Sunday, April 27, 2008

Opera and Obama: Teary - Eyed

Former Bush (Sr.) speechwriter Peggy Noonan wondered about whether Barack Obama gets "teary-eyed" when he thinks of America. Here's the excerpt from her column in the Wall Street Journal April 24:

Hillary Clinton is not Barack Obama's problem. America is Mr. Obama's problem. He has been tagged as a snooty lefty, as the glamorous, ambivalent candidate from Men's Vogue, the candidate who loves America because of the great progress it has made in terms of racial fairness. Fine, good. But has he ever gotten misty-eyed over . . . the Wright Brothers and what kind of country allowed them to go off on their own and change everything? How about D-Day, or George Washington, or Henry Ford, or the losers and brigands who flocked to Sutter's Mill, who pushed their way west because there was gold in them thar hills? There's gold in that history.

John McCain carries it in his bones. Mr. McCain learned it in school, in the Naval Academy, and, literally, at grandpa's knee. Mrs. Clinton learned at least its importance in her long slog through Arkansas, circa 1977-92.

Her reflection jives with mine. Someone I know who adores Obama asked me what I like about John McCain, as if I must be kidding. It was a friendly social situation and I demurred. Shortly after that, he made some comment about 9 - 11 as being well-deserved "payback" from the rest of the world for US policy. I thought, "If you said that in front of Barack Obama, he'd be able to make sounds of agreeing with you in spirit while taking care to show another side. Mr. McCain would punch you out."

Mr. Obama's real calling is to be an entertainer. He'd make a good serious talk show host, with his easy banter and earnest but unremarkable pronouncements about the world. Like Bill Clinton, he is adept at setting out unpleasant extremes and then saying that we must find something in between. No harm in that; it's what educated people do, researching all sides before making an informed decision. McCain has been waffling on economic policy recently, and he's triangulating between criticism of our strategies in Iraq and faith in our mission. I prefer Mr. McCain's searching to Obama's, because, as Ms. Noonan says, there's something "in his bones."

Now, on an almost unrelated tangent, I want to figure out why I teared up during the High - Definition broadcast of Donizetti's LA FILLE DU REGIMENT yesterday. I understand tearing up when the friends realize that Mimi has expired in BOHEME; you identify with them, and you feel what they are feeling. I've also analyzed why so many viewers tear up without knowing why at the end of Act One of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE: it's the delight at seeing so many ideas come together in one perfect image, combined with the knowledge that the moment is passing even as we watch it, just as the song says exactly that (" ... forever! On an ordinary Sunday . . . ").

But in FILLE, the characters are all stock ones: tomboy "daughter of the regiment," bumptious sergeant, snobby old maid, fresh-faced country boy. The plot? All the usual comic stuff: young love, consent to marriage denied, low - class tomboy girl schooled in manners, some fol-de-rol about an inheritance. There was marching (with the regiment's longjohns on a pair of impossibly long clothes lines), mock-ballet, and a little old-soft-shoe.

Yet tenor Juan Diego Flores brought tears to my eyes singing that famous aria with the nine high C's in it. I'm not even sure what the words are, something about "Oh, I love her, and I'll get her back." I thought immediately, "It's just the sound of his voice." But why would that make someone cry? The sound of the voice as an expression of romance that everyone knows is made up, but everyone believes in anyway? I'm sure that seeing the earnest face, and knowing the vivacious soprano about whom he's singing, helps. When he finished, he froze in character while cheers and applause washed over him. Slowly, he broke character to bow. Then the action moved on. Was it another case of a perfection reached for just that moment, then passing?

I still don't know. For that matter, why do John McCain, Peggy Noonan, and I get "teary - eyed" over the Gettysburg Address or D-Day?

There's more here to figure out.

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