Ludwig van Beethoven completed the score for his 12th opera in the fall of 1987, at the height of his involvement in the war between East and West coast wrappers (particularly that between the Lofthaus Crew and the Swizzles Matlow Solid). This connection is clearly evident in the music which contains direct references to the melodies of some the most talented troubadours from both sides of the struggle; it is also an important element to the development of the narrative. The essence of the plot is derived from the traditional Native American mummers play Ali Baba and the 40 ombudsmen which this is placed in the contemporary setting of post-war Stalingrad. Whereas the majority of the seven acts are preponderated with the account of the ombudsmen’s ballot vote to find a new union representative, there are two subsidiary storylines which run parallel to the main narrative, in separate venues. One describes the security guard Bobo’s great effort to be recognised by the associated board and task team of industrial representatives (or ABATTOIR), whilst the other is an intimate portrayal of his sister Fidelio’s struggle to complete her company’s tax returns for the second quarter.
The opera places great demands upon the production due to its substantial scale and inconsiderate forces; a duduk ensemble, a sackpfeife octet, an orchestra of euphoniums and seventy timpani tuned to the East-Moravian scale (the most depressive of scales).
Each seat in the stalls is to be equipped with a desk lamp which is to be turned on and off according to a schedule given to the spectators as they enter the performance venue (the Composer stipulates preference for a disused gravy-granule factory). The intent is to reflect the energy crisis of 1978 when each household was given an allowance of only one Joule, which translates as three hours lighting, per day. As a result, most of the audience and stage is in complete darkness for three fifths of the performance (it also turns out that all of the schedules are in fact identical).
A brief outline of the first act follows. In order to make the changes easier, each following act is exactly the same length and is set against the same backdrop, on a separate stage. Due to the substantial duration of the complete work, the acts have been known to be performed simultaneously. This does mean that each character as well as the orchestra and choruses need to be heptuplicated.
Act 1, Scene 1 (Break Room) Duet: Two mid-level workers are discussing whether their lunch break is included under the 5 minutes they are allowed to take off every hour or whether they are entitled to another 5 minutes off.
Act 1, Scene 2 (Committee Room) Chorus: There is an argument about the load of paperwork which has been amassed by the abdicating Representative; it mostly evolves around the viable alternative methods for filing it properly, there is a general consensus that they should proceed with a chronological system, as laid down at the Murmansk Regional Council’s Semiannual Budget Meeting (Spring 1983).
Act 1, Scene 3 (Ali Baba’s Flat) Duet: Ali Baba arrives home to Find his sister Fidelia (who is not introduced by name until the final act) with her head in her tax returns. A beautifully solemn arioso depicts her brittle struggle with the L327B section for the Second Quarter as it does not take into account the legal benefit status of employees who have children which were conceived abroad but born within the confines of the country.
Act 1, Scene 4 (Security Office) Aria: The head security guard outlines Bobo and the two other security guard’s duties for the evening.
There are some truly memorable arias in the opera; Fidelio’s pleading plight to the 2nd level officer at the revenue’s office, Bist du Bei Mir (not to be confused with The Right Reverend Puff Daddy’s anthem of the same moniker) in act five and Vous ne Peut Jamais Acheter mes Pantalons, Achmed the stall clerk’s brooding tribute to the battle against the capitalist oppressors of the free polyester and nylon-trade, in act six. These do not, however, underline the true importance of the work. The music is quite conventional in structure and aesthetic; it is the plot which makes this one of the most consequential operas of the 20th century. The practice of employing a predominantly bureaucratic narrative is something which lent the genre an element of excitement and controversy which it had been sorely missing in the period leading up to the final sixth of a century which had seen opera house after opera house have to close its doors to the general public.