Friday, June 16, 2006

Nixon in China/Reagan in Space?

John Holbo at Crooked Timber reminds us of one of those wtf? moments in American diplomatic history:

"I couldn't help but -- one point in our discussions privately with General Secretary Gorbachev -- when you stop to think that we're all God's children, wherever we may live in the world, I couldn't help but say to him, just think how easy his task and mine might be in these meetings that we held if suddenly there was a threat to this world from some other species, from another planet, outside in the universe. We'd forget all the little local differences that we have between our countries, and we would find out once and for all that we really are all human beings here on this Earth together. Well, I don't suppose we can wait for some alien race to come down and threaten us, but I think that between us we can bring about that realization."

-- Ronald Reagan, remarks to the students and faculty at Fallston High School in Fallston, Maryland,
December 4, 1985

This is posted as yet one more reminder that recent American political history, as momentarily lively as it may get, is seldom the source of potentially operatic material. Had Mars actually attacked in 1984, I doubt that we'd be seeing the revivals of Nixon in China that grace our stages these days.

3 comments:

Adam Baratz said...

I don't know about Reagan as an operatic character either, but I would see an opera called "Reagan...in...spaaaace!"

Daniel Wolf said...

I don't think that the historical Reagan was much of an operatic figure. But there was another Reagan in his own imagination, one that keeps turning up in his speeches, suggesting a Walter-Mitty-like secret life. It's amazing how he could get away with telling audiences about his WWII battle heroism, when he never actually left the US during the war, serving mostly on-screen. The guy was really an outrageous storyteller, a liar, and was never held account for it.

But Nixon is the one who's entered the operatic world. Maybe it's appropriate as he and Truman were both piano players. And it's curious that it's the trip to China that sent him there. At one point, Neely Bruce wanted to write a trilogy of US history operas, with John Brown the subject of the 19th century opera and the fact, the scandal, that the Vietnam War was never declared the subject of the 20th century opera. But Watergate is, of course, the other big possible Nixon-as-opera subject. But Watergate is mostly intimate, almost as reduced in scale as Krapp's Last Tape. Sure, Watergate had plenty of villains, and some good buffo roles, but the only real candidate for a tragic heroine in the affair was Margaret Mitchell.

Of course, there's the Gerald Ford opera, more a musical comedy, complete with dancing WIN ("whip inflation now") buttons. And of course, the current Vice President recently did his little rewrite of Der Freischütz, but I much prefer the Weber, especially in the Kleiber recording.

sfmike said...

I think you need to write the opera, "Mars Attacks," except instead of the stupid Jack Nicholson character we go right back to Reagan. I'd pay to see it.