikovsky. At this point signal flares should have gone off, gongs should have sounded, and messenger ships released from their ports. I here avow that I ABHOR ALL WORKS OF TCHAIKOVSKY, owing to my attendance of his opera Mazeppa at the Metropolitan Opera. Approximately 4 hours into my attempt to pay attention to this affront to good taste, the 3rd act of 5 ended with a girl running around with a severed head in her hands - AND THE SWEDES DIDN'T EVEN HAVE THE COMMON COURTESY TO COME IN AN KILL THEM ALL YET! This was no way to begin a production. I should have gathered my belongings and slapped Gary Fagin on his talentless face on my way out. BUT I RESTRAINED MYSELF.
Next came Up and Down by Duke Ellington. Gary Fagin was so pretentious that he listed Ellington's full name on the handbill, with the more famous "Duke" in parentheses. Really Gary Fagin? And how was it? ...I was not amused. Jazz conducted by a pasty white man just doesn't work - except when the pasty white man is LEONARD BERNSTEIN, and I here provide evidence!
Finally! The moment we had all been waiting for! The reason that there were so many strollers and young couples and nerds hipsterly playing Tetris on their fossilized GameBoy Pockets. Gary Fagin introduced Neil Gaiman - HIS COUSIN!
AHA! ...A-HA!
So, Gary Fagin, you thought you were so clever. I pictured a caped Gary Fagin sitting in his subterranean reinforced concrete writers garret, a crown of wild, tousled hair, madly banging away at a pipe organ, screaming: "How can I lure people to my atrocious work. I know! I will bait them with my famous cousin. OH HO HO HO!"
And what can be said of what happened. It was clear that Neil Gaiman hadn't slept since 1998 and wasn't given sufficient time to practice - or simply didn't FEEL like practicing. I certainly have cousins I wouldn't go out of my way to send a Christmas card, much less offer my vastly superior talent to support their orchestra. Yeah. I said it. In a nutshell... it was pleasant.
The Unanswered Question by Cha - oh who give a shit! The highlight of this atrocity was Gary Fagin pretentiously summoning a less-than-stellar trumpet to play some hackneyed modernist something-or-other. At this point I was getting glares from a painfully sex-starved woman in front of me who thought she was in the presences of brilliance (barring my own brilliance, naturally). Verdict: I've heard sweeter songs from teething children on airplanes.
And finally - the CROWN JEWEL of this catastrophe of the musical world - the very reason Gary Fagin summoned his famous cousin to take and hour out of his busy schedule on his way to the Golden Globes in support of Coraline. It was a special night. This marked the WORLD PREMIERE of Gary S. Fagin's:
I here recommend taking painkillers or getting yourself a good stiff spiritous drink.
Gary Fagin introduced his tenor soloist for the WORLD PREMIERE of this opera based on the travels of Henry Hudson in North America. A baton raised. A pair of lungs filled with air. And then...
This skinny ginger tenor decided to emulate Colm Wilkinson (you know, the original Jean Valjean), right down to the badly trimmed beard. For those unfamiliar with Colmish, I will translate:
It may be easier for you to imagine Sean Connery singing it.
Apparently it's Gary Fagin's modus operandi to begin every song he writes by repeating a word three times. As proof, here is the opening of John Adams' libretto:
The song continued, listing all the precious things European sailors sought getting faster via a mythical Northwest Passage.
Gary Fagin! Cellos in the background and shouting the names of things does not an operetta make! He went on to sing to us the exploits of Magellan:
"Sail west to reach the East.
Columbus tried.
Magellan's men proved it so.
West, then south, and further south,
Round the treacherous Cape,
Through the Pacific's calm seas."
Hold on a second. Magellan began his voyage from Portugal. If you were granted a caravel from the Royal Family and proceeded to sail west only to turn south and then... go south again, I'm relatively sure that you would run right into Antarctica. Let's ask the Panel of Experts. Panel of Experts?
The cliché parade didn't stop! Each movement was separated by a small introduction... YEAH, like little title cards in a Stanley Kubrick film!
"Year 1609; the thirtieth of May. Henry Hudson, commanding the Half Moon, sails once more into the unknown."
Gary Fagin! You could've said May 30th, 1609!
PART II: TERRA CONTINENS (He added a footnote saying that this means "continent." Do you think Neil Gaiman would put such a footnote in his books? Hm...)
In which he describes the American continent!
"A deep, wide River [unnecessary capitalization - this isn't Germany Gary Fagin!]
Teeming with life:
Foot-wide oysters,
Ten-pound lobsters,
Salmon beyond number,
Magnificent abundance!"
A foot-wide oyster? I will dismiss this and assume you meant foot-long oysters, only to counter that with a reading from Mark Kurlansky's The Big Oyster: "On the bottom [of the riverbed] the very largest ones, described as 'giant oysters,' measure eight to ten inches. This suggests that the Dutch reports of foot-long oysters were ... slightly exaggerated." Also, the optimal size of a lobster for eating is between 1 and 2 pounds. Anything larger is too tough and requires too much dipping butter. Also - LOBSTERS DON'T LIVE IN FRESHWATER! OUTRAGEOUS!
Here Gary Fagin steals lyrics directly from the diary of First Mate Robert Jouet talking about trade with the local Indians. While I'm not sure where they got "Greene [sic] Tabaccco [sic]," it's still slightly cheap to use someone else's words for an entire half of a movement of your operetta.
Setting the tone for the Age of Colonial Expoloration (which, coincidentally, I hate teaching) he mentions a Native stealing a pillow and two shirts from the Half Moon only to be killed, offering this final thought: "O, harbinger of what's to come: / Temptation, Mistrust, Death." Let's move on. And get ready to be angry.
He chooses fascinating words to begin a conclusion:
"Three times Henry Hudson fails
To find the Northwest Passage.
The fourth attempt,
Abandoned in the Bay that bears his name,
He dies."
Gary Fagin... you just wrote an entire hour-long operetta about a failed explorer. Let's see what Henry Hudson actually did to warrant a river, a bay, a parkway and an operetta:
1.) Did not find the Northwest Passage
2.) Left adrift in a large Canadian bay by his crew
3.) That's... about... it.
And that's what history is - senselessly naming things after people who don't deserve it. Triborough Bridge? Why don't we call it The Robert F. Kennedy Bridge after senator who was 11-years old when the bridge opened. YEAH, that's the ticket! At least we can legitimize charging the taxpayers millions of dollars to change all the signage.
Then Gary Fagin lost me forever. I'm going to put dates next to the approximate times when these things happen. Ready?
"Forty years more,
As a spoil of war, [RHYME?! NOW?!]
New Amsterdam becomes New York [1674].
Towers rise, scrape the skies. [ca. 1902 - 1913]
One day two fall. [ca. September 11, 2001]"
Are you kidding me? Did Rudy Giuliani have a hand in writing this?! At this point a Good Taste Referee should have thrown a flag and called an Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty. You wrote a painfully long piece of shit about Henry Hudson and then have the audacity to connect it to September 11?! Were you trying to draw a parallel between Hudson's downfall and that unforgettable September collapse of the World Trade Center, because I FAIL to see and refuse to acknowledge so shameful a connection. Not only that you skipped nearly 330 years of New York history to mention it! Nowhere is there mention of the Battle of New York, the Stock Market Crash, the invention of the Martini... NO! New York's history boils down to Henry Hudson and 9/11. Pitiful! Tasteless!
Now, you can't imagine how angry I was at this point. So angry that I had to laugh and bite my handbill, much to the dismay of the aforementioned sex-starved cobra who shot me icy looks - apparently oblivious to the fact that she had been subjected to one of the cheapest shots in history - a hack relying on the fame of his brilliant cousin to spoon feed bullshit to the brain-dead masses!
And that is why I need to be a teacher - if only to undo the watery history presented by uncultured no-talent idiots with no musical or lyrical inclinations whatsoever.
We then went to the Patriot Saloon to drown our sorrows - or rather explosions of gut-bursting laughter - in cheap beer, country-western music, and ladies dancing on a bar. Because even a dingy gin-joint like The Patriot is a more authentic American experience than being force-fed falsities and cheap, meaningless references to one of our greatest tragedies.


  1. This sounds truly harrowing, to be sure--as if an entire opera itself could be written about the experience. It could be a tragic epic. Fagin's Folly, I'd call it. Except maybe it should be Italian, I guess? That would lend it more of an air of legitimacy. La Follia di Fagin. The rest pretty much writes itself.

    Make it so.

  2. I'll forgive you. You have obviously never heard Tchaikovsky's violin concerto, one of the most beautiful and breathless pieces of music ever writ.

  3. After a similar, gruesome experience with the person in question, it seemed proper to rename a certain variety of weed in my garden as "Fagins": that is, a vile noxious weed that serves no purpose whatsoever, but which is insistent, covered with thorns and resists mightily efforts toward it's uprooting.