Opera lovers have been having a rough time lately, and it's all the fault of certain headlines and stories in the Washington Post week after week. It isn't enough that somebody has been advertising real estate with a line in big print about PORGY AND BASS yet. But they've been printing things about Thais and Erda and Chenier! What's an honest opera freak to do?
It really hits the opera lover where he lives when he sees a headline about Thais. I mean, to any opera nut, "Thais" is one of his favorite operas by Massenet, the one that Mary Garden said made the tired businessman glad he went to the opera instead of the burlesque. But on April 8, The Post carried a headline that said right there in black and white, "Thais to Allow Prostitution."
Now anyone who knows anything at all about opera or even about Anatole France, knows that Thais was the No. 1 call girl in Alexandria. If she had not been, there wouldn't have been any opera because that monk. Athanael, Who was having all those bad dreams about Thais and how he had to save her soul would never have gotten into trouble. So what's the big news that Thais decided to open a string of houses instead of keeping all the business to herself? Any opera fan could have told The Post that the story did not deserve such a big headline.
Then there was that story a few weeks ago about the Energy and Research and Development Agency. Halfway through the story there's this sentence, "ERDA is not set up to deal with small people." But of course, she never was. After all, she's the one who Anna Russell says told Wotan "Be careful, Wotan, be careful" and then bore him eight girls, and him top god. Obviously ERDA never did bother with small people. You'd think editors would know things like that.
The sports sections are no better either. On March 7, they made a big deal about Andres Chenier, one of the best tenors in all Italian opera. Only they had him in a headline that said, "Bullets Top Suns on 33 by Chenier." Of course it might be some excuse for their not knowing about him since the Metropolitan Opera did not broadcast that opera named for Andrea Chenier until March 26. But wouldn't you think that anybody would know that this very big, romantic guy who can clobber a rich gal just by singing her one single song, so that she decides she loves him so much that she will go to the guillotine with him, that a guy like that could make 18-foot jumpshots with one hand tied behind his back.
It didn't look very smart on March 16 either when there was a front page headline saying "Wide Power Advocated for Indians." All anybody had to do was to check with IAGO, the Indian Affairs Governing Officers, to get the inside story. Of course every opera lover could also tell anyone who asked that Iago is one of the world's most famous symbols of the cunning man who plays on the mounting jealousy of old enemies.
Speaking of Indian problems, I expect any day now to read about Alda. You can imagine, can't you, something like "Leader Threatens in Reduce Cities to Ashes and Destroy Communications." And there will be AIDA, the American Indian Development Agency, ready to seek new solutions to old problems. After all, who in all opera ever had more trouble than Aida when it came to border warfare?
One agency that really has me worried is HAGEN -- the Health and Geriatric Education News. When you read "HAGEN Makes Drastic Proposal to Prevent Aging," look out. If you remember your Ring Cycle, you don't have to be reminded that it was Hagen who, after spending more time than necessary on the genetic disadvantages of impure blood, demonstrated how effectively a spear properly burled in any young man's back would prevent his reaching old age.
Another agency that always seems likely to surface is BORIS. This one would have been popular back in the Joe McCarthy days. BORIS is, as you can easily see, the Board Of Regents for Internal Security. The headlines that come out of its committee meetings (always secret) invariably read "Spies Seen Under Every Bed." No one would deny that Boris had his problems, what with nightmares and hallucinations. But he certainly takes the cake, whether in council with his sneaky adviser, Shuisky, or all by himself, for seeing ghosts, enemies and other evil beasties.
It may be just coincidence, but wouldn't you think it strange if the very first time the Metropolitan Opera got around to performing "Lulu" by Alban Berg, headlines about LULU began to appear more and more frequently? While no one would ever claim that Lulu was in the same class as Thais, she does, during the course of the opera, deteriorate in what we could call her personal relationships until in the last act, she is reduced to streetwalking in London where she makes what proves to be a fatal mistake. She picks up and takes back to her room Jack the Ripper. It is, natch, her last pickup. However, before that unhappy incident, a headline from her organization, an acrostic on her name, appeared in The London Times: "LULU -- the League of United Labor Unions -- Protests Working Conditions Worse instead of better." I ask you: What's a plain, ordinary opera lover to do these days?