May 7, 2012

Det. Lennie Briscoe visits opera crime scenes

I'm a Law & Order junkie, and so are you.  Oh, don't bother denying it.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, you watch the Discovery channel and Masterpiece Theater and Charlie Rose and all that worthwhile crap, but when it's late at night and insomnia lurks, you're like me: you wind down with a 15-year-old rerun of good old Law & Order.  McCoy and Adam Schiff in the D.A.'s office, (they never really found a good replacement for Schiff) and, I always hope, Detective Lennie Briscoe ferreting out clues and grilling suspects.

There were a total of eleven detectives during the 20-year run of the series, but the king of them all was Jerry Orbach's portrayal of the world-weary, wise-cracking, none-too-gracefully-aging recovered alcoholic Briscoe.

Any fan of the show who's viewed those episodes time and time again has probably memorized some of Briscoe's lines from a signature Law & Order moment: Lennie's bon mots of black humor at the crime scene, those pithy wisecracks uttered over the Corpse of the Week.  From hundreds of examples, here are a couple:

(Standing over a dead man in a tuxedo) "Conveniently dressed for his funeral".
(On learning that the murder victim was a lawyer) "Hmm. I'll be in mourning for the next five minutes."
(On realizing the investigation will require going out of the state) New Hampshire.  I spent a year there one weekend.

So what has all this to do with opera?  Think about it:  opera is an art form containing a disproportionate amount of murder and other violent crimes.  Hello, there's even one with the word "rape" in the title.  So let's have a little fun and imagine what kind of one-liners Det. Briscoe might have come up with if he'd been called to the scene of some operatic homocide.  Here we go with yet another franchise spin-off:


CRIME SCENE: Lammermoor castle, Scotland.  Nuptial bedchamber.  Arthur Bucklaw's bloody corpse is draped over the bed, with 17 stab wounds inflicted by his bride Lucy Ashton.  Det. Briscoe: "I don't think that's the kind of wedding-night 'penetration' he was hoping for..."

CRIME SCENE: The palace of Don Giovanni, near Seville, Spain.  Smoke is still coming out of a big gaping hole in the dining room floor.  The statue of the Commendatore is giving a statement to Det. Mike Logan.  Det. Briscoe: "Reminds me of you, Mike; I've heard that all the guests at your parties are stoned."

CRIME SCENE: Baron Scarpia's apartment at the Farnese Palace in downtown Rome, Italy.  Scarpia's body lies on the floor with candles on either side of his head.  Det. Briscoe:  "Candles - nice touch.  Who'd they think they were killing, Liberace?"

CRIME SCENE:  The banks of the Mincio River outside Mantua, Italy, near a rundown inn owned by local thug Sparafucile.  Near the water is a cloth sack with the bloody body of young Gilda, the daughter of the hunchback Rigoletto, who thought the sack contained the body of the Duke he paid to have killed.  Det. Briscoe: "I wonder if this hit came with a money-back guarantee?  I hope he kept the receipt."

(Blog interruption:  No, I did not make up the name of the Mincio River.  I looked up "rivers in Mantua" and learned that the city lies along the banks of the Mincio.  Ain't the Internet wonderful?)

CRIME SCENE: Somewhere near the town of Montalto in the Calabria region of Southern Italy.  On a makeshift theatrical stage, the bodies of Nedda and Silvio are seen while Canio is being cuffed and led away.  Det. Briscoe: "Comedians, huh? I guess they died laughing."

CRIME SCENE: Somewhere on the coast of Cyprus; the bedchamber of Desdemona in the castle of her husband Otello.  Desdemona's body is crumpled on the floor, with purple bruises around her neck.  Det. Briscoe: "Maybe she shouldn't have insisted on a pre-nup."

CRIME SCENE: A small town in Sicily, the day after Easter.  The body of Turiddu lies with a knife sticking out of his belly.  Det. Briscoe: "Mike Tyson could've told him - nothing good happens when you go around biting people on the ear."

CRIME SCENE: A rugged mountain pass somewhere in the land of the Walsungs.  The body of Siegmund is on one side, run through with a spear.  On the other side is the body of Hunding, dead with no signs of struggle or injury.  Det. Briscoe: "Well, this is a first - I never put out an A.P.B. for a god before.  Tell 'em to be on the lookout for a tall muscular guy with an eyepatch last seen on a flying horse."

CRIME SCENE: The parking lot of a bull-fighting arena in Seville, Spain.  The gypsy Carmen lies dead with a stab wound to the chest. Det. Briscoe: "I guess he really, really got tired of those castanets..."

CRIME SCENE: A slum neighborhood known as Catfish Row on the outskirts of Charleston, South Carolina.  The strangled corpse of a local tough named Crown lies under a sheet near the residence of the crippled beggar Porgy. Det. Briscoe: "Let's solve this fast and get the hell out of here.  I'd rather be home -- you know, Pastrami Row."

CRIME SCENE: The house of Signor Spalanzani.  With E.T.A. Hoffmann sobbing inconsolably, the broken shards of a giant wind-up doll named Olympia lay scattered on the ballroom floor.  Det. Briscoe: "They don't need a homocide detective, they need the security guard from F.A.O. Schwartz."

CRIME SCENE: The courtyard of King Herod's palace.  The body of Salome lies crushed beneath a pile of shields next to a severed head on a platter.  Det. Briscoe: "And I thought the Clinton White House was wild..."

My new book The Opera Zoo: Singers, Composers and Other Primates is now available from Kendall Hunt Publishing. Order online from or at or by phone from the Customer Service line at 1-800-344-9034 ext.3020.

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