Sunday, September 12, 2010

Tea Party Wisdom from King Gustav III

A few hours ago, I filed my review of the Washington National Opera's (WNO's) opening night performance of Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball) in the online "Entertain Us" section where much of my reviewing lives these days. The opera was a mixed bag (good singing, awful sets). But my political interest was piqued by the fact that WNO chose to go back to the original character names and geographical settings he'd tried to establish back in the mid-19th century. **

Checking out Gustav's complex and colorful personal and political history via a decent Wikipedia entry, I duly noted an excerpt from a speech he made to his politically corrupt and fractious parliament members of the time. While keeping in mind that Gustav appears to have been far from perfection himself, the excerpt below sound like it could have been written just yesterday--and in Washington, DC. In it, Gustav chastised the sheer crookedness of both major political factions who, in his words:
...have given birth to hatred, hatred to revenge, revenge to persecution, persecution to new revolutions which finally has passed into a period of disease, which has wounded and degraded the whole nation. The ambition and lust for glory in a few people has damaged the realm, and blood has been shed by both parties, and the result of this has been the suffering of the people. To establish their own power base, has been the rulers’ sole goal, often at the cost of other citizens, and always at the cost of the nation. In times when the law was clear, the law has been distorted, and when this was not possible, it was broken. Nothing has been sacred to a populace bent on hatred and revenge, and the lunacy has finally reached as far, so as one has assumed members of parliament to be above the law, them not having any other guidance than their own conscience. By this Freedom, the most noble of human rights, has been transformed by an unbearable aristocratic despotism in the hands of the ruling party, which in its self has been subdued by a few...
Emphasis mine. Is this the essence of what's got Tea Partiers upset today? I think so. We, too, now have a "ruling class" who've bankrupted the country over the past 50 years or so in search of personal gain and raw personal power. The result? As Gustav said, it's the "suffering of the people." Let's remember this when going to the polls in November. It's time to throw the Democrats out of both houses in 2010 and start over with a fresh batch of Republicans.

And frankly, if the Republicans then revert to the same crap, it will be time to throw them out in 2012. If eventually wiping the slate clean is what it's going to take, than that's what the voters of this country are going to have to do.

It's amazing what you can get out of one little opera.

  ** For history buffs, here's a very condensed, oversimplified "rest of the story" about the opera itself. 

Originally given a working title of Gustavus III, the opera was a fictionalized account of the colorful life and ultimate assassination of Sweden's King Gustav III, generally regarded by Swedes, we are told, as a benevolent monarch who had endless troubles with corrupt, greedy factions in the Swedish parliament and governmental structure at the time. 

But this historical material presented a sticky problem for Verdi. He developed his opera not long after Europe's ultimately unsuccessful but extremely dangerous (to royalty) 1848 multi-headed revolution. Worse, the composer himself was known as a bit of a revolutionary and an Italian nationalist as well--at a time when modern Italy simply didn't exist. Keeping their own best interests in mind, Italian city-state censors and the Church simply weren't about to allow something like the story of Gustav's regicide to appear onstage. It might give "the people" the wrong idea. (Old joke: "The people are revolting, Sire.") 

After a protracted wrangle, Verdi, under pressure from all sides, kept his characters and score largely intact. But he transformed Gustav III into the "Governor" of colonial Massachusetts, providing all his characters new Italian names, which makes the whole thing even sillier, at least to our eyes. (Gustav became "Governor" Riccardo for example.)

In any event, that's the way life was for an artist like Verdi back in 19th century Europe. In the end, you do what you have to do. Meanwhile, Verdi's opera, like much of his huge output, remained popular anyway in spite of the silly name changes and incongruous (and phony) setting. WNO, as are many opera houses these days, has chosen to revert back to Verdi's original pre-censored story and intentions. Placing this show back in the Swedish court just felt more comfortable Saturday evening. I'm certain that the ghost of Verdi will sleep better tonight because of it.

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