Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Little Culture

Here's another blast from the past from a "Rich Text" column published in the September, 1997, Micro Publishing News. Yeah, it's a little dated, technologically, and so derived from a Woody Allen New Yorker piece.
A Little Culture (Very Little, Actually)

As opera and ballet companies mourn the continuing decline in patronage, it is probably not surprising that they have turned to digital technology to try to appeal to a broader class of people. I therefore present this short summary of a few of the new ballets and operas soon to hit the stage.

In this ballet, utterly ghastly, upbeat music plays as the curtain rises on a stage designed like a large computer motherboard. The male dancers—labelled as “0”s—and the female dancers—labelled as “1”s—cavort and gambol on the large circuit board. Suddenly, ominous music plays. The oboes play wildly out of control as a large floppy disk descends. A figure dressed in black emerges from within the floppy and leaps upon the motherboard. After a series of jet├ęs that cause several of the more fainthearted in the audience to wince in pain, the dark figure—the Virus—begins chasing the other dancers, erasing their 1s and 0s, and making sarcastic comments. Mournful music plays as the de-labelled dancers loll mournfully upon the stage. The curtain falls.

Act II opens with the same vision of moroseness. The brass section perks up and as triumphant march music plays, a figure in white—the Anti-Virus Program—enters stage right and battles with the Virus. Blood is shed, insults are hurled, and finally the Virus is dead. The other dancers are relabelled and life continues, happy in the promise of everlasting protection from the dark forces of the world.

Based on Norse mythology, this 36-hour opera tells the story of Ostragulard, a Viking warrior endowed by Odin with magical powers, which he unfortunately uses only for card tricks. Begged by the people of his village to use his powers for something far less irritating—like, say, eradicating their crushing poverty, vanquishing encroaching invaders, or making better hats—he ignores their pleas and focuses his energy on sawing a lady in half.

One evening, Ostragulard is bewitched by a beautiful enchantress named Brangularaglump. They dance tenderly together and she whispers softly in his ear, “You’re a yutz.” Realizing the error of his ways, Ostragulard uses his powers to install the first digital press in Scandinavia. There is a moderate amount of rejoicing—the people were rather looking forward to the hats—but prosperity does in fact come to the village. However, after a spell is cast on Ostragulard by an evil witch, he is eaten by his own beard.

This Russian opera, written originally for children (albeit disturbed ones), tells the story of Vladimir (not surprisingly), a carnival barker who surreptitiously spends his evenings programming computers. If his father—a Luddite who owns the carnival—ever finds out about his son’s shameful pastime, Vladimir would be toast.

One evening, Vladimir is visited by a fairy godfather, who prances about and sprinkles pixie toner on Vladimir’s Pentium Pro-based Windows machine. The computer comes to life and—in one of the strangest moments ever committed to the legitimate stage—belts out an aria, the likes of which have not been heard since Caruso. Essentially, the computer wants to run and jump and play, just like a real live litle boy, which would no doubt cause some degree of difficulty during cub-scout jamborees. Vladimir’s father walks in at that moment and, in a moment of rage, hurls an immense turnip through the monitor. Vladimir is distraught and, in the heartfelt aria “Files Do Live,” Vladimir mourns the death of his “sibling.”

After a brief intermission, during which the audience are far too dumbstruck to even move from their seats, Vladimir has his computer repaired, much to his father’s disapproval. It finally dawns on Vladimir that he is nearly 40 and probably shouldn’t care what his father thinks. He and the computer emigrate to the United States, where they start a very successful lounge act in Vegas.

In this ballet, the curtain rises on an idyllic stage. Pastoral music plays as a female dancer—the font—enters. She conveys through dance, “Garamond Bold Italic, set 12/14,” which is no easy feat, let me tell you. After the excruciatingly lovely “Dance of the Serifs,” the curtain falls. The curtain rises again, then falls. It again rises halfway, then falls again. The audience is horribly confused, and business at the bar increases tenfold. Finally, the curtain rises again, and Act II begins. The font prances about for quite a bit longer until a large RIP appears on the stage. The font dances lasciviously about it, and the music gives us hope of successful output. Unfortunately, in the thrilling climax, the font is output as Courier, which dances clumsily around the stage, and finally falls into the orchestra pit. The curtain drops, and there is much talk of ticket refunds.

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