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Cow Opera

DC: Musical agriculture. You've heard the reports. Every six months there's another study.

TODD: Researchers at the University of Mooravia have discovered that cows give more milk while listening to classical music, especially opera. In a test of 100 cows, more milk was produced while the animals listened to opera than when they were exposed to rock, pop, country, or oldies. The scientists have no explanation for the effect, which seems to work with goats, bison and mink as well. Puccini and Mozart were the most effective composers, followed closely by Bizet, Verdi and Offenbach.

DC: The newscasters consider these reports "kickers," funny items to go at the end of the news so they can yuk it up while the credits roll. But for others, it's not so humorous.

TK w/bass: Moooooooooooo.

DC: For some, there are issues behind these stories. Loss of privacy, for instance! Violation of one's dignity! Imagine, if some unseen power subjected you to music you didn't choose, and then measured you to see if your productivity changed.

TK w/bass: Mooooooooouuuuzak.

DC: No self respecting creature enjoys being treated like a piece of equipment, to be tweaked with a little music here in order to change what comes out there. But sometimes people ... and even lowly farm animals, rise above the systems created to measure and manipulate them. One such farm animal was Bluebell.

TK w/bass: Mooooooooooo.

(music: bass continues into Puccini: Che Gelida Manina)

DC: Bluebell belonged to Farmer Benson, a man of agriculture who believed in music research. His animals listened to Puccini, Mozart, Verdi, Beethoven, Bizet ... they got the full treatment. Sunup to sundown. Old Benson would stack them up in the cd player 8 deep while doing the morning milking, and then he'd go off to plow. The herd would chew it's way through Aida, then La Boheme.

TK: Mooooooooo.

DC: Boheme was a favorite. When Rodolpho and Mimi crawl around on the floor, searching for a lost key ... and he touches her hand and exclaims how cold it is .... the herd would sigh.

GROUP: Moooooooo.

DC: Because they knew the feeling. If you've never been milked on a January morning ... you've never really felt cold hands. But more than that ... they knew the feeling of wandering around in the dark, bumping into things, being very alone, and silently wishing that someone would DO something ... just to show that they care.

(music - out)

When Farmer Benson wanted milk production WAY up, he'd put on La Boheme.

(sfx: milking) (live)

If the current prices were very high, he'd hit repeat. If the prices were low, he'd give them Smashing Pumpkins and the soundtrack to "Clueless."

(sfx: milking slows)

Oldies slowed the milking. Country music ... THERE was a way to cut into production. If the prices went very low and Farmer Benson wanted output at a virtual standstill, he'd turn on the radio and make them listen to All Things Considered.

(sfx: milking air)

For the herd, it was awful. They were Up, they were Down, Up, Down. But for Bluebell, it was especially tough.

TK w/bass: moooooooo.

DC: The youngest in the herd, Bluebell had grown up on opera. She loved Puccini. Adored Mozart. And as she matured ... she began to envision herself ... not as just another ordinary cow ... but as a glamorous star of Opera Bova ....

(music: Musetta's Waltz)

She could picture it all ... the lights, the costumes and props ... the orchestra arrayed in front and down below. Imagine that! A group of people in a pit, following her! And out on the other side of the lights .... the audience, HER audience, her peers, standing with rapt attention .... all facing the same direction ...HER direction! Listening ... digesting ... regurgitating and digesting some more ... really chewing over the material ... pondering it. This became such an attractive fantasy for Bluebell ... she'd spend the day meditating on it, and as Farmer Benson's opera recordings echoed through the barn ... Bluebell would hum along.

(sfx: cow hums along w/ Musetta's waltz)

An unbelievable thing for a cow to do ... if you don't expect much from them. But for Bluebell it was as natural as facing into the wind.

(music: Musetta's waltz ends)

One extremely cold wintery morning, New York's Metropolitan Opera Company was on tour ... tearing through central Wisconsin in their fully appointed luxury motor coach.

TK: (voc - bus pass by)

It used to be the Met toured in the summer but things change. The summer had become too busy. It's tough to compete with Crazy Daze and the Watermelon Pit Festival being held in every wide spot on the two lane, even if you're the greatest opera company in the world. The audience they'd had for the summer tours had gone on to something else, and if you're gonna do a show for people you have to put it on when they have time to come. So it was January, and the Metropolitan Opera was playing high school gyms. They'd played Sun Prairie, Waupun, and Portage and were on their way to the next stop when a blizzard struck ....

TK: (voc - bus breaks down in blizzard)

(sfx: wind) (RDAT)

DC: .... and the bus broke down. Which explains why the once great tenor turned director, conductor and arts administrator Giuseppe Rotondo appeared at Farmer Benson's door that frigid, windswept Sunday morning, with a huddled mass of opera greats shivering in his considerable shadow.

ROTONDO: Hey, you gotta phone for the tow truck? We gotta problem here with the bus. She's broke. We gonna do Bizet in Baraboo, eh? Whaddaya say, buddy? Can you help? Eh?

DC: Farmer Benson was a worldly man ... thanks to his public radio membership he'd received an education in the arts that went beyond the usual for someone in his line of work. He recognized the Metropolitan Opera troupe at once, and while some of his neighbors might have thought them a group of exotic terrorists, Farmer Benson knew better and immediately invited them in.

(sfx: crowd up) (all crowd effects - live)

While the magnificent Rotondo used the phone in the kitchen to call for a tow truck, Farmer Benson made a pot of coffee for his guests. His chronic public radio membership contributions paid off in another important way ... he had a different ceramic mug for each member of the group.

SINGER 1: (off mic) Eh! Morning Edition ... dat's a nice mug!

(sfx: crowd, approving hubub)

Everyone was enjoying the hospitality in the warm glow of the farmer's hearth when Maestro Rotondo emerged from the kitchen with distressing news.


(sfx: frightened crowd)

DC: Which was horrible news indeed. Not only did the Metropolitan Opera Troupe hate to miss a show .. they were thoroughbreds. If they didn't sing every day ... it hurt them.

ROTONDO: What are we gonna do? We got no show. We got no bus. We got no place to sleep.

(sfx: frightened crowd slowly down)

DC: All eyes turned to Farmer Benson.

BENSON: I've got plenty of room to put you up in the corn crib. And we could have a show tonight, if you want ... in the barn!

(sfx: suddenly happy crowd)

DC: And so they went to work, putting up sheets, stacking the hay bales and sweeping out the stalls ... making gels for the 60 watt bulb that hung from a frayed wire in the center of the barn ... hand lettering signs ... stitching burlap sacks together for a curtain ... getting ready to put on a show!

ROTONDO: This ... it's like the old days at the Met, eh?

DC: But as show time drew near, the cheerful mood that had made the afternoon so pleasant ... vanished.

(sfx: suddenly happy crowd down)

The company became suddenly sullen. They sat in their stalls and stared at the little tufts of hay that had collected in the corners. They were dispirited ... discouraged. Farmer Benson was concerned ... he had seen this before.

BENSON: Maestro, I don't know how to tell you this ... I think your singers have got ringworm.

DC: But it wasn't ringworm. It was something bigger ... something that was missing.

ROTONDO: Mr. Farmer Benson, she's a nice big barn but there's no audience. We gotta have somebody to sing FOR, eh?

(sfx: animal's lounge, fade up) (RDAT)

DC: And so the farm animals were all brought in from various pens and outbuildings to be an audience for the Metropolitan opera. Some of the beasts feigned headaches and broken legs. That's a risky choice for a farm animal, especially horses, but some of them felt that risking death was better than having to sit through another aria. For Bluebell though, it was a dream come true.

TK w/bass: Moooooooooo.

DC: The show was Carmen, her favorite ... with the legendary Minerva Spoleto in the title role.

TK w/bass: Moooooooooo.

DC: Just then, Farmer Benson stepped out from behind the burlap curtain.

(sfx: animals lounge fade w/ shhhhh!)

BENSON: Thank you and welcome to tonight's performance of Bizet's Carmen. Unfortunately, the role of Carmen will NOT be played by the immortal Minerva Spoleto .....

(sfx: animals lounge fade up and down)

.... as she was injured this afternoon during rehearsals in an unfortunate incident involving sitting and a pitchfork. She's resting comfortably, but is unable to perform in her lower register. Appearing as a replacement in the role of Carmen tonight ... is Henny Penny. Thank you very much.

(sfx: animals lounge fade up and hold)

DC: Henny Penny as Carmen! Bluebell was shocked. Scandalized! Henny Penny didn't have the depth to play Carmen. She didn't have the range. Carmen needs allure. Mystery. Style. Henny Penny .... spent all her time hanging out with Chicken Little!

Had she any voice training? Did she even practice? I don't think so! Bluebell's first night out at the opera .. her ONLY night, was about to change from a triumph .... to a TRAVESTY!

TK w/bass: Mooooooooooooo.

(sfx: animals lounge out)

DC: The lights went down, the curtain went up and there was Henny Penny with a ridiculous Gypsy's scarf tied around her tiny feathered head. Where Carmen should be smooth and seductive, Henny Penny was herky jerky and ... frankly, annoying. Bluebell could hardly conceal her disgust. Her tail swished as if trying to brush off a fly that would NEVER go away. She suffered through the overture, through the song of the Cigarette factory girls ... it was torture. Henny Penny! In moments it was time for the famous Habanera.

(music: bass line)

TK: (chicken clucking in time to music)

DC: Bluebell stood up. Enough! She marched out into the center of the barn and sat down in the middle of performance ...


DC: .... right on TOP of Henny Penny!

(music: bass line stop!)

(sfx: animals lounge up and hold)

It's fair to say that no Metropolitan Opera production had ever been halted in quite this way. The cast was stunned. Henny Penny's little beak was visible just under Bluebell's right flank ....

TK: SQUWAWK! (compressed lips) The sky is falling! SQUWAWK!

DC: The sky had more than fallen ... it had come down with purpose. Nothing could persuade Bluebell to move.

TK w/bass: Mooooooooo. (gradually turns into Habanera)

DC: Until .... something magical happened. Was it the glare of the light ... or the rhythm of the music ... or the memory of all those mornings ... each of those endless afternoons, feeding to the sound of Verdi, Puccini, Beethoven, Mozart and Bizet? Whatever it was, Bluebell stood up! To Henny Penny's great relief!


DC: But Henny Penny could not go on singing Bizet. She was flat. No matter. Bluebell's hips began to move. Her udder swayed to the Habanera ... She was not just a cow ... she became, as every Carmen must ... a gypsy! She could go where she wanted, love whom she pleased ... break their hearts and leave them crying with a flutter of her big brown eyelashes! The crew from the Met ... they had seen a hundred Carmens ... but they had never seen a true Holstein in the role, and they were mesmerized.

Bluebell was thrilling as she hummed her way through Act one. Enchanting as she danced through Act two, and, with a rose clenched between her bovine molars, positively beguiling in Act three. She knew the role, she knew moves, and by the time the soon-to-be-legendary "barnyard Carmen" was over, Bluebell knew she had made opera history.

Farmer Benson was pleased about the production and excited about BLUEBELL'S output.

Forget what they say about PLAYING opera for the cows.

Let them SING it and watch the product flow. Bluebell filled half a tanker truck on the emotional momentum of her performance.

And the people who drank that milk ... may have noticed that it had a more intense taste ... a little wild, a little spicy. Unpredictable. Loyal, steadfast, and yet not quite wholesome. Like a Gypsy. Holstein. Creama Donna.

(music: up to end)

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