Ig Nobel Prizes: mini-opera 2001 -- The Wedding Complex

Libretto: "The Wedding Complex"

A mini-opera in 4 acts, about scientists planning a wedding

Words by Marc Abrahams

This opera had its premiere Thursday evening, October 4, at the 2001Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, at Harvard's Sanders Theatre. The performance, and the entire Ig Nobel ceremony, served as the introduction to an actual wedding.

[For photos, etc., see upcoming the Jan/Feb 2002 issue (the annual special Ig Nobel issue) of the Annals of Improbable Research]

The Original Cast

Opera Director : Margot Button
Head Scientist: Dierdre Allyson
Assistant Head Scientist: Jim Jordan
Scientists: Adrienne Shelton, Jane Tankersley
Mother of the Bride: Margot Button
Guest Scientists: Nobel Laureates Robert Wilson, Richard Roberts, William Lipscomb, Dudley Herschbach
Model Bride: Amanda Palmer
Pianist: Greg Neal
Narrator: Karen Hopkin


NARRATOR (spoken): Scientists are fascinated by that natural phenomenon we call "love." Every so often, two scientists will join in an experiment they call "marriage." Tonight's opera shows how the entire scientific community collaborates to formulate the wedding plans. In act one of our opera, an eminent scientist tells her colleagues that Complexity Theory (whatever that is) is the key to having a good wedding.

[MUSIC: "Queen of the Night," from "The Magic Flute," by Mozart]

[SINGER: A lab-coat-clad SCIENTIST lectures to her colleagues. She is describing how they will plan the wedding of two colleagues. Her ASSISTANTS act out the things she's describing, using a blackboard or flipchart and various props -- including a large butterfly-shaped ballot.]

The wedding plans are wonderf'ly specific --
Quite scientific!
They'll organize themselves,
It's just terrific!

A butterfly
Once flapped its wings somewhere in Argentina.
This caused a thunder storm in Pasadena.
In principle, we'll
Use the same technique.

It will be oh so easy!
It'll be so-o-o-o-o-o easy!
It'll be so-o-o-o-o-o easy!
So-o-o-...[TRILL]...-o-o-o easy!
The right butterfly -- that's the key.
Ha-a-a-a-ha-ha! Ha-a-a-a-ha-ha! Ha-a-a-[TRILL]-a-a-a-ha-ha!
We'll use a butterfly from Florida.

We'll get from Palm Beach County
A butterfly-shaped paper.
This butterfly will let you
Simplify what e'er you want.
Or elections!
I feel oh so con-fi-dahnt!

No more ru-u-u-u-u-u-u-u-u-u-unning around!
This way we will pull every string.
Minimal paper shuffling!
Won't have to plan a blessed thing,
Other than picking out a ring.
I am so happy! Hear me sing!
Oh, here me sing!
Administrative hassles!
No! No! Noooooooooo-------!
No more hassles, no waiting in lines!

ACT 2 -- "Mother Knows Best"

NARRATOR: In act two of our opera, the scientists receive some words of wisdom from an experienced and powerful research administrator. This particular administrator holds an official position that everyone respects and venerates: "Mother of the Bride."

[MUSIC: "La Luce Langue," Lady MacBeth's aria from "Macbeth," by Verdi]

[SINGER: The BRIDE'S MOTHER sings this joyfully and terrifyingly to all of the SCIENTISTS who are planning her daughter's wedding. All of the SCIENTISTS are huddled listening in fear to her tirade; they quake in unison at appropriate points.]

I'll tell you MY plans for MY girl's wedding day.
Kids -- you keep YOUR hands
Well out of MY way.

MY orchestration.
YOUR perspiration.
OUR celebration.
Oh, won't it be fun!

I told my daughter:
"This is MY wedding.
We'll do it MY way.
We'll do it MY way.
Some day in the future
You will have a daughter.
You'll understand then!
You'll understand then!"
That's what I told her.

MY explanation.
HER education.
YOUR co--op--er--a-tion.
OUR day of fun!

Soooooo! I have written a good hundred pages of detailed instructions.
Soooooo! All that you need to do is to carry out every last detail!
I have thought of everything that you'll have to do.
The date, the clothes, the food, the whole guest list... the whole shebang.
[SHE unfurls what is obviously an enormous guest list]
I've picked all the guests -- so they'll be in perfect balance.
Watch me effervesce!
And wait till you see my dress!
Oh joy! My wedding! See my plans coalesce!
My daughter will be so filled with happiness!
Oh, yes! Oh, yes!
I do confess that yes, I'm glad you all agreeeeeeeeeee... with me!

ACT 3: "Whom to Invite?"

NARRATOR: Scientifically speaking, perhaps the most difficult aspect of planning an experiment is deciding which materials to use. Yes, choosing the guest list for a wedding requires skill, patience, and attention to detail. And bravery. In act 3 of our opera, the Chief Scientist and his collaborators perform this difficult task.

[MUSIC: "Santa Lucia"]
[NOTE ABOUT NOTES: It the sheet music, the final third phrase of the chorus ends with two half notes. But we'll use instead a pair of quarter notes followed by a half note.]

[SINGERS: The verses can be divided up between any number of lab-coat-clad SCIENTISTS, one of whom is the CHIEF SCIENTIST. The CHIEF SCIENTIST does most of the singing, and acts as an emcee in handing off some of the verses to other singers, including several CELEBRITY SCIENTISTS. He cues each of the other singers by saying "Professor Lipscomb?", "Doctor Roberts?", or whatever the person's name is. The CELEBRITY SCIENTISTS can either speak or sing their parts, whichever is most comfortable and fun for them.]

[The BRIDE'S MOTHER is on stage the whole time, but off to the side talking on a telephone -- she is obviously bossing someone around. He attention is fully engaged by the phone call -- she does not hear any of the words THE SCIENTISTS are singing.]
[NOTE: The original version contained some additional verses at the end, referring to a visual gag that runs throughout the show, but which we will maddeningly not explain here on this web version of the libretto.]

[VERSE A --------------------------------]

We'll invite scientists,
Doctors and ju-u-rists,
But no creationists --
We must be purists.

Let us pick every guest
Most circumspectly.
Which algorithm's best
To choose correctly?


Let's be math'matical,
Let's be fanatical,
And a wee bit diplomatical --
All these in theory.

We'll have the perfect mix --
Cool guys and science chicks,
Academics, law and politics --
All these in theory.

[VERSE B --------------------------------]

We'll have in magnitude
THE greatest we-ed-ding
Because the guests include
No one upsetting.

Some say it's very rude
To be compu-u-ting
Such a crass multitude
Whom we're excluding.


No one who likes to boast.
No TV talk show host.
No one who's a dean or provost.
Not by our theory.

No pseudo-polymaths.
No sultry psychopaths.
No one who has never taken baths.
Not by our theory.

[VERSE C --------------------------------]

Later we'll plan the meal,
And get a flo-o-rist,
But now we need a real

A won't sit next to B.
B can't stand seeing C.
C hates the thought of D.
Gee, this ain't easy!


No pharmacologists
And no neurologists
Want to sit near the psychologists,
'Cause of their theories.

Many cosmologists
Avoid theologists,
And they REALLY flee astrologists,
'Cause of their theories.

[VERSE D --------------------------------]

Most academic feuds
Are calcula-a-ted
To show whose platitudes
Are most inflated.

One Yale department chair
Hates Camille Paglia [pronounced "PAHL-ee-ah"]
Cause she's so doctrinaire
'Bout genitalia. [pronounced "gen-i-TAHL-ia"]


One man who studies knots
Obviously has the hots
For the fame that now is Mandelbrot's --
Even in theory!

One well-known Hah-vud stah
On meeting Derrida [pronounced "DER-ee-DAH"]
Wouldn't even help him pahhk his cahhh --
Even in theory!


[Here the CHIEF SCIENTIST acts as an emcee, speaking to the audience and introducing and cueing a series of CELEBRITY SCIENTISTS, each of whom sings a stanza or two. These stanzas are all sung to the music of the chorus.]

CHIEF SCIENTIST: [spoken, not sung]: Still want more? Good! My colleagues will explain.

The poor urologists
Have no apologists
In the ranks of gynecologists,
Even in theory.

Doctors with Pee H. Dees,
Won't mix with plain Em Dees --
Even those who do brain surgeries --
Even in theory.

Folks who know laws like Ohm's,
Or study chromosomes,
Won't sit next to folks who study poems,
Even in theory.

Humanists and their peers
Cannot contain their fears
That they'll have to sit with engineers,
Even in theory.

ACT 4 "Let's Optimize"

NARRATOR: With a wedding, as with any other experiment, one can plan only so far. At last the great day arrives, and suddenly a million details need attending to. Here in the final act of our opera, the wedding is just about to begin. Join us as the scientists take on all the last-minute problems -- determined not just to solve them, but to OPTIMIZE every detail... Take a deep breath now, because the moment these scientists finish their work, the world's most scientific wedding ceremony -- all sixty seconds of it! -- will take place.

[MUSIC: "A Modern Major General," Gilbert & Sullivan]

[SINGERS: The verses can be divided up between any number of lab-coat-clad SCIENTISTS.
Everyone else on stage is a wedding guest or participant. Some are wearing face masks that turn them into EINSTEIN of MADAME CURIE or DARWIN or other famous scientists.
During the course of this song -- though with most of the action happening with great bustle and hustle and movement during the final verses -- everyone on-stage is clothed in bridesmaid dresses or other wedding apparel, and assembled where they'll need to be for the actual wedding ceremony.]
[The MODEL-BRIDE is a human being who has been on-stage for much of the show up to now, so the audience is familiar with her. The DUMMY-MODEL-GROOM, on the other hand, is a dummy.]

At last it is the wedding day -- It's very like a fairy tale!
Before the ceremony starts let's optimize each last detail.
We'll use a plastic model of a modern scientific bride.
We'll optimize her so she is efficient and yet dignified.

[While singing the next verse the ASSISTANTS are whipping wigs on and off the MODEL-BRIDE's head]

We'll do her hair in length and shape and color so she'll look drop-dead --
Brunette or blond or black, or maybe even shave it off her head.
There are so many fashions, all of which we've got to reconcile!
Unlike the groom, she will complain if people say that she looks vile.

And here's a plastic model of a bridegroom scientifical.
It's got an artificial brain inside its superficial skull.
This model is too tall! It makes the model bride look underfed.
We need to trim it down to size, so let us minimize the head.

[The ASSISTANTS pull the MODEL-GROOM's head off, flinging it high and away]


There was a small truncation error. Let's fix this distortion!
[ASSISTANTS instantly pull off the MODEL-GROOM's arms and legs]
-- Oh!
They... say that during weddings you should keep things in proportion, so
I'm sure if people see him, they will say, "How very fortunate!
He may not have his limbs, but otherwise he is proportionate."



Of all the functions mathematical and ceremonial,
The most complex to scientists, no doubt, is matrimonial.
If unpredictability is all that can be planned upon...
[picks up the GROOM-MODEL and holds it aloft]

In fractious times, on fractal ground, you've got no leg to stand upon.
[Drop the GROOM-MODEL, which clatters to the floor]


But let us not wax melancholy, even theoretic'ly,
And let us not eat waxy candy, even diabetic'ly.
Unhappy pleasure of that kind is something we'll have in excess
When we persuade each bridesmaid to put on her ugly bridesmaid dress.

[Zillions of ASSISTANTS rush out, each carrying a different bridesmaid's dress. Few, if any, of the dresses match. The ASSISTANTS struggle to put the dresses on PRETTY MUCH EVERYONE ON STAGE.]

(interlude; faster)

Designed by E-ra-tos-the-nes -- cute little numbers from his sieve --
The dresses are in ev'ry color from the House of Roy Gee Biv.
There's pink and beige and mauve and plum and something that they say is zinc,
And beige and pink, and beige and pink, and beige and pink, and beige and pink.


Of silk and chintz and taffeta, and stuff with names that I forgot,
The shapes are more complex than anything by Ben-oit Man-del-brot. [pronounced "BEN-wa MAN-del-brot"]
Oh, hurry! Hurry! Put the dresses on! The wedding's gonna start!
Here -- patch it up with duct tape if your dress is gonna fall apart!

(pause; interlude; faster)

The flowers, the musicians, and the wedding guests are all in place.
The relatives are relatively settled down in time and space.
The women have been beautified; the men-folk all are teary-eyed.
Now here's the groom! And there's the bride! Now let their love be certified!

[Now the actual wedding ceremony occurs.]

(c) copyright 2001Annals of Improbable Research (www.improbable.com)
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