Politics on Stage, or Fox News Has Nothing on THIS!
Yesterday at a WOSU “Do”, I was asked by a guest if I saw any instances in politics being depicted in opera. I answered that as all politics is local, so all opera is politics. Think about it. It’s either regicide (Boris Godunov), revolution (Andrea Chenier, I Puritani), or war and consorting with the enemy (Aida, Norma.) Greed is good: Wagner’s Ring cycle is about a “lump of magic gold”, after all.
Thinking of transferring contemporary politicos to the opera stage, the obvious would be John Adams’ Nixon in China. It was assumed in 1987 that this product of the Berkeley/Cambridge MA axis ( John Adams, Alice Goodman, Peter Sellars) would be bashing at its most grotesque. I’m not here to say that RMN nor Mao Zedong should come off as warm- fuzzy, but there’s cynical and brilliance in the elderly Mao, and Nixon’s awkwardness makes him more sympathetic than expected.
What about today? The recent release of recorded conversations between Jacqueline Kennedy and Arthur Schlesinger has me wondering if Jackie, The Opera can be far off. Can you imagine Anna Netrebko whispering in a Russian accented coloratura as our late former first lady?
In fact the opera Jackie O! already exists. Michael Daugherty and Wayne Kostembaum collaborated on this 90 minute show in 1997. Characters include Mr. and Mrs. Onassis, JFK, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor and God bless us and spare us, Maria Callas herself.
I must say Michelle Bachman should be played by a countertenor. The Vietnam war would make an epic in its relentless tragedy. I’m waiting for Tip O’Neill’s opera, or maybe FDR and Eleanor-there’s a lot of great operatic material there. The overture alone can feature variations on Happy Days Are Here Again. Jackie with Andy Warhol et al is a bit much even for me. Still, politics and its players are perfect for the oversized madness that is opera.