Over the last four years, the Trump administration’s actions have often played out like an operatic tragedy with the president as its divo. So it only seems appropriate that composer, filmmaker and actor Henry Bloomfield has recorded a concept album for a pop opera that uses lines from the Mueller report.
On Sept. 16, Bloomfield, 31, who has worked with Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrmann, uploaded his Ongoing Matter to the major streaming services. He says the title of the eight-song concept album for the opera set — which is set to a “hybrid of upbeat-offbeat pop and industrial funk” — was inspired by “Harm to Ongoing Matter,” a single line of text that’s repeated on a heavily redacted page from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s findings. And the opera’s libretto was written entirely using lines from the report, which investigated Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, whether the Trump campaign colluded that country’s government, and allegations of obstruction of justice by the president.
Bloomfield says he was initially inspired to create Ongoing Matter when coverage of the Mueller report and the events covered in it produced lines that begged to be set to music, such as “Sleep well tonight, you have friends in high places.” That bit of gangster poetry comes from an email sent to Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen by another attorney with ties to Trump legal team member (and former New York City mayor) Rudy Giuliani, after Cohen’s home and office were raided by the FBI in April 2018, following a referral from Mueller. Bloomfield used the line in the first chorus of “A Drunk/Drugged Up Loser.” The song title is itself a reference to a tweet by the president shortly after the raid, in which he slagged a source in a New York Times story about the likelihood of Cohen flipping on the president.
“Part of my challenge to myself was that this project won’t mean anything unless I was really dogmatic about it,” says Bloomfield. “If a word didn’t appear in the report, then I couldn’t use it.” (He did allow himself small grammatical or syntactical tweaks here and there — “But only if I wasn’t full-on changing the meaning or the overall message of the text.”)
He also took the comments of 31 different individuals — including Giuliani, Donald Trump Jr., former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and even publicist Rob Goldstone — and put them in the mouths of a handful of characters, who are identified only by their first names. There’s “Jeff,” as in former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, “James,” former FBI director James Comey; and “Michael,”Cohen. Trump is simply “The Prez.”
Before uploading the songs to the major streaming services, Bloomfield, who wrote, produced, performed, and engineered Ongoing Matter, created a website on which he posted the songs and a downloadable version of the libretto with footnotes that show where every lyric came from in the report.
Bloomfield says that, in some ways, the essence of his opera “is a story about who is going to protect the big boss through acts of love and devotion.” On the album’s first track, “Honest Loyalty,” that request is made of James. “But then James isn’t willing to do what he wants, so it’s on to Jeff and then it’s on to Michael — and Michael falters.”
Played in full, “each track of the 29-minute Ongoing Matter flows into the other,” says Bloomfield. He sees the work as a concept album, along the lines of Pink Floyd’s ’70s prog opus Dark Side Of The Moon, where “you’re going to lose something if you don’t listen to it in one full sitting.” He adds though that he would love to see the opera evolve into a staged performance. “Each track is envisioned as a scene in a way,” he says, “and I would be very excited if someone came along and said, ‘OK, this is great, but it’s just act one.'”
In many ways, Ongoing Matter would be an appealing project for a theater and film director like Luhrmann. Bloomfield first linked up with the director after his 2018 short film They Say It’s Wonderful — which reimagined classic Broadway show tunes in a modern setting — led to a meeting with singer-songwriter and former Epic Records president Amanda Ghost, who introduced Bloomfield to Luhrmann. At the time, the latter was working on the Broadway adaptation of Moulin Rouge, a jukebox musical that uses recontextualized songs by OutKast, Katy Perry, Elton John and Britney Spears.
Bloomfield says he ended up working for months with Ghost and Scissor Sisters’ Scott Hoffman on a “mega-mix single that could be released for promotional purposes,” but the track could not be released due to the expense of the song rights clearances that would have been required. “It was a little unfortunate because of the time that was put into it, but it was a great experience,” he says.
He also spent months poring over the Mueller report for Ongoing Matter, and that experience left him with a much different perspective of the events covered in the document than could be found on most major media outlets. “It seemed so damning and revealing,” says Bloomfield. “It’s a mystery to me why it didn’t actually lead to impeachment or more.”