Lost Ancestors

Film composers crib classical works all the time. Forex, I sat up with a jolt, decades ago, at the premiere of The Empire Strikes Back when I realized I was hearing a parlayed version of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto behind the action in the Cloud City of Bespin. But last night, just letting the classical station run in an access of blessed relief at the end of the annual onslaught of Christmas dreck — who wants to hear the same string trio version of “Jingle Bells” six times a day? — something hit me between the eyes.

Just the first few bars. Go on, listen. Same key, even.

I’ve been a Trekkie all my life. And not only is Mahler on my Top Ten composer list, that one is my favorite of his symphonies; it’s even “our song” of poignant memory, the one whose A-theme gave my late and ex husband an opening to speak to me for the first time (“Are you whistling Mahler’s First, or the Songs of a Wayfarer?” Trick question; the answer is “yes,” because he recycled the melody).

How did I miss this?


Klingon Opera (II)

Well, opera with Klingons, anyway. Not just any opera, but Mozart with Klingons. How the hell did I miss this the first time?

Yes, that’s the whole production — a little over two hours of kick-ass singers performing Mozart’s music with English dialogue, Trek-inflected, adapted from the original libretto.

“You find where in the opera you can make ‘live long and prosper’ fit and then you find a place for ‘boldly go where no man has gone before,’” says [Pacific Opera Project artistic director] Shaw, “and you just fill in the in-between with a bunch of rhyming words.”

I’m still trying to make out some of the rhyming words, but you almost don’t have to, when your tenor has finessed the hammy body language of William Shatner and the heroine’s servant is an actual green Orion slave girl. “Captain” Belmonte’s sidekick Pedrillo has pointed ears, a nice touch especially in the drinking scene (we’ll get to that).

Abduction is not as often performed as Don Giovanni, Cosi fan Tutte or Magic Flute, but festooned with the elements Mozart loved to play with: an exotic culture, twinned pairs of lovers, moral ambivalence. Reportedly he had a hand in the libretto, which whiffs of a Masonic  ecumenism: the young women are captured by a lustful Turk, the go-to villain of the period, along with Belmonte’s servant, and somehow they all have to conspire at escape. Slapstick and suspense ensues, and at the end — just as failure and death seem inescapable (think: “Scotty! I need engines now!” “I canna gae any faster, Captain!”) — all is forgiven, all is reprieved – in this case because the big bad Klingon Turk has decided that a show of mercy becomes him more than the exercise of vengeance, turning the tropes of the times on their head. The Masonry of the period was earnest in its assertion that all men are brothers, human, Vulcan and Klingon alike. I mean…

If you aren’t up for two hours of Singspiel right at the moment — I admit I am still skipping around in it — may I recommend 40:00 – 44:00, the drinking bout at 1:14:00 – 1:20:00, or if you have a little more time, 1:45:00 till it’s over or you need to pee or something.



The Locutus

Faithful readers will remember my birthday drink, the Picard.

So there we were, the Engineer and I, after a day of alternating cabin fever and snow hoickery, having another Picard — we eke them out parsimoniously — when he surprised me by pouring himself a second (an ounce of creme bergamot, an ounce of Armagnac) and then unstoppering a bottle of Absinthe that has been in the cupboard since 2010 at least, when he broached it to accompany his traditional New Year’s Eve snack of pickled herring. About which the less said the better.

“The Green Fairy, right?” he said as he handed me the snifter. “So the Borg are all about the green lights? Float a spoonful of this on the Picard and it’s the Locutus.”

Apologies if you’re not a Star Trek geek. But find the ingredients for this anyway. Dear Goddess. Resistance is futile.


U And Me

Not you. “U,” the Klingon opera I just found out about. I need three lifetimes; otherwise my head is going to explode.

Ever since the Engineer moved in — well, practically — we have been binge-watching the modern Star Trek series in slow motion. By which I mean I can only stand to spend a certain amount of time sitting in a day, so to the extent I am chilling in front of the laptop and the Netflix stream at all, it’s been the Patrick Stewart Next Generation series, then Deep Space Nine alternating with Voyager (because the Engineer is a stickler for protocol and wants to run the shows in roughly the sequence they aired, overlapping seasons). NO SPOILERS IN COMMENTS, PLEASE: We’re only half way through these last two.

But far enough for me to grapple with the concept of Klingon opera.

How can I not love Klingons? They bash each other for fun, have romantic encounters that require subsequent visits to the chiropractor, drink like German naval officers on shore leave, and sing heroic sagas of battle, death and glory. In fact they stage them.

Well. Hm. Probably someone could do better than that.

Someone had a go at it.

The libretto there was produced by Mark Okrand, the linguist who created the Klingon language that has now become a worldwide Esperanto for geeks. That’s one lifetime I’ll need; Klingon, a guttural, aspirate speech with emphases so pronounced that, as one manual says, “If the person you’re talking to doesn’t get spit on you’re doing it wrong,” feels like just the language I want to speak when I’ve just hucked up a brutal power set or have just about had it with the idiots of the world.

(Mark Okrand talks about it here, if you have twenty minutes or so worth of interest in the matter.)

The music is shouty, but it’s not a bad effort — it beats hell out of the shit I hear coming from the car speakers of dimbulb drivers next to me at lights. Whom I will now imagine myself pulling through their driver’s windows and hurling over the roofs of their own cars, declaiming in Klingon.

“Actually,” I said to the Engineer, “this whole Deep Space Nine story arc is the stuff of opera.” If it wouldn’t have to be a collection that would dwarf the Ring Cycle. We’ve got a man who’s been adopted by a whole culture as a demigod, resulting in power conspiracies between the culture’s religious, good for some plotters’ duets of the first water; we’ve got a grudge match between that culture and another one represented by a Magnificent Bastard who could give Scarpia and Iago a run for it (that’s Gul Dukat if you know the show), who’s repudiated his own half-breed daughter (“Stay and be damned!” he cries to her as he turns on his heel, after she chooses to remain with a lover who is his arch-enemy)… my god, could Verdi ask a librettist for more? We’ve got a bunch of sawed-off Ferengi running around to give the trouser mezzos and boy sopranos a workout, the unrequited love of a bowl of Jello for a beautiful princess Amazonian resistance fighter… okay, Jello is not operatic, but the plot thread is. I can already half-hear a lullaby to be sung in a light tenor to Major Kira’s sleeping ears. But I don’t know who’s equal to the dark duet that could be made of this clip — sentiment by the bucketful, a bass and a light baritone I think, sort of the vocal color of the duet in the first act of Dutchman, but a more natural, dialogue-driven setting — think Puccini.

Is my imagination running away with me? What the fuck. I’m going to let it. The Terok Nor cycle, premiering in the opera house on Q’onos, special opening night festival for all allies. No synthohol.

The Vulcan Ass Pinch

For possibly the first time in fifty years, for some reason, I thought of Lieutenant Fleury. The Engineer and I have been binge watching the later Star Trek series — which I never saw at all, at all, so no spoilers please — and I suppose that revived my memory of the Lieutenant, who was a character in fan fiction written long before anyone had ever used the term “fan fiction.” My onetime best friend and I used to work on these pieces during twelve-year-old sleepovers, mine tending towards the mysterious mythical aliens that Roddenberry peppered all over the Galaxy, hers running to time paradoxes. Lieutenant Fleury was a member of the bridge crew, a spirited French woman about five feet tall with a tendency to merry outbursts of battle-joy (the kinds of hits to the shields that tossed the crew around, she found exhilarating) and a flummoxing, flirtatious attitude when she was not spelling Mister Sulu at the helm. It had not escaped me that the only woman on the canonical bridge was Uhura and despite the huge departure that we now realize that was — in Whoopi Goldberg’s words, “Mommy, there’s a black lady on TV and she’s not a maid!” — it chapped my butt that she was still, basically, a glorified secretary (“Ms. Uhura, open a comm channel”). Something had to be done. Well, I have lost all those old things and the literary style would probably mortify me anyway.

She may have come back to me, now when we have already gotten through the whole Patrick Stewart series and embarked on the two following, because of an episode involving the use of the equally-almost-forgotten Vulcan nerve pinch.

“Isn’t it curious,” I said over late-evening brandies, “that the nerve pinch seems to work on every humanoid species in the Galaxy, but only Vulcans are able to perform it? Maybe it’s supposed to be some combination of the physical contact and Vulcan mind control. Like you have to be touching for the mind meld. The only thing that’s there anyway is the median nerve, right where it runs through the muscle belly of the upper trapezius. It hurts like hell to pinch it when the muscle’s tight, with the nerve right underneath, maybe that’s why they picked that spot, but I’ve never had a client pass out on the table.”

Actually in this shot he seems to be going for he anterior scalenes; hm

Actually in this shot he seems to be going for he anterior scalenes; hm

The Engineer mulled that over, and we kicked around the idea that somehow some telepathic mojo was supposed to travel back up the major nerve trunk to the spinal cord or medulla and drop the victim in his tracks. There could, just possibly, be a way of affecting the vertebral basilar artery, which conducts enough blood to the brain that occluding it can knock someone out, but it’s truly on the back of the neck. I pumped for the nerve.

“It’s probably the optimum place to contact a multiplex spinal nerve root, at least in a hurry,” I said. “I mean the sciatic also originates from four separate vertebral junctions, if you really want the biggest nerve in the body, and you can definitely make someone yell with it, but it’s deep to the middle of the butt cheek. Broadcast Standards in the 60s wouldn’t have let them go there anyway.”

sciatic nerve

“The Vulcan Ass Pinch!” cried the Engineer, and took a swallow of brandy.

Lieutenant Fleury would probably have gone for it. If Vulcans share knowledge of such things.

Klingons for Jesus

I am simply awestruck. In one spare website, a sci-fi gamer geek has — vividly and unforgettably — made the points I have been trying to make about institutional Christianity for a quarter century, and left me whooping and sunfishing on the floor in the process (eat your liver, Mel Gibson.)

The guy even works in the Albigensians. Ye-ha.