'Say It Ain't So, Joe!' — Palin And Biden Face Off Again, Opera-Style

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(Courtesy of Karen Snyder Photography)
Aliana de la Guardia, as former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, in the Guerilla Opera Company's "Say It Ain't So, Joe!" (Courtesy of Karen Snyder Photography)

Boston's Guerilla Opera Company is performing an edgy new work that takes "political theater" to new highs — and lows.

Remember the debates between vice-presidential hopefuls Sarah Palin and Joe Biden? Well, an opera writer has turned their words into a tragi-comedy called "Say It Ain't So, Joe!"

The inspiration behind the opera, though, wasn't political, according to librettist and composer Curtis Hughes. For him it was musical.

"I think maybe the first utterance that generated musical thoughts in my head was a moment when Joe Biden got into a little bit of a loop," Hughes remembered.

For comparison sake, here's the real Joe Biden in the vice-presidential debates last year:

The issue is: How different is John McCain's policy gonna be than George Bush's? I haven't heard anything yet. I haven't heard how his policy's gonna be different on Iran than George Bush's. I haven't heard how his policy's gonna be different with Israel than George Bush's. I haven't heard how his policy in Afghanistan is going to be different than George Bush's. I haven't heard how his policy in Pakistan is going to be different than George Bush's. It may be. But so far, it is the same as George Bush's, and you know where that policy has taken us.

And now, what Hughes did with Biden's words for his opera, sung by Brian Church during a recent rehearsal:

"Literally what you are hearing, delivered by the singers, is the pitch material of the debate itself," Hughes said. About 90 percent of the libretto's words were lifted directly from the public record.

On the other side of the aisle, here's Sarah Palin in the 2008 debate with Gwen Ifill mediating:

John McCain — in referring to the fundamental of our economy being strong — he was talking to, and he was talking about the American work force. And the American workforce is the greatest in this land. That's positive, that's encouragement, and that's what John McCain meant. Now what I've done, as governor and as mayor, is truly had a track record of reform, and I've joined this team that is a team of mavericks with John McCain.

And then Jennifer Ashe, as the Sarah Palin character in "Say It Ain't So, Joe!," is singing those very same words:

Hughes said he subtitled the opera "A light tragedy," because, he said, "it could be a tragedy of Sarah Palin."

"I'd say both Biden and Palin are the heroes of their own stories inside their own heads so you could take a heroic view from either perspective," Hughes said. In which case, he added, "it's a heroic quest that in one case is a success and in one case is a failure."

In the opera, the soprano Sarah Palin even has her own aria, titled, "I Am the Future of the Republican Party."

The soprano playing Sarah Palin is also joined on stage by singers playing the parts of Hillary Clinton, Diane Sawyer, Gwen Ifill and Joe the Plumber.

The Guerilla Opera Company's production of "Say It Ain't So, Joe!" is running at the Zack Box Theater at the Boston Conservatory through Sunday, Sept. 27.

This program aired on September 25, 2009.

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Andrea Shea Correspondent, Arts & Culture
Andrea Shea is a correspondent for WBUR's arts & culture reporter.



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