La Commedia e’ Finita!: Two One-Act Batman Operas
Updated: Dec 18, 2022
CW: Description violence (operatic/Batman-level), blood transfusion
Across the years, as someone in the circle of the excellent Chloe Mashiter, I have heard occasional mention of this concept: Batman The Opera. I believe this Tweet is the first mention of it, but may be wrong:
Among Chloe's gifts are ideas that stick entirely in the brain, and therefore once I heard it, I was also haunted by this idea.
In honour of Chloe's ongoing commitment to exquisite online advent calendars, and the fact that this has been sitting in my finish-at-some-point folder since I did a similar thing for Monstrous Regiment, please find two draft synopses for a possible Batman: The Opera.
Version 1: La Commedia e’ Finita! (Grand Opera)
Prologue: Arkham Asylum
Joker (tenor) steps before the curtain to speak directly to the audience (Aria: It’s Absurd). He urges the audience to remember that, for all that the characters are not real, it wouldn’t matter even if they were. Batman has been paying him weekly visits, and he promises entertaining revenge.
Act 1: Before Gotham Opera House
A syndicate of patrons have sponsored a lavish production of Pagliacci at the Gotham Opera House; it is opening night. The assembled citizens celebrate Batman for foiling a succession of strange crimes (Chorus: Have You Heard?). Above, Batman (baritone) broods (Aria: How Little They Know.). A set of strange coincidences link the crimes, yet he cannot see the masterplan. Equally, he longs to hang up the cowl and support Cath, the neglected child of inattentive parents, to have a normal life, rather than luring her to the tragedies that befell the children he dragged into his world.
He swiftly changes and enters the street below as Bruce Wayne, just as Cath (mezzo-soprano), arrives to join Wayne in the Grand Box (Duet: I’ve Never Seen Anything Like It/Beware What Hides Behind A Glittering Mask). She is excited, while Wayne cautions her about the Gothamite elite around them. She proudly reassures him that, after volunteering at Arkham's inmate rehabilitation programme, she has learnt not to trust people - while speaking admiringly of Batman’s weekly visits to try and redeem Joker. She tells various tales of Joker’s recovery, from wearing everyday clothing to using a real fork “without stabbing anyone/not even for a bit of fun.”
The audience swarm past Wayne and Cath to gawp at the latest arrival. As a reward for good behaviour, Joker been allowed to attend the evening’s performance under heavy guard. He praises Batman for his change of manner (Aria: That’s The Work Of That Wonderful Bat). In an aside, he reveals that he is behind the syndicate of patrons of the production, assuring them all of extensive profits and no risk. He intends to use the event to reveal the wicked anarchy at civilisation’s heart.
Excited, the assembled company drink a toast to the opening night, and enter the opera house (Ensemble: A Magnificent Evening In Store).
Act 2: Within Gotham Opera House
As Wayne and Cath take their places, he dismisses her notion that Batman will save the city, since he is only a person (Duet: What That Man Can Do For Us). Privately, Wayne fears he can do no more to help the city, though Cath seeks to reassure him about whatever is troubling him. Meanwhile, Joker quietly takes his seat.
As the performance starts, the audience begin to cough (Ensemble: Coughing Chorus). Joker reveals that he poisoned the champagne. All who drank it will become bestial, though he promises a single dose of antidote to the last one standing. The audience begin to panic. Wayne endeavours to get Cath to safety, but after an audience member draws a gun, they are separated in the stampede and growing brawl. Instead, Joker seizes Cath (Duet: Weren’t We Friends?/The Truth Is, They’ll Eat Each Other). She tries to persuade him to stop, and he mocks her.
In a private corner of the auditorium, Wayne rapidly changes into his Batman costume (Aria: The Eternal Struggle). Even as the poison begins to take hold, he incapacitates the audience member with a gun, and releases a gas that causes many of the rioters to fall unconscious. However, he hears Joker’s laughter above, and blood pours onto the stage.
As Batman climbs upwards, a vast machine is lowered from the flies (Aria: If I Am A Vampire, Should Bats Not Obey?). Joker is bleeding heavily, being sustained by a machine binding him to Cath. She told him her blood type at Arkham, and became the final part of his plan. There is no way to save one without killing the other. Despite Cath’s urging to do the right thing, and be the hero she imagines, Batman removes her from the machine and plugs himself in. He and Joker fight while tied together (Trio: Save Him, Not Me/I Don’t Need You To Save Me!/This Is What We Are).
Batman beats Joker, and the Gotham police arrive to restrain the unconscious patrons. Batman sends the antidote to be mass-produced. As Cath recognises her mentor, Joker laughs, for she has seen the beast beneath the mask (Trio: A Monster At The Heart Of The Man). She tells Wayne to leave her alone, and leaves.
Batman returns to the rooftop, and Joker is taken away (Duet: In The End, There Is Only Him). Joker laughs, and the opera ends.
Alternative Cut: A Gross Mistranslation of Pagliacci
If anyone actually wants this and will fund it/offer free labour, I will do it. The music's public domain, after all...
During the overture, Jason Todd/Robin (in full costume) addresses the audience (“Really? Really?”). He reminds the audience that, even if it were real, none of it would matter.
Bruce Wayne/Batman enters a glittering party, promising a fine gala later that evening to raise funds for Arkham Asylum’s rehabilitation programmes, with even the legendary Batman attending. As his guest of honour, Dr. Harleen Quinzel, arrives, his ward, Jason Todd, makes a skeptical remark about her employment at Arkham Asylum, causing Wayne to chastise him. As the socialites suggest another event, they suggest that Todd is becoming a hoodlum. Wayne tries to brush off the affair, but makes it clear that he expects his ward to uphold his high standards. He takes his leave of Quinzel and leaves with his friends.
Alone, Quinzel reveals that she is, in fact, sympathetic towards the Joker. Todd returns, and tries to get her to talk. Quinzel drives him off. Joker emerges, and together with Quinzel discusses a plan to bring Batman down at the gala. She is uncertain, believing Batman to have some virtues. Todd goes to fetch Wayne, but Joker flees before Wayne arrives. However, he does hear Quinzel say goodbye. She refuses to reveal who she was speaking to, despite Wayne’s threats.
Wayne and Todd make a plan to catch the Joker at the gala, Todd urging greater violence than Wayne is comfortable with. Disappointed by himself, his ward, and his beloved, Wayne dons his costume and prepares for his nightly struggle.
Joker and Quinzel plot against the gathered society elite at the gala. Batman and Quinzel give stilted speeches as Alfred, Wayne’s butler, tries to intervene to keep the event going. Todd, however, tries to goad Batman, using a short speech to remind him that Quinzel will betray them.
Batman and Quinzel publicly argue, causing Batman to accuse Quinzel of being a fraud duped by her patients. Quinzel stridently declares her commitment to Joker’s love of anarchic freedom, and refuses to betray him. As Alfred desperately tries to intervene, Todd threatens him with a knife. As Batman and Quinzel begin to fight, she taking the guise of Harley Quinn in the face of Batman's revealed nature, Joker reveals himself to mock Batman for being tricked into revealing the tactics he uses against ‘lowlifes’, and gestures to Todd threatening Alfred with a knife. As Harley Quinn falls unconscious, Batman is goaded into fighting Joker, and kills him. The horrified guests hear Batman whisper “This is the end of the Batman!” as the lights dim.