The Gonzales Cantata

By Peter Crain, West Chester University student, blogger, and WCUR announcer.

"Something is rotten in the state of Denmark." Most people will automatically associate this phrase with one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, Hamlet. While it will probably remain this way for most people, it will slowly also gain association with the forty minute Gonzales Cantata, composed by Melissa Dunphy. The cantata is inspired by the senate hearings that followed the dismissal of U.S. Attorneys under the oversight of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

The beginning of the cantata picks up the story after the fallout in the initial controversy with AG Gonzales being investigated by the senate for perjury. The most unique feature of this work is the fact that the vocalists’ genders are reversed from their real-life counterparts, providing an intriguing twist on what could have been an easily thunderous and bass driven work based on the roles of the senators and officials portrayed. Instead the reversal leads to a lighter-hearted, sometimes ethereal feel to an otherwise gloomy subject in our nation’s most recent history. The part of AG Gonzales is essentially set aside for the beginning of the cantata as the senator soloists make their case and start their crusade. Musically this section has a dark and ominous feel as the accusations build and the storm builds. The breaking point comes as Gonzales is finally forced to speak out and speak his/her piece in a climactic (and high-pitched) sustain that perked up the ears of anyone in the hall. Leading to Gonzales’ resignation, a pall is spread over the performers as he/she does more explaining and justification. Finally, as the story goes, the captain must go down with his ship, Gonzales resigns.

The overall tone of the Gonzales Cantata at first is that of a hunt in which everyone can band together. In the end however, the work actually makes one feel some sympathy for Gonzales as it feels like he was a pawn in something bigger than the Department of Justice handling its attorneys. This cantata is not about conspiracies and judgment however more than it is about putting a human aspect to what at times is a very distanced topic for the American public. Dunphy has masterfully managed to convey this notion to the audience. Sometimes the view through the eyes of an artist on politics is more informed and educated than that of even the most well versed political scientist. The Gonzales Cantata definitely proves this statement throughout.