Libretto: "La Forza Del Duct Tape"

A mini-opera for the 1998 Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony

Words by Don Kater and Marc Abrahams
Music by Franz List, Giuseppi Verdi, and Ludwig van Beethoven

This opera premiered at the 1998 Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, at Harvard's Sanders Theatre.
(On the night of the performance, at the last moment,the music of Act 1 was converted to a theme from Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro." Scholars are still debating how and why that happened.)
Here is the original version of the libretto.

[For photos, etc., see the Jan/Feb 1999 issue of Annals of Improbable Research.]

Personnae Self-Importante
Opera Director : Margot Button
Opera Producers:Margot Button and Marc Abrahams
Lyrics: Don Kater and Marc Abrahams
Musical Adaptation: Margot Button, Benjamin Sears, Elaine Chew

The Original Cast
The Scientist: Benjamin Sears
His Wife: Dierdre Gepp
Their Kids: Nobel Laureates Richard Roberts, William Lipscomb, Dudley Herschbach, and Sheldon Glashow, and Physicist Supremo Roy Glauber
The Lovely, Evil Venture Capitalist: Margot Button
Geraldo: Brian Nash
Pianist: Elaine Chew
Duck® brand duct tape courtesy of Manco. Plasticducks courtesy of Don Featherstone and Union Products.

Inventor carried awayACT 1


[NOTE: The SCIENTIST'S KIDS spend the entire first act wrapping THE SCIENTIST in duct tape. At the end of the act, he is firmly duct taped onto a chair, and has to be carried off. He remains that way the rest of the evening; a crew of men carries him on and off stage as necessary.]

NARRATOR [spoken]: This is a tale about everything you need for a happy life -- science, greed, sex, and publicity. And duct tape. Our heros are the man who invented duct tape, his beautiful, sensible wife, and their frisky little children.

(MUSIC: various themes from Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody #2." These are not necessarily in the same order -- or the same keys -- as in the original Listz music.)

WIFE:   Inventions.
  You think of nothing but inventions all day
  Your intentions
  Are good, but as you know, intentions don't pay.
SCIENTIST: Be patient.
  I know that some day soon I'm bound to get a winner.
WIFE:   I'm patient,
  But we're all getting tired of Taco Bell for dinner.

WIFE:   Helpless
BOTH (simulataneously, in harmony):
 SCIENTIST: You could be helpful, that would really be a switch.
 WIFE:  Don't be so helpless, that would really be a switch.

WIFE:   Hopeless
BOTH (simulataneously, in harmony):
 SCIENTIST: I'm really hopeful now that soon we will be rich.
 WIFE:  You're really hopeless now, we never will be rich.

WIFE: Anything that you come up with always seems to self-destruct,
 Brilliant notions at the start, but later on they always sucked.
 Every good idea you always felt you had to deconstruct,
 Even when they hit the ball right to you, still you always ducked.

SCIENTIST: Self-destruct
  Notions sucked
  Always ducked -- ducked -- ducked --------- ducked
   (slow down as the light dawns)

SCIENTIST: Duct-t tape, Eureka! Duct-t tape.
  It's been here all along and yet somehow
  I never noticed it till now
  Duct-t tape, I'll call it duct-t tape
  And every one will want to buy a piece of
  This remarkable adhesive
WIFE:   Duct-t tape, Who needs it? Duct-t tape!
  You act as if you'v found the Holy Grail.
SCIENTIST: I'll get a cut of every sale!
WIFE:   Duct-t tape, you're crazy, duct-t tape.
  It sounds like just another dumb idea.
SCIENTIST: Au contraire, a panacea!

SCIENTIST: Everyone will surely choose it
  It will be the latest craze
  When they find that they can use it
  In a thousand different ways.

SCIENTIST: To fix a drain
  A window pain
  An ankle sprain
  A weather vane
  A broken nose
  Or panty-hose
  To hide a join
  Or gird a loin
  To make a splint
  Or pick up lint
  To mend a toy
  The kids destroy
  Or seal a pipe
  Or make a stripe
  [looking at kids] Or gag a child
     Who's getting wild
  You could attach an elbow patch,
  Or maybe batten down a hatch,
  Or you could stop a faucet leak,
  Or make a turban for a Sikh,
  Or you could simply roll it all,
  Into a great big silver ball.
  With any luck, who knows, you may --
  Even tape a duct some day!

SCIENTIST: Great idea,
  Practic'ly a panacea!
WIFE:   Dumb idea.
  Panacea? Mama Mia!
  Will want a piece of this adhesive.
WIFE:   Nobody
  Will want a piece of this adhesive.

SCIENTIST: Been right here and yet somehow
  I never noticed it till now.
  It's almost like the Holy Grail,
  And I'll get part of every sale!
WIFE:   You're a jerk and yet somehow,
  I never minded up to now.
  But this time you have gone too far.
  I see you now for what you are.
SCIENTIST: The world--
WIFE:   Who--
WIFE:   Needs--
BOTH:   Duct tape!

Inventor meets investorACT 2

NARRATOR [spoken]: Since the time of ancient Greece, foresighted, greedy individuals been acquiring patent rights from the original inventors. Ever since Prometheus stole fire from the gods -- and then had the fire taken away from him -- this story has played itself out again and again. Today, people are trained for this kind of work. We call them venture capitalists.

[MUSIC: from Verdi's "Macbeth"]

VENTURE CAPITALIST (fiddling absently with a roll of duct tape):
I love inventors for their humility.
I take the credit.
They never get it.

I saw the wheel first.
I stole the patent.
Whatever goes round
Will come round to me.

I take a patent.
Nice pretty patent.
Then I go public!
Then I go public!
First I take the patent!
Then I take it public!
I make a forture!
I make a forture!
Such public spirit.

I saw the first fire.
I took the patent.
Poor old Prometheus --
Oh, he got burnt.

Ooooooo! I have got so many, many, many hundred thousand patents.
Ooooooo! You have no idea -- the scope of my inventive mind!
I own patents on the basic things -- you name it.
The comb, the shoe, the door, the button-hole... the button.
I need something now, to hold them all together.
I need something now -- [She suddenly pays attention to the duct tape in her hand]
How about this? This sticky tape.
At last, I've found it! It's something great, oh yes!
Now watch me get the patent for a song!
Duct tape, Duct tape!
Duct tape is just the thing to wrap up myyyyyyyyyy career!
[Streams of duct tape shower down from the rafters]


NARRATOR [spoken]: We have already seen how the inventor of duct tape lost both his fortune and his family's respect. But no tragedy is complete until it has been reported on TV. So here with the final, crushing blow, is the world's most famous reporter, adding a capstone of ruination to the world's most terrible technological tragedy.

(MUSIC: Verdi's "La Donna e Mobile")

[GERALDO, with a MICROPHONE in hand, is broadcasting a standup news report. ALL THE CHARACTERS FROM ACTS 1 AND 2 are on stage, too.]
I am Geraldo!
Every American
Knows that Rivera can
Get the inside story.

And I got the story here
Not inobtrusively
But quite exclusively
So I get the glory.

They love Geraldo.  [throws kiss]
I love Geraldo.   [kisses own shoulder]
All of you are planets.
I am the sun!
Aha!   Son of a gun!
Aaaaaah!   I am the sun!

[Points to SCIENTIST, WIFE, and then CAPITALIST as he mentions each]
He lost his patent rights.
A broken and cheated man,
A lonely, defeated man
Is what you see now.

She left and took the kids
No more domesticity
She prefers publicity   [arm around WIFE]
She sleeps with me now.

She's the one who gypped him,
Financially stripped him.
Need I add that she   [arm around CAPITALIST] [twirls mustache] Heh!Heh!
Also sleeps with me.
I do to her what she did to him.
[Note: last two lines require singing to "Aaah!  All of them are planets, I am the sun!" some of the notes in the accompaniment.]

(MUSIC SWITCHES TO: "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's ninth symphony)
(KIDS again wrap the SCIENTIST in DUCT TAPE, and continue doing so till the end.)
When your duct tape was perfected
Wasn't that a dream come true?
Bet you never once suspected
You're the one they'd stick it to.
It's a waste of time to quarrel
You must admit we told you so.
Did you think there'd be a moral?
Well, you're wrong -- so now you know.
(SPOKEN) Everybody!
EVERYONE: So now you know.
  So now you know.
  So now -- you -- know.

(c) copyright 1998 Marc Abrahams