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 diverse young women – 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 can I see it?
The Gonzales Cantata was first performed publicly in the Sanctuary at the Rotunda at the University of Pennsylvania in 2009, and you can see a video of that performance on YouTube. Since then it has been performed by:
  • Bard College in New York
  • American Opera Theater in Baltimore
  • The National Opera Association conference in San Antonio, Texas
  • The REACH Museum in Washington state by the Mid-Columbia Mastersingers
  • Mercy Corps Action Center in Portland, Oregon, by Big Mouth Society

  • Upcoming performance: Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois in December, 2018.

    Who is the composer?
    Melissa Dunphy is a mixed-race composer and performer based in Philadelphia, though she is originally from Australia. She has a Ph.D. in music composition from the University of Pennsylvania, has been composer-in-residence for several choirs and orchestras, and is the director of music composition for the Eugene O'Neill National Puppetry Conference in Connecticut. You can read more about her on her website.

    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.