The Gonzales Cantata


What is the Gonzales Cantata?
The Gonzales Cantata is a neo-baroque cantata based on the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The libretto is taken directly from transcripts of the hearings and Mr. Gonzales’ resignation speech. The genders of the soloists have been reversed in relation to the characters they portray – sopranos sing Gonzales, Sen. Arlen Specter and Sen. Patrick Leahy, Orrin Hatch is sung by an alto, and Dianne Feinstein is a tenor.

What is a cantata?
A cantata is a small oratorio, or an opera in concert form – think Handel’s Messiah, but shorter. The Gonzales Cantata is scored for a choir with soloists, string orchestra and harpsichord. The sound of the cantata is something between PDQ Bach and Phil Kline.

Why reverse genders?
When composer Melissa Dunphy began researching the hearings, she was shocked to discover that only one person on the 19-member Senate Judiciary Committee was a woman. Being an ardent feminist, she decided to highlight this imbalance by setting the Gonzales Cantata for a mostly female choir and reversing the genders of the soloists. For the Fringe Festival performance, the multicultural cast of 30 has been gleaned from area universities, so the words of these mostly older white men will be heard by the audience from the mouths of beautiful young women of many colors – the most under-represented demographic in American politics.

How political is this show? Will I hate it if I’m a Republican?
The Gonzales Cantata, while containing political content, is not a partisan work, and does not contain any bias towards one political party or another. Rather, this is a humanist examination of a man who made terrible mistakes and must pay the price. Through the music and drama of the piece, the audience feels both disappointment in and empathy for Gonzales as the anti-hero of the piece. Conservatives who have watched earlier performances of the work have been surprised at the poignancy of Gonzales’ solo arias in the cantata.

Where is it being held?
The Gonzales Cantata will be performed in the Sanctuary at the Rotunda at the University of Pennsylvania. This under-used cavernous and beautifully atmospheric space resembles a cross between a church and a capitol building.

Who is the composer?
Melissa Dunphy is better known to Philadelphia audiences as a Shakespearean ingénue; in 2008, she played Juliet for the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theater, and this year she tackled Ophelia for the Lantern Theater and Lady Macbeth for the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre. However, she’s also an emerging Philadelphia composer, who will begin her Ph.D. in musical composition at the University of Pennsylvania this fall after graduating summa cum laude from West Chester University. Her song for baritone, “Black Thunder,” was premiered by Network for New Music at the Kimmel Center in 2008, and she has written incidental music for the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, Harrisburg Shakespeare Festival, and Gamut Theatre.

Why does the website look so … ugly?
The website for the Gonzales Cantata ( is modeled HTML tag for HTML tag on the news aggregation website The Drudge Report ( which broke the Monica Lewinsky scandal.