'I'm asking for help, and all you give me is papers'

'I'm asking for help, and all you give me is papers'

FormsGian Carlo Menotti’s first opera, The Consul, seems out-of-date now that communist Russia and its satellites have crumbled. This story of a poor wife trying to get a visa to join her dissident husband in a free land just doesn’t resonate much nowadays.

The gray Soviet-style waiting room where its heroine, Magda, goes to fill out “endless paperwork which is never quite correct” just doesn’t resonate with anyone’s experience of government today, right?

Uh, wait a sec…maybe it does.

As reports surface that the IRS targeted conservative groups, particularly those with “Tea Party” or “Patriot” or any other small government name in their applications, requiring more and more onerous paperwork from them, The Consul’s dramatic scene, where a desperately frustrated Magda tries to get in to see the Consul but is asked to fill out more papers, has a curious resonance. At one point, she throws papers in the air, crying/singing:

“I’m asking for help and all you give me is papers….
Papers papers papers….”

Of course, Magda’s character was in a life-or-death situation. But conservatives consider issues of good government as serious and filled with gravitas as, well, passionate liberal ideologues do. We’re all Magdas in our desperation to get past the roadblocks of bad bureaucrats, aren’t we?

Anyway, for opera aficionados, I offer the following: A clip of Patricia Neway singing Magda’s aria starting at the “papers, papers” moment here. And the full aria, “To this we’ve come,” below. Be warned—it’s opera. That means it’s operatically dramatic.

And, although it’s hard to find the lyrics online, here is a condensed version:

To this we’ve come,
That men withhold the world from men
No ship, no shore for him who drowns at sea,
No home nor grave for him who dies on land.
To this we’ve come,
That man be born a stranger upon god’s Earth
That he be chosen without a chance for choice;
That he be hunted without the hope of refuge.
To this we’ve come. To this we’ve come.
And you, you too shall weep
If to men not to god we now must pray
Tell me secretary tell me, who are these men?
If to them not to god we now must pray
Tell me, secretary, tell me:
Who are these dark archangels?
Will they be conquered?
Will they be doomed?
Is there one, anyone behind those doors
To whom the heart can still be explained
Is there one anyone who still may care?

Oh, the day will come I know
When our heart’s a flame
Will burn your paper chains
Warn the consul, secretary, warn him
That day neither ink nor seal
Shall cage our souls
That day will come.
That day will come.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist. Her latest novel, After the War, about the impact of World War II on a diverse cast of characters, is available for Kindle now and will be in print soon.

Libby Sternberg

Libby Sternberg

Libby Sternberg is an Edgar-nominated novelist whose works include humorous women’s fiction, young adult fiction, and historical fiction. Her political writings have appeared at Hot Air, the Weekly Standard, Insight, the Wall Street Journal, and Christian Science Monitor.


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