Why this obsession with Trump news even when it’s not fake? I’m one of the 100,000 who signed on for a daily online subscription to the New York Times. My access to the Washington Post for free reading of online articles has been blocked after going there too many times. I check the index of the New Yorker when it arrives to see what relates to All Things Trump. Even the Globe and Mail is in danger of selective reading. Though I lived in New York City during the Kennedy election and early presidential years, I am Canadian through and through. But the drama calls.
These days, journalists are writing about this presidency as a Soap Opera but perhaps it’s more than that. Suppose instead we think of it as Grand Opera – waiting only for a composer like Wagner with the capability of framing it with a steady stream of individual operas like the Ring Cycle. To do so may mean backing up from the current events to the prequels. What a dramatic and musical opportunity. To imagine the story line I turn to Wikipedia to begin writing the plot.
Start with Friedrich – born appropriately for operatic possibilities in Germany – and coming to the United States at age 16 as an immigrant to work as a barber – bring on a first aria full of youthful exuberance. In act two, Friedrich – now calling himself Frederick – has moved to the northwest and is operating Seattle restaurants and boarding houses – charming possibilities here for staging crowd scenes as in Puccini. Add to the plot making a fortune in the Klondike – more bar crowd scenes – and then returning to Germany to find a bride. It’s made for opera – perhaps with an Italian libretto.
But the last act of this first opera brings dramatic twists. Frederick, formerly Friedrich, has returned to Germany only for the authorities to realize he had originally left the country to avoid military service – foreshadowing here – and the government lifts his citizenship. But returning to the United States, Frederick combines his previous skills as a barber and hotel owner and makes enough money to acquire real estate – while also producing two sons. This is a great ending to begin the next opera of the cycle.
The second one has a new central character – also named Frederick – with the second name of Christ perhaps portending a messianic future for the family especially since he started his working career as a carpenter. But the second name is just a maternal family surname. His father Friedrich/Frederick dies when this Frederick is only twelve and he unites with his mother to continue building wealth from real estate. An added charm of this second Fredrick is his alliance with a Scottish immigrant woman who works as a maid – immediately suggesting another light-hearted Mozart aria for this Despina. Frederick learns how to build houses – and with an interesting twist tells his future buyers that he is Swedish rather than German because of the war connection – an early example of stretching the truth that works for him now – and much later so well for his own progeny.
The second act with several scenes focuses on the birth of son Donald in Queens, a borough of New York City. This son is the fourth child and young Donald needs to reposition himself well when a fifth sibling usurps his role as the baby of the family. He ventures alone to the evil precinct of nearby Manhattan and this is deemed serious enough to have him expelled from home in Queens and sent off to military school. This new locale allows for a glowing set design with military splendor, uniforms and marching to an inspiring martial score reminiscent of Aida.
On to more drama with two darker scenes in the second act. In Scene One, Frederick comes under suspicion for wartime profiteering and is investigated by the US Senate. In scene two, he is further investigated by the Department of Justice for violation of Civil Rights. An interesting surprise musical entry here is Woody Guthrie who according to two major newspapers writes a critical song inspired by his time as a Trump tenant. The introduction of solo guitar into the opera is seldom used but highly appropriate. The family nevertheless recovers enough to become noted philanthropists to several organizations – including prophetically, the Boy Scouts. We have only just begun and there are more exciting operatic cycles to come. As the Canadian comedienne, Anna Russell said in her wonderful romp through the Wagner Ring Cycle – “I’m not making this up, you know”.
The third opera of the cycle is somewhat more comedic and might descend if we are not careful, into farce. In the first act, Donald has become the real estate developer branching out into other lines such as casinos – in which the sets from the first opera of his grandfather can come back into use with a little gold paint to up the ante. There can be a bit of drama around military deferment which is finally resolved with a diagnosis of all things – heel spurs. And there is a wedding scene performed by the most famous religious writer of the time in a church worthy of an excellent new set – where Donald marries another new immigrant in a marriage which subsequently produces three children. That marriage dissolves after a wrenching scene where his wife accuses Donald of infidelity. (The composer and librettist at this point must be careful not to consider an additional side opera based on the life of this first wife who later has two or three more marriages of her own.) Alas, the newly-married Donald’s next marriage does not survive even with an additional daughter named after one of the world’s greatest retailers. In the meantime Donald’s fortunes ebb and flow. He ultimately becomes a TV star whose famous words, “You’re fired” sparks an aria that circles the world and brings new fame and fortune.
These early operas are only the beginning of the cycle. There is clearly more to come. Now what we are awaiting is the musical genius who can recognize the scope of the operatic opportunity and start to work on it. I’m offering to be a librettist though my passing acquaintance as a student of literature with the Greek epics, Beowulf, Spenser and Milton may not be the ideal qualification But there must be somebody out there. Let the Grand Opera Games begin!