She does recall

Melissa Dunphy has captivated Philadelphia theater audiences portraying Shakespearean ingénues, but acting is actually just her sideline, she is primarily a contemporary classical composer.  She will be conducting her first chamber opera ’The Gonzales Cantata’ (as in former attorney-general Alberto Gonzales, late of the Bush administration) at the Fringe Festival this week.

The Gonzales hearings, which attempted to probe what was behind the firings of nine federal judges stands as one of the most troubling scandals of the Bush years. It may seem like an unlikely scenario for a choral work, but Dunphy, who passionate about politics found it musical, particularly Gonzales’s repeated refrain ‘I don‘t recall.”

“Listening to the hearings, I thought, this is an opera.” she said, in an interview at her home in North Philly last week.  Dunphy was also intrigued by the theatricality of the grilling of Gonzales by both democrats and republicans. Dunphy was born in Australia and has been here for six years and became a US citizen just in time to vote for Barack Obama. In fact, she completed her opera the day he took office, she said.

Although she calls her musical template for the Cantata as “neo-baroque…with several references which parody form,“ her musical range is infiltrated with lush classicism. She felt that the hearings were orchestrated and the judicial rituals of the hearings interlocked with the formalism of baroque modals. From there, she mixes things up.

All of the male leads- Gonzales, Orrin Hatch, Patrick Leahey, Arlen Specter- are sung by women. It shocked Dunphy that only one woman, Senator Diane Fienstein, was part of the Gonzales hearings, so this is an artistic protest to that. She also feels that theater is dominated by male parts and male creative voices.

As polemic Dunphy is about current politics, she does not espouse any political bent in the opera. In going over the transcripts, she was amazed that Gonzales was basically called a liar by Republicans and that Gonzales was hung out to dry, vindicated and vilified, even if he was less than forthcoming.

Speaking of political theater, Dunphy just finished playing Lady Macbeth and will be reprising the role at The Philadelphia Shakespeare Company in their current season.   She ignores the centuries old tradition referring to ‘the Scottish play.’   “I writing music for Macbeth.” she says straight out,   “Actors get mad at me for saying Macbeth. Well, I was Lady Macbeth.” 

She said that she ignore superstitions at her own peril.  Last spring she was Ophelia to Goeff Sobelle’s Hamlet and “At a rehearsal during Hamlet at the Lantern. Geoff  tripped and sprained his ankle and everybody looked at me.” she said with a laugh.