Lo, what hours of entertainment would have been lost if Andrea Mackris had simply allowed her boss, Bill O'Reilly, to rub her down with a falafel. And it is not only O'Reilly's wife, Maureen E. McPhilmy, who can be grateful that this act did not ultimately transpire. We all have gained by the 33-year-old woman's alleged resistance to O'Reilly's alleged vibrator play. Because these are more than merely the trysts that might have been. They are the trysts that might have been that were captured by Mackris on tape, according to the sexual-harassment lawsuit she filed against O'Reilly in 2004, which was full of juicy tape transcriptions. "On October 13, 2004," the Smoking Gun website reported, "the greatest lawsuit ever was filed." The world lit up with its blazing glory:
"Yeah, we'd check into the room, and we would order up some room service and, uh, and you'd definitely get two wines into you as quickly as I could get into you I would get 'em into you... maybe intravenously, get those glasses of wine into you..."
Sheer delight issued forth from passages like these. "Save the tapes! Save the tapes! Save the tapes!" MSNBC host Keith Olbermann cried in a blog post, offering to personally pay off Mackris's $99,000 in credit-card debt and student loans, just so she wouldn't settle with O'Reilly in such a way that would consign the tapes to secrecy forever. In response, even though Olbermann hadn't asked for any donations, he immediately got $25,000 in pledges. Days later, Mackris settled anyway, for an undisclosed sum of money. The tapes were never heard.
Until now. Olbermann should come to Seattle this weekend, because a new oratorio, or vocal-and-orchestral work, called Mackris v. O'Reilly, will premiere at Meany Hall. (Olbermann knows this is happening; he has interviewed the Seattle composer, Igor Keller, for his TV show.) It is true that nothing could be as good—and as permanently-leg-crossingly bad—as hearing phrases such as "spectacular boobs" pass over the conservative lips of O'Reilly himself. But it should provide some consolatory amusement to hear them sung in a neo-baroque form written in the general style of Bach's St. Matthew Passion.
"The most difficult words to set to music are 'sexually' and 'approximately,'" Keller says. "Singers want to overpronounce everything. I'm trying to get the singers to err on the side of American pronunciation, so it's not, 'vi-bra-torr,' it's 'vi-bra-ter.'" This is crucial. "O'Reilly has a whole song about vibrators. That's his love song."
Keller wears a scarf thrown across his neck and a Stetson. He comes across as an eccentric, but eccentrics usually aren't so self-deprecating—it's a funny, funny combo. He tells his background this way: "I had a completely undistinguished academic career. I started studying composition at the University of Washington without distinction. I was the principal percussionist. But that was because nobody really wanted it. I ended up majoring in Russian."
After that, he floated around, replacing his name, Rick, with his nickname from Russian class, Igor. He floated his way over to Ukraine, where he led tours and witnessed a wailing funeral parade that would eventually become the basis for a dirge in Mackris v. O'Reilly. He floated into jazz freelance work, having taken up the saxophone at age 31. Most recently, he floated his way right out of a job answering phones for an advertising company. After the premiere of Mackris v. O'Reilly, he says, "I fully expect I'll be temping." Even if it's a minor success, "Either way, I'm losing all my money. I'm going straight for the gutter." He says this with pluck.
For the production, he hired a chamber orchestra (for which he invented a fake name and history dating back to the early days of Belltown), a chorus, and three soloists—a narrator (Ross Hauck), O'Reilly (Charles Robert Stephens), and Mackris (Signe Mortensen). Hauck sounds a little nervous about singing the legal/Penthouse-ese. "The text is not poetic," he says. "I think every aria I have starts with 'On or about,' and then a date."
Madrigals employ Christmas-carol and doo-wop language, such as "It became apparent the defendant was tra-la-la-la-la masturbating as he spoke." Keller is explicit that his intent is not to moralize, but to entertain. Mackris v. O'Reilly is a "full-on parody" resulting from the clash of the trashy "found object" of the text and "classical music's built-in self-seriousness," as he wrote in an essay on Artdish. Put that way, it actually sounds like it could work.