An opera about Sarah Palin? You betcha!


By Keith Powers / Music

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sarah Palin isn’t vice president. And she probably won’t ever be president. Heck – she’s not even a governor anymore.

But the Alaskan pol has achieved one measure of fame – someone’s written an opera about her.

“Say It Ain’t So, Joe,” a presentation by Guerilla Opera, opens Saturday at Boston Conservatory’s Zack Box Theater. The work is composer Curtis Hughes’ musical take on America’s favorite moose-hunting winker, you betcha. It focuses on that contentious – and sometimes comical – debate from October 2008 between Palin and Joe Biden, though the show also includes cameos from Hillary Clinton, Gwen Ifill, Diane Sawyer and, of course, the right-wing’s favorite Everyman, Joe the Plumber.

“My primary interest was the music,” Hughes said. “I was struck by the contrast of the two styles – Biden’s and Palin’s – and the music in their voices. Of course I have strong political sentiments, but this is not about my sentiments.”

Hughes is well-known in Boston new music circles, having served in recent years as composer-in-residence of Collage New Music and Radius Ensemble. In January, Guerilla Opera, the resident company at Boston Conservatory, asked Hughes to pen an opera. “Say It Ain’t So, Joe” is the result.

“I didn’t have much time,” Hughes said by phone. “But some years ago I had sketched out ideas after the Kerry-Bush debates. I couldn’t get a handle on the contrasts between those two voices, and I ended up rejecting that project. But here, not only is there enormous subject matter in the debates, but the different styles are interesting.”

Hughes describes “Say It Ain’t So, Joe” as a light tragedy.

“It is a tragedy about Palin,” he said. “Both characters view themselves as saviors of America. And even though I’m not trying to hammer people on the head with a single interpretation, you know that Biden will triumph in the end. But the central figure certainly is Sarah Palin. I found myself having this odd pathos for her, a pathos I would not have felt if I were not writing music for her.”

But, Hughes adds, “This is not a propagandistic opera with an ax to grind. It’s political, but not in a way that wants to change people’s politics.”

“Say It Ain’t So, Joe,” by Guerilla Opera at Boston Conservatory’s Zack Box Theater, Saturday through Sept. 26, Tickets: $7-$12; 617-912-9122.

– keithpowers@earthlink.net

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