(GK: Garrison Keillor; SS: Sue Scott; TR: Tim Russell; FN: Fred Newman; RF: Renee Fleming; MB: Maria Bamford)
(A BIG OPERATIC PIANO FANFARE, CRASHING CHORDS, THEN DIM. AND UNDER--..)
GK: Time now for----
TR: OPERA: THE INSIDE STORY. (MUSIC UNDER)
RF: My name is Renee Fleming and I have a dream about once or twice a month in which I'm sitting at home in the evening, reading a book and the phone rings (RINGING, PICK UP)----
SS (ON PHONE): Honey! Where are you? Did you forget??
RF: Forget what?
SS (ON PHONE): I've been frantic. Calling everywhere. What happened? You're on stage in half an hour!!
SS (ON PHONE): Listen, there's a helicopter on its way----
RF: And the helicopter lands in my garden and (FOOTSTEPS) I dash out the door ----
TR: Watch your head, Miss Fleming----
RF: I climb in and (CHOPPER UP AND AWAY) we fly off to Lincoln Center----
TR: Be there in two minutes, Miss Fleming.
RF: You don't know which opera they're doing tonight, do you?
TR: I don't. (CHOPPER DESCENDING)
RF: And the helicopter lands on the roof of the Metropolitan Opera House and I climb out and---
SS (OFF): Hey, it's Renee Fleming! Look!
RF: The patrons wave to me from the terrace-----
SS: Big fans of yours, Miss Fleming! This is my husband's favorite opera.
RF: Really--- Which one is it?
SS: This is my second husband. My first one didn't care for opera at all. (MUSIC, RUNNING FOOTSTEPS)
RF: And I head backstage and there's old Pops, the
TR (GEEZER): Evening, Miss Fleming.
RF: What're we doing tonight, Pops?
TR (GEEZER): Huh? Whazzat?
RF, LOUDER: What're we doing tonight??
TR (GEEZER): I'm doing fine, thanks for asking.
RF: And they hustle me down to the dressing room----
SS (MICHELLE): Oh, am I glad to see you! (OFF) Get the make-up! And the green gown. And tell the stage manager to hold the curtain. (TR ITALIAN) Here's the hairdresser. (TR FRENCH) (COMMOTION OF VOICES, DOORS OPEN AND CLOSE)
FN: Make-up, coming through----
SS (MICHELLE): Hurry.
RF: Michelle, could you tell me one thing----?
SS (MICHELLE): Where's the green gown??
RF: What opera am I singing tonight?
MB: Miss Fleming, I'm Jean from the office. We're going to need your social security number. (LAUGH)
SS (MICHELLE): We have two minutes, people! Two minutes!!
MB: I need you to fill out this W-2 ----
SS (MICHELLE): Excuse me, honey, we've got to take this dress off you---- (BIG RIP)
FN: Look up at the ceiling---- (SWOPPING AND MOPPING OF MAKE UP)
SS (MICHELLE): What are you gawking at? Haven't you ever seen a soprano before?? Get out of here! (TR ITALIAN)
RF: Will somebody tell me which opera this is?
MB: Coupla more forms we have to fill out. This is a release form, and you'll want to read the small print.
SS (MICHELLE): Here comes the green gown!!!
FN: Hold still! Gotta do the eyebrows! (SQUOSH, SQUISH)
RF: I look at the costume for a clue ---- it looks sort of French, but it has puffy sleeves that make me think Italian peasant girl, and yet there's a Wagnerian aspect to it, too.
SS: Two minutes!
FN: Close your eyes, Miss Fleming. (TR FRENCH) Can I have absolute quiet for one minute? Please, people. (TR ITALIAN) Oh shut up.
MB: This part there, you're surrendering your right to sue in the event of injury from aerial stunts.
FN: Turn your head that way----
MB: I know you're busy, but ---- when was your most recent dental checkup?
SS: I hear the overture---- thirty seconds----
FN: Look up----
SS: Where's the stagehand with the dog?
RF: Would someone mind zipping up my gown?
MB: This will just take a moment: is the address on the driver's license correct?
RF: It's an opera with a dog?
RF: Is it "Marriage of Figaro"?
MB: How about a home fax number? Area code first----
RF: It's not Rosenkavalier, is it--- (TUMULT OF VOICES ENTERING, SHOUTS, RUNNING)
MB: Just one more signature here--- and there----
RF: Is it in French?
SS (MICHELLE): Don't worry, you'll be fine. You're going to be just great. This way-----(TR RUSSIAN)
RF: Is it something I've sung before?
MB: And if you could sign right here. Thank you for your patience.
SS (MICHELLE): You go out there and let them love you, honey. Go out and be a star-- (WOOFING) shut up!
SS (MICHELLE): There you go---- break a leg----
RF: And I walk out onstage (FOOTSTEPS) as the curtain rises (SQUEAKING AND RUMBLING) and it's a long walk (FOOTSTEPS CONTINUE) with a huge dog on a leash (GROWLING) and --- there is no applause--- absolute silence (FOOTSTEPS) --- the audience sits there breathing in and out --- and it's about a hundred yards out to the middle of the stage where there's a tree trunk, a peasant's cottage, a sundial, and a guy in leather shorts holding a big silver hammer. (FOOTSTEPS STOP)
RF: What opera is this?
TR: I donno. I'm not a singer. Just an extra.
RF: You don't know which opera it is?
TR: Nope. Just hired for three hours. This act and the finale.
RF: You don't pull a sword out of a rock?
RF: Is there a poisoned goblet around?
TR: Haven't seen one.
RF: How about a chorus of Masons?
RF: Was there some sort of a name on the slip you got from the union?
TR: Just my name.
RF: Hold the dog, would you? (FOOTSTEPS) ---- Maestro?
TR (OFF, GERMAN, CURSING QUIETLY)
RF: Which opera, Maestro? Wo ist das libretto, mein schatz?
TR (OFF, HISSING IN GERMAN)
RF: And just below me in the pit are the woodwinds and there's music on their music stands and I lean forward to see what's written at the top and---- (CRY OF ALARM) I fall into the pit. (CRUNCH OF WOOD) Onto a violist. (FN WHIMPER OF PAIN) And that's when I wake up.
GK: Interesting. And it's always basically this dream?
GK: And in the dream you never find out what you're singing ----
RF: Sometimes I walk out on stage and the conductor says----
TR (OFF): Tiramisu------by Mascarpone!
RF: I never heard of it.
GK: So in the dream you never know which opera it is?
RF: Never. There's a horse in it sometimes (HORSE WHINNY) or a swordfight (SWORDS). And sometimes I jump off a parapet. (PLUMMETING SFX AND BOUNCE) And at the end I walk out for the curtain call (TAPE: APPLAUSE) and there's the tenor and the baritone and the mezzo ---
SS: I never heard anything like it.
FN: I never heard you sing like that before.
RF: Neither did I. What was it?
SS: Look! They loved it!
RF: And then the conductor comes out onstage--- (FOOT STOMPS)---
TR (NAZI): You were brilliant. Perfect intonation, phrasing, everything.
Perfection. And the violist whose arm you broke was one I've been trying
to fire for years. I owe you a debt of gratitude. And your German ----
ach---- it is to die for. Bravo. Bravo.
RF: And the orchestra is on its feet, clapping---- and an old bassoonist looks up at me and he cries out----
TR (JIMMY STEWART): That was some singing you did, sister. By golly, I been tooting this here bassoon for forty years now and ---- doggone it, now it feels like there's a purpose to it all.
RF: And up in the President's box, sits the President.
TR (OFF, GEORGE BUSH): You sure took care of them evil-doers, kid. Proud of you.
RF: And Queen Elizabeth comes out to give me a corsage---- (FOOTSTEPS, YIPS OF CORGIS)
TR (QUEEN): We wish you to have these flowers, and also these small irritating dogs, and this large ugly purse.
RF: And the entire defensive unit of the New York Giants comes out---- (HEAVY CLEATED FEET, MANLY GRUNTS, BIG CLACK OF SHOULDER PADS BEING SMACKED TOGETHER) ---- and they carry me on their shoulders to my dressing room, the one with the gold star on it---- (MURMUR OF VOICES, HANDCLAPPING, OOHS AND AHHS) ---- and I smile and I go in the dressing room (DOOR CLOSE) ---- except it's actually the door to the street (TRAFFIC) and I knock on the door (BANGS ON BIG METAL DOOR) and nobody opens and finally I have to catch a bus (AIR BRAKE RELEASE) ---- and the driver is Placido Domingo. (TR TENOR NOTE) And I don't have correct change.
SS (OLD BROAD): Here. Lemme help you, kid. (DINGS OF COINS IN COINBOX) (TR TENOR NOTE) There. I'm going down to the financial district. Tetrazzini's the name. Maria.
RF: Maria Tetrazzini? I saw you in Carmen when I was five years old. You were touring in Carmen. I got your autograph.
SS (OLD BROAD): Really.
RF: You were fabulous.
SS (OLD BROAD): Hey. One day you're fabulous and the next day you're scrubbing floors and doing walls and windows.
RF: What happened to you?
SS (OLD BROAD): What do you mean, what happened? I got old, kid. That's all. I got old. (REVERB) I got old. Got old. Got old.
GK: And then the dream ends?
RF: That's the end.
GK: And you have this every couple weeks. Interesting.
RF: What do you think it means?
GK: It means that your life has become too controlled, too predictable. You're rebelling against yourself in your dream and you're having a great adventure that you can't allow yourself in your waking life.
RF: Hogwash. (POOF) (CHICKEN)
TR: You---- you turned that man into a chicken.
RF: I did. And I can do it again.
TR: But why? --- (CHICKEN)
RF: There isn't always a Why. That's one thing we learn from opera. It goes into our subconscious lives and ----- (HOWL, OFF) shows us things we didn't know we knew. (SWAN HONKING, WINGS FLAPPING, APPROACH) Excuse me, I've got to catch a swan. (SWAN GOES FLAPPING AND HONKING PAST) Giddup! (SHE WHOOPS) (MUSIC)
GK: This has been---
TR: OPERA: THE INSIDE STORY.
GK: The secret life of Renee Fleming.
© Garrison Keillor 2002