Return to the list of articles

The Gonzales Cantata - Interview of Melissa Dunphy

Broad Street Review's Jim Rutter interviews Melissa Dunphy, composer of The Gonzales Cantata

Jim Rutter of Broad Street Review

Jim: You make Alberto Gonzales such a sympathetic character.

Melissa: I am a liberal, but this is not a partisan piece. This piece is not about Democrats or liberals, this piece is about a man who made mistakes and has to face the consequences of his mistakes.

Jim: Hi, I'm Jim Rutter for the Broad Street Review. I'm here with Melissa Dunphy, the composer of the upcoming Gonzales Cantata. It's part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Melissa, how did you get started on this project?

Melissa: In 2007, I heard a report on the hearings, the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Alberto Gonzales. The report I heard included an audio grab of Arlen Specter grilling Alberto Gonzales on the stand. It was so dramatic, and I thought, as a composer, what's the first thing that comes into my mind? It's drama, I have to turn it into music, I have to turn it into a musical drama show. I thought it's perfect for a cantata which is basically a concert opera.

Jim: Out of all the possible scandals during the Bush administration, why choose the senate hearings of Alberto Gonzales?

Melissa: This is a crime, and it's not the most sensational crime, but it works for me as a crime that has a lot of ramifications. This is the only consequence that he faced, and yet the things that he did when he was the attorney general, you know, the torture memos and the wiretaps, all of these things are real crimes that affect real people. And yes, this is a very mannered way of exposing those crimes.

Jim: You make Alberto Gonzales such a sympathetic character.

Melissa: I'm glad you think so, I'm really glad you think so, because that was one of the things I felt, listening to Specter grilling Gonzales. As a liberal, I was like, "Well, good, good, he deserves that, he really does deserve that." As a human being, I sat there listening to it, thinking, wow, I have a lot of pathos for this guy. I feel the awkwardness, the feeling of dread inside him that must be going on when he faced hours and hours — I mean, it's like being sent to the principal's office when you're a kid and trying to weasel out of something, but you're just taking the brunt of all these people. And they may be correct in condemning you, but I really felt for the guy, up there.

Jim: What would you want people to take away from your Cantata after they heard it?

Melissa: I know a lot of people think, oh it's politics, boring, and they don't really think about it. Most people I talk to know very well what happened with Alberto Gonzales. So I want people to sort of realize that politics is about humanity, and about morals, and I want people to see that people can have faults, but not demonize people. I think we do too much of that in this country. We say, well, your side is wrong, and therefore you're somehow less than human, and you deserve to be ridiculed or treated in a way that I wouldn't treat a stranger on the street, and that's not necessarily fair. We need to understand why people have the views that they have and do the things that they do, and we can disagree with them, and we can call them to account, but we don't need to treat them as though they're somethng other than ourselves, because we're all human.

Jim: If Alberto Gonzales heard this, what would you want him to take away from it?

Melissa: I'm afraid that he wouldn't feel humanized by it, but I really do want him to — I want him to see that, you know, he speaks sometimes with a sort of pathetic eloquence, you know? It's interesting, it's really interesting. And you can see him trying desperately to maintain dignity, to save his own skin. I would hope that he could see that other people do see him as a human, that he's not a victim; I think that in a lot of his interviews he tries to come across as this victim of the events, but he wasn't a victim, he was a player in it. OK, he made a mistake, but if he could find it in himself to hold himself responsible publicly for what happened, then maybe we could get over it a little bit, you know what I mean?

Return to the top of the page