“Nessun dorma,” Donald Trump, and the best and worst of fans.
Ever since Jacopo Peri wrote Euridice (1600, the earliest extant European opera) to celebrate the marriage of Henri IV of France and Maria de’ Medici, opera has been ripe for political interpretation, partisanship, and misappropriation by its makers and its fans. Unfortunately, one of opera’s most fervent, prominent boosters used Richard Wagner’s music for anti-Semitic propaganda in Germany in the thirties and forties. Opera fans who aren’t Nazis—especially, perhaps, Jewish musicians—sometimes feel a little embattled about our fan community alliances and image; defensively, we latch onto more congenial fellows like hard-core Wagnerite W. E. B. Du Bois, who attended performances of Lohengrin and the Ring at Bayreuth. Or the ten-year-old fan who listened to Marian Anderson’s 1939 Lincoln Memorial concert on the radio, later wrote about it for a high school speech contest (“there was a hush on the sea of uplifted faces, black and white, and a new baptism of liberty, equality and fraternity”), and married a classical singer, Coretta Scott (who said of the New England Conservatory of Music, “This is where I knew I was supposed to be”). Or Juilliard-trained pianist Nina Simone, whose opera fandom would leave an indelible mark on Porgy and Bess and The Threepenny Opera.
Then Donald Trump joined our fan club. Last November, the fact that his rally sound track featured the late Luciano Pavarotti singing the aria “Nessun dorma” (“Let no one sleep,” from Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot) was just a weird frisson troubling opera Twitter. By July, when the Pavarotti family argued that Pavarotti’s “values of brotherhood and solidarity” were “entirely incompatible” with Trump’s worldview, none of us could ignore the aria’s message anymore: “Vincerò!” I will win! Read More
Befriending George Plimpton.
George’s questions were like trampolines, a technology he admired. They bounced you higher—to the next question. This was particularly true when he was talking about writers and writing.
“Did you know that the great Camus played goal for the Oran Football Club?” he asked me when we were walking past an Algerian restaurant near his apartment on Seventy-Second Street. I was unaware but said that I did think Gabriel García Márquez had written a soccer column for a while in Bogota.
“Alas,” George sighed, “Le colonisateur de bonne volonte was never moved to write about it. Imagine, the existential goalkeeper.”
“Alas,” I said, and he gave me a look. Read More
In anticipation of the Republican and Democratic national conventions later this summer, Nathan Gelgud, a correspondent for the Daily, will be posting a regular weekly comic about the writers, artists, and demonstrators who attended the contested 1968 DNC. Catch up with Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. Read More
In anticipation of the Republican and Democratic national conventions later this summer, Nathan Gelgud, a correspondent for the Daily, will be posting a regular weekly comic about the writers, artists, and demonstrators who attended the contested 1968 DNC. Catch up with Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
Like many, I devoted to the recent Petraeus affair only the attention required to make a quip or two. Paula Broadwell and Jill Kelley (already it’s a struggle to remember their names) didn’t linger long in my consciousness as actual people; quickly they became the naughty biographer and Tampa’s answer to Kim Kardashian, respectively. When processing a scandal, the mind makes remarkably fluid conversions from human being to character, and character to joke. Much more difficult is reversing this thinking, as I discovered the day I took a standardized test while seated next to Monica Lewinsky.
This was the fall of 2002—I was twenty-one, living in Brooklyn, and looking to escape the confusion of postcollege life. When I registered to take the law school admissions test at NYU that December, it felt less like choosing a career than like tossing a grappling hook out into the dark, hoping to catch hold of a stable future. Though public interest law seemed a perfectly appropriate path for someone raised on Pacifica Radio and political demonstrations, and though as a kid I’d logged countless hours watching the William Kennedy Smith and O. J. Simpson trials, I had neither an intellectual interest in the law nor any practical understanding of what lawyers did. Something about “briefs,” it seemed.