I’ve been thinking about dissent a lot lately. With the current administration, I’ve wondered what kind of grand gestures can be done that will convey a message. I don’t think I have to look further than the opera.
Nabucco isn’t my favorite opera, but it contains one of the best pieces of operatic music “Va, Pensiero.” When I read about the rumor that the Drumpf administration plans to stop funding the National Endowment for the Arts, the first thing I thought about was “Va, Pensiero” performed in Rome, 2011.
Note: Be sure to turn on closed captioning in YouTube to read the subtitles of Muti’s speech.
In the clip, Ricardo Muti, the conductor, gives an impassioned speech to the crowd. He plays an encore not “only for patriotic reasons” – as the song has been adopted by a slew of political causes over the years – but because if Italy “kill[s] the culture on which is founded the history of Italy, then truly our country will be “beautiful and lost.” He was speaking in regards to proposed budget cuts by the Berlusconi government.
He then leads the orchestra, the chorus, and the audience in a stirring performance of “Va, Pensiero.” While the music is beautiful, what seals the deal for me as this being a dissentful moment is 5:18 in the video when pamphlets start to fall from the boxes. It’s like something out of a Scorsese film.
It’s kind of ironic that now America has elected a Berlusconi of our own and we’re having the same conversations that Italy did several years ago.
When the cast of “Hamilton” let Mike Pence know how they felt about him and Trump, it was incredible and eloquently stated. I would love to see more of this. I understand that people may come to cultural events to seek a reprise from how political our culture is. We, the audience, may not agree on everything, but I have immense respect for eloquent and poignant dissent. I hope dissent in the concert halls and theaters across this land makes encourages more civil discourse because this country needs to understand one another more than ever. Until then, I look forward to seeing an American corollary to “Va, Pensiero” in the near future.