25 February 2011

Black Schwan

Darren Aronofsky set his Oscar™-nominated hit movie, Black Swan, in a ballet company. He had no choice. After all, nobody could create that kind of psychodrama in Opera World, where there’s never any perfectionism, relentless ambition, personal sacrifice, twisted family relationships, kinky sex, tyrannical impresarios, imperious prima donnas, or gorgeous music that’s inscrutable to most mainstream audiences. And heaven knows singers have no body issues whatever.

However, since Hollywood is incapable of original thought these days, it’s only a matter of time before somebody attempts a knockoff. In anticipation of that production, I’d like to offer a rough draft of the screenplay.

Scene 1:

The Apartment, morning. The MOTHER is helping the SINGER to dress.

SINGER: I had the dream again, Mama. I was singing in Lohengrin. Not the Wilson production. This time, I was wearing a helmet.
MOTHER: That’s nice, dear.
SINGER: With feathers.
MOTHER: You deserve the part, sweetheart. Nobody’s been in the young-artist program longer than you.

Scene 2:

The Rehearsal Room. TAMAS, the director of the opera company, is pacing among the YOUNG ARTISTS and CHORISTERS.

TAMAS: This season, we’re going to present Lohengrin. I know, it’s been done to death. But this time, we’re going to make it fresh, relevant, completely original. For example, in my production, Ortrud will wear this.
(He pulls out a gigantic lizard-head mask.)
CONDUCTOR: Uh, Tamas? It’s been done.
TAMAS: Would you believe a really big gerbil?

Scene 3:

The Dressing Room. Tight close-ups as the SINGER puts on an even tighter corset.

Scene 4:

The Rehearsal Room. The SINGER has just finished auditioning.

TAMAS: Not bad. Not bad. If I were casting only Elsa, the role would be yours.
(The SINGER’s eyes fill with tears.)
TAMAS: But I am not. The singer I need must be able to sing both Elsa and Ortrud. Simultaneously. Now — try it again.
SINGER: But I’m a tenor.
TAMAS: This is opera, not real life! Sing, I tell you! Sing as if your life depended on it! Sing!

(The SINGER begins, while the CONDUCTOR quietly pounds his head against a wall.)

Scene 5:

The Restroom. The SINGER throws up.

Scene 6:

The Rehearsal Room. The STANDBY enters while the SINGER practices “Euch lüften, die mein Klagen.”

STANDBY: Hi! I’m Dubista Lenz, dramatic soprano and the only spark of life in this entire movie. I just flew in from San Francisco, and boy, are my arms tired! (Takes a swig from a hip flask, lights a cigarette.) Know where I can get some girl-on-girl action around here?
SINGER: No. (He screams and runs out of the room.)
STANDBY: Well, excuuuuuuuuse me!

Scene 7:

A Corridor backstage. As the SINGER rushes past, we overhear the gossip of two CHORISTERS.

CHORISTER 1: Did you hear about Trina?
CHORISTER 2: So sad. She’s the one who should be singing Elsa.

Scene 8:

The Restroom. The SINGER throws up again.

The great Astrid Varnay as Ortrud

Scene 9:

The Wardrobe Room. The DRESSER is taking the SINGER’s measurements.

DRESSER: You’ve put on a little weight.

(Tight close-up of the SINGER’s horrified face.)

Scene 10:

The Biergarten, interior. The SINGER is eating his fourteenth Bratwurst.

Scene 11:

The Apartment. The SINGER is staring in the mirror, while the MOTHER (off-camera) knocks on the bedroom door.

MOTHER: Sweetheart, are you all right?
SINGER: Just leave me alone!

(He begins scratching his head. He watches his reflection in horror as his wig comes off.)

Scene 12:

The Donor Reception. In the palatial foyer, the SINGER is confronted by TRINA QUELLE-MORBIDE, the drunken prima donna.

PRIMA DONNA: Brava. Bra-va. Why don’t you just sing Sieglinde, too, while you’re at it?
SINGER: She’s not in this opera.
PRIMA DONNA: You think that matters to Tamas? How did you get this job, anyway? Did you sleep with him?
(For no apparent reason, SHE stabs herself in the throat with a knitting needle.)
PRIMA DONNA: Gosh, look at the time! I’d better be going.
(She staggers away, while the SINGER looks on in horror.)

Scene 13:

The Rehearsal Room. The STANDBY is singing “Einsam, in trüben Tage.” The SINGER enters and watches in horror. The others realize he’s there, and an awkward silence ensues. At last:

CONDUCTOR: It’s nothing to worry about. Dubista is your standby, that’s all.
(The SINGER wheels on TAMAS.)
SINGER: Not her! Not her!
(He runs out. TAMAS shrugs, and turns to another YOUNG ARTIST.)
TAMAS: Okay. Ernst-Joachim, you’re on.
YOUNG ARTIST: You got it, coach.
(He begins to sing “Einsam, in trüben Tage.”)

Scene 14:

The Apartment. The SINGER is scratching his entire body now.

MOTHER: I’m really worried about that rash of yours, sweetheart.
SINGER: Leave me allein!
MOTHER: Now, now. Don’t make me use Mister Straitjacket on you, young man!
(She reaches to him, then steps back in horror as his shirt buttons pop off, revealing the gleaming silver breastplate of a full suit of armor.)
SINGER: I said, leave me ALLEIN!

(He hits her with a Bratwurst, and she falls to the floor, dead in a pool of mustard. The SINGER resumes staring in the mirror and scratching himself. He is now completely bald.)

Scene 15:

The Stage of the Opera House, opening night. The SINGER portrays both Elsa and Ortrud, as planned — but suddenly strips off his costume. Underneath his sheath-like medieval gown, he is wearing his armor, and as he rips off his long blond wig, we see that wings have sprouted from his skull, as if his head itself were Lohengrin’s swan-helmet. To the bewilderment of the CONDUCTOR, he begins to sing “Mein lieber Schwan.”
In the audience, we see TAMAS. He is smiling in quiet satisfaction as he watches.

TAMAS: Perfect!



Leticia said...

I was read your post about Proust. (First of all, I am brasilian and my english is terrible.) I am reading Proust (in portuguese - I am not as brave as you - never even tried to do it in french). I realy enjoy what you said about him. Congratulations.

John Yohalem said...

You deserve a column, darling! No one's been in the Young Artist program longer than you! (Except me, the sinister, leering, druggy diva from New Yawk.)


Anonymous said...

I loved Black Swan; I saw it as an allegory of the artist's struggle for perfection, and except for the hallucinations, it's pretty much the story of my life.
I was amused to read critics who wrote, "this isn't a ballet movie, it's a horror movie." Um, no...it's a ballet movie, or an opera movie, or any kind of movie that involves performers.

Jonathan said...

hahahaha "Leave me allein!" If you had your own newspaper, The Onion would go out of business!