Friday, 18 February 2011
The people are the heroes now
How could old production-rocker Peter Sellars not recall in interview that line of Alice Goodman's breathtakingly poetic libretto for John Adams when Nixon in China was screened worldwide the day after the fall of Mubarak? In fact the Met re-staging of an operatic masterpiece was even more vital for the history and the lessons of revolutions, violent or peaceful. By the way, I wasn't at the talked-up 'premiere of the year', Turnage's Anna Nicole, last night. I'll see it next week, and I expect it to be at the very least extremely well sung, played and staged (by Richard Jones the only genius of the theatre); but on previous form I can't imagine that Turnage, excellent when at his fitful best, hits the heights of Adams, who's given us the only core-repertoire grand opera of the past two decades*.
Nixon's ambiguous, often metaphysical dimensions show us that the euphoria of the moment always yields to a more complex aftermath. After the adrenalin charged 'gambe's/cheers and the salute to Washington's birthday of the big summit dinner between Americans and Chinese that cold February of 1972 (picture by Ken Howard for the Met)
come the private idealism of Pat - still, I think, the greatest soprano scene of the late 20th century, so affectingly done by Janis Kelly - and the reign of terror of Madame Mao. And the last act comes to seem like the opera's greatest achievement in its polyphonic interaction of the five private individuals, wondering 'how much of what we did was good?'
Those questions still resound in Egypt, of course, and resonate for Libya, Iran, Bahrain, the list goes on. What we can continue to do, for the moment, is marvel at the predominance of goodwill, how an educated middle class informed how well motivated were the crowds in Tahrir Square, how amazing that the young took charge and went around tidying up the streets and cleaning the anti-Mubarak slogans off statues once they'd got their way. The pride and optimism are incredible, whatever's still to come. I recommend an excellent programme I just heard on the BBC World Service, covered, as it should be, by a highly articulate Arabic reporter, Magdi Abdelhadi. All this, too, is possible: maybe we need the language-ignorant BBC reporters on the spot for the crisis, but afterwards, why not give the people closest to their people a voice?
The Trafalgar Square photos come by presumed courtesy of Amnesty UK, who shared them with us its supporters. I asked to use a couple here, but as I still haven't had a reply after three days, I'll take that as a yes and add any further credits if so requested. Anyway, Amnesty and human rights organisations worldwide should be feeling good about all this**. I felt that optimism at the end of last year, which I was amazed to see written off as a quiet one when WikiLeaks, for better and for worse, took charge and students here promised more protests. And much as I resist all pressures to tweet and to go on Facebook, I see their phenomenal influence where it counts, too. Interesting times indeed, and mostly in a good way.
*Not quite incidentally, the best and most detailed essay I've read on Nixon in China is to be found on Daniel Stephen Johnson's blog.
**20/2 As they must be, and I certainly am, reading about one promising volte-face in oppression-threatened Hungary: the Budapest Metropolitan Court's overturning of a police veto on extending a gay rights march in June. I read the articles of the European Union rulings with especial interest, and hope that sort of thing will be enshrined in law in Egypt and other countries soon.