VERA OF LAS VEGAS
A Nightmare Cabaret Opera in One Act
Music by Daron Hagen
Libretto by Paul Muldoon
"One might say the 'subject' of the 'dramatic torso' that Paul and I ginned up was the relationship between appearance and reality. What kept Paul on track, he says, during the creation of Taco and Dumdum (both IRA volunteers), was 'the realization that the nightmarish nature of the piece [was] grounded in, true to, Taco and Dumdum's nightmarish experiences in Northern Ireland, where appearance and reality are extremely difficult to establish, where an expert on the tragedies of Euripides may turn out to be a trigger-puller.' As for me, I wrote music for four deeply alienated individuals suffering from denial and an inability to connect emotionally with one another. Their truths are buried in pasts to which they return in increasingly spasmodic, acid-trip-like flashbacks... it's a slow-motion spiritual meltdown. These people are desperately unhappy, entertaining themselves in order not to have to face the fact that they feel dead inside." — Daron Hagen, from a 2011 interview.
Taco is in an interrogation center, somewhere near Northern Ireland. He is slumped back on a chair, hands cuffed. Trench and Trilby take turns slapping his face, as if to bring him round. We hear the judder of his blood as the slapping continues. This judder cross-fades into the sound of a landing airplane as Taco slips into unconsciousness. We hear the susurrus of a handful of Women. The Las Vegas Airport is revealed. Flight Attendants swank by. Taco and Dumdum shuffle on, pushing a cart piled high with luggage. They are between planes. Doll, undercover as a stewardess, enters. Doll calls Taco on a courtesy phone, and tells him that he and his friend have won a free day in Las Vegas. Taco and Dumdum decide to stay. Doll tells them to meet Vera, "your Girl Friday, or more," at the Forum Shops. Flight Attendants sing "The Suckers' Lament."
The Forum Shops. Taco and Dumdum meet Vera. Doll reappears and sings about her past. Two shady characters named Trench and Trilby, clad in trench coats and trilbys flit about in the shadows. The quartet decides to go to a casino called the Hippolyta.
The Hippolyta. The Dealers sing about their customers as they work. Vera wins big at the slots. Doll and Vera sing a duet during which we learn that Trench and Trilby, who are still lurking about, have been sent by one of Vera's assignations, a corrupt judge who she is suing for aggravated assault, to set her up for a crime she didn't commit. The quartet tries to lose Trench and Trilby by slipping away to a stripper bar called the Delphine.
The Delphine, a bar off the strip, where strippers sing of their lot as Doll and Dumdum settle in to have a drink. Taco and Vera disappear into the shadows. Taco re-emerges, clearly rattled: he's discovered that Vera is a transvestite. "You wouldn't have missed it," replies Dumdum, "if you'd seen The Crying Game." Vera and Doll reveal that they know that Taco and Dumdum are IRA volunteers hiding out in the US without green cards. Vera announces that she knows a way to solve all their problems: She'll tear her business card, which reads "Vera Loman, LAPDANCER" so that it reads, "Vera Loman, LAPD," and run Trench and Trilby off by presenting it to them. Then, she explains, if they all get married, Taco and Dumdum will get their green cards. They set off for a drive-through wedding chapel.
A drive-through wedding chapel. Trench and Trilby lurk. A canned chorus sings something vaguely hymn-like. Vera sings a heart-wrenching aria about her past before presenting Trench and Trilby with the business card. They flee. Taco, at the last moment, backs out of marrying Vera. The lights change. Taco staggers backwards into a chair. He slumps. The others depart. He confesses to a grisly murder. Vera wails into the night, "Where's my Taco Bell?" from offstage as Taco's head lolls to the side.
Cassandra Black (Doll) and the Catchalls do a television appearance to promote Opera Vista's 2011 Houston production.
Jonathan Peter Kenny (Vera) and the Catchalls from the 2004 European premiere and tour by Opera Theater (Ireland).
HOW CAN I CAST THE ROLE OF VERA?
Vera is, above all, a changeling. Her personal story has been movingly portrayed by, among others, Charles Maxwell (African-American male soprano), Shequida (Jamaican-born American drag artist Gary Hall), Jonathan Peter Kenny (Caucasian counter-tenor and Liverpudlian), Eduardo Lopez de Casas (Latino-American counter-tenor from Texas), and Brian Asawa (Japanese-American counter-tenor).
Catchalls from the Center for Contemporary Opera Staged Premeire at the Thalia Theater (© Mel Rosenthal).
Catchalls in the 2013 West Edge Opera production. (© Jaime Buschbaum)
Vera (Shequida) in the 2003 Center for Contemporary Opera's New York staged premiere. (© Mel Rosenthal)
European Premiere Tour
Opera Theater (Ireland)
26 June 2003
Thalia Theater at Symphony Space, New York City
The Center for Contemporary Opera / Robert Frankenberry
8 March 1996
Ham Concert Hall, Las Vegas, Nevada
UNLV Opera Theater / Donna Hagen
For more cast information, click here.
58 minutes, with no intermission
Taco Bell (tenor)
Dumdum Devine (baritone)
Doll Common (soprano)
Mona Morales (soprano)
Vera Allemagne (Male soprano or countertenor)
Catchalls (5-12 female voices)
Trench and Trilby (mute)
Brian Asawa (Vera) and Heidi Moss (Doll) in the 2012 West Edge Opera (California) production. (© Jamie Buschbaum)
"Full Vegas" version (16 players)
Reed I: Oboe, English Horn in F*
Reed II: Clarinet in Bb, Soprano Sax, Bass Clarinet*
Reed III: Clarinet in Bb, Alto Sax, Bass Clarinet*
Reed IV: Bassoon
Trumpet in C
Keyboard I: Piano, Tambourine
Keyboard II: Synthesizer
Keyboard III: Synthesizer
Guitar (=Electric, Acoustic, Lead)
Contrabass (=Electric Bass)
"Kleine Vera" version (10 players)
2 Clarinets in Bb (II-Bass Clarinet in Bb)
2 Trumpets in Bb
"Thalia" version (4 players)
Clarinet in Bb (=flute / alto sax)
Contrabass (=Electric Bass)
Drum Kit (=Marimba / vibraphone)
UNLV Opera Theater / Donna Hagen (CRI/New World 902) Click here
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official website, where you can view a slideshow and hundreds of photos.
OPERA AMERICA PAGE
Click here for more information in Opera America's North American Works Directory.
Click here to read reviews of various productions.