Good morning, it’s Friday, Oct. 22, 2021, the day of the week when I reprise quotations intended to be uplifting or educational. Today’s lines come from two famed 19th century American authors, and on the same subject — grand opera.
The news peg for this morning’s missive is that New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House opened its doors for the first time on this date in 1883. The Met, as the opera company quickly became known (and is known still), was then located at 1423 Broadway, between 39th and 40th streets. The opera performed that night was “Faust” by Charles Gounod. It’s about an aging scholar who barters with Satan. The devil gives him everything he asks for — knowledge, power, youthfulness, love. The price is steep, of course: his immortal soul.
Although written in German, the opera was sung in Italian, which music lovers of the 19th century had come to expect. The great venue was operational until 1966, when the Met moved to Lincoln Center. The last performance at the old Met was Puccini’s venerable “La Bohème.” (Here’s Pavarotti singing a familiar aria from that work. And here is the evocative “La Bohème” duet most Americans are familiar with — even if they can’t place it — sung by Nicole Car and Michael Fabiano at the Royal Opera House.)
I’ll offer another fact or two about the Met, along with a personal recollection about the opera and the promised quotations in a moment. First, I’d point you to RCP’s front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion pieces spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters, columnists, and contributors, including the following:
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The Case Against a GOP Presidential Coronation. Alyssa Farah, who worked in the Trump administration, urges the former president to step aside in 2024 and let the field of other likely candidates vie for the nomination.
Danger of the McAuliffe-Abrams Stolen Election Claims. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger defends his state against charges Abrams is now making on the campaign trail in Virginia.
Dems’ Push for Fed Control of All Elections Is Going Nowhere. Jason Snead argues that progressives’ wish list is out of sync with the desires of most Americans.
Colin Powell, RIP. At RealClearDefense, Francis Sempa laments that the late military leader/Cabinet secretary’s foreign policy doctrine was abandoned or ignored in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Asymmetry of Ineffective QE. At RealClearMarkets, Jeffrey Snider writes that the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing policy has only created an illusion of controlling the economy.
What If Nuclear Power Were Subsidized Like Renewables? RealClearScience editor Ross Pomeroy engages in a thought experiment about the carbon-free and reliable — albeit controversial — energy source.
Can Free Speech Thrive at a Christian College? At RealClearEducation, John Hirschauer mines more data from the 2021 College Free Speech Rankings.
Resisting the Pressure to Conform. Also at RCEd, Ayla Iqbal explains why she wears a hijab to school despite assertions by other students that she would fit in better, and her life would be easier, without it.
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The first opera I ever saw was the San Francisco Opera‘s production of “Carmen.” Like the movie “The Princess Bride,” Bizet’s work is perfect for both kids and adults. It has everything: knife fights, bullfights, love triangles and, most of all, memorable music. Tchaikovsky saw “Carmen” performed in Paris in 1875, with the original cast, and pronounced it “a masterpiece in every sense of the word.” When it was performed in Vienna later, among those who raved about it were Wagner, Brahms, and Otto von Bismarck.
Written by a Frenchman and first performed in Paris, the opera is set in Spain, and is often sung in Italian. In her 1920 novel, “The Age of Innocence,” Edith Wharton had fun with this kind of thing: “An unalterable and unquestioned law of the musical world,” she wrote, “required that the German text of French operas sung by Swedish artists should be translated into Italian for the clearer understanding of English-speaking audiences.”
It’s a funny line — and the first of our two quotes this morning – but the night I saw “Carmen” in San Francisco, it was sung in English, and I was hooked. My parents may have over-learned their lesson: The next opera they took me to was “Boris Godunov.” That is a long, heavy work, set in Russia, and sung in Russian, and I was only 12. I won’t lie: I dozed during some parts of “Boris.” (That said, I was wide-eyed, as any boy would be, when the Russians stuffed the “False Dmitry” into a cannon and fired him back toward Poland.)
Where we see our first operas and who sang them is an essential part of the experience. The great Nicolai Gedda sang in “Boris” when I was there. And the ornate War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco would be impressive to anyone of any age seeing it for the first time.
Dedicated to U.S. war dead of World War I, it was where the United Nations charter was drafted in 1945 and has staged thousands of operas since it opened in 1932. When I was there as a boy, an old-timer was pointed out to me as being someone present when Enrico Caruso sang at the old opera house the night before it was destroyed, along with most of the city, by the 1906 earthquake. It was certainly possible: Caruso had sung the role of Don Jose in “Carmen” for the first time at the Met two months earlier, a performance so outstanding that Californians clamored to see the great Italian tenor — and the New York Metropolitan Opera — perform “Carmen.” The Met obliged. On the night of April 17, 1906, in a doomed new opera house that took up a whole block of Mission Street, Don Jose and Carmen and the handsome matador Escamillo acted and sang out their equally doomed entanglement. Can you imagine having been there?
“A pretty air in an opera is prettier there than it would be anywhere else, I suppose, just as an honest man in politics shines more than he would elsewhere.” That’s Mark Twain and it’s our quote of the week.
Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics