ColumnistsMy Turn

Voice of God Rides an Elephant

By Bruce Frassinelli

I have frequently said that next to Lou Gehrig I am the luckiest man in the world.

I have enjoyed some incredibly remarkable experiences during my lifetime, most of them compliments of either my job as editor and publisher of two excellent daily newspapers or as a jack of all trades at a small radio station.

When the circus came to the Great Northern Mall in Clay, New York, the general manager of the circus wanted to partner with The Palladium-Times in Oswego, where I was the publisher. In this way, the circus would get heavy publicity from us, and we would get a slew of free tickets to offer our readers in various giveaways.

As a bonus, the circus guy asked me if I would be the honorary ringmaster.

My duties would be to dress up in an appropriate ringmaster’s outfit with top hat, breeches and all the rest, including a whip. I would ride an elephant to signal the start of the grand entrance of performers. (Yes, this was a huge real live elephant named “Connie.”) Getting up on her was a sight to behold. Come to think of it: maybe not.

Once the grand entrance ended, I blew my whistle three times to command order and attention from the more than 1,000 gathered in the spacious mall events center, then snapped my whip. (I had practiced whip-snapping for about 10 minutes off-stage.)

I followed this by announcing in my best ringmaster’s voice, “Laiddd-ies and gentlemen and children of all ages. The Palladium-Times, Oswego County’s only daily newspaper, proudly presents the Cole All-Star Circus.’’ (I tried to emulate the voice of ringmaster Claude Kirshnerof the Super Circus TV program that aired on ABC from 1949-56 and which also starred Mary Hartline.) That was it. My duties were over. My wife, Marie, and I enjoyed the rest of the performance from a special ringmaster’s box.

Perhaps the oddest experience was when the director of the Oswego Opera Theatre Company, Juan LaManna, asked me to play the role of the Voice of God in the Benjamin Britten children’s opera “Noye’s Fludde” (“Noah’s Flood”), which involved three performances, but, because of its popularity, two more were added the following week.

I had to rehearse with the rest of the cast and symphony orchestra for about six weeks. I sat in the front row of the auditorium cordoned off from the rest of the audience and equipped with a microphone.

‘How many get a chance to be the Voice of God? I hope that my portrayals earned me an IOU in the Great Beyond when my time on Earth is up.’

LaManna, who said he was always impressed with my voice having heard it when I was secretary of the Oswego Opera Theatre’s board of directors, told me to project my voice to make it as big and booming as possible, as one might imagine God’s voice to be if we actually heard it.

The first performance was a matinee for about 400 elementary and middle school students. My opening word, boomed over the mike, “NOAH!… ‘’As soon as I said it, I heard this child’s terrified shriek from the audience that lasted for about 10 seconds, then trailed off in the distance. I learned later that my voice had scared the bejesus out of a frightened first-grader.

The production is quite elaborate and has numerous children playing the roles of animals, and they board two by two onto Noah’s Ark, just as described in the biblical flood narrative account in the Book of Genesis. I had quite a few lines — all conversations with Noah — and all of them had to be delivered in a type of syncopation to the beat of the orchestra which accompanied the libretto. Getting it down precisely so that my narrative matched the music was quite a challenge.

The following year, I was asked to play the same role, which I gladly did. I mean how many get a chance to be the Voice of God? I hope that my portrayals earned me an IOU in the Great Beyond when my time on Earth is up.