While the Iraq Study Group was releasing its report on the tragedy in Iraq, I was in Milan, attending the opening of La Scala. Both were melodramas, but the Italian version was more fun. In Milan a glitzy Aida with Christmas window sets and blindingly gaudy costumes by director Franco Zefirelli opened to the excitement of the elegant (dried) flower of Milanese society as well as Romano Prodi, Angela Merkel, Donatella Versace, Fanny Ardent and even me--invited by my Italian publisher after about thirty-five years of fruitless hinting.
I had never been to La Scala before--let alone on opening night. My many trips to Milan had involved sitting for interviews in hotel lobbies and one pressured afternoon of shopping before heading to Rome or Venice or New York. This time, I was on my own ticket and I was determined to actually see Milan--The Last Supper by Leonardo (finally available by appointment only after twenty years of restoration) and La Scala on opening night with Roberto Alagna singing Radames.
The plot of Aida is as inexplicable as the Bushevics bloody adventure in the cradle of civilization. A love-struck general called Radames has fallen hopelessly in love with an Ethiopian slave-girl called Aida. We know this because Verdi's opera begins with an aria, which has historically been the downfall of the greatest tenors, Celeste Aida. This gorgeous piece of music must be sung before the tenor has sufficiently warmed up his voice. Alagna stumbled on opening night and the Italian press, usually so boosterish with great Italian institutions like La Scala, grumbled the next day--much like the American press grumbling about the Iraq report, which had plenty of time to warm up and had been deliberately held until after the election and its vote of no confidence in junior Bush.
In the month or so since the Democratic midterm victory, Bush's poll numbers have plummeted another ten points and the family fixer, consigliere Baker, who looks more like an evil pink baby than ever, has been called to do the impossible. To an administration that detests diplomacy, he has suggested diplomatic efforts. To a president who thinks he can decide the fate of the Middle East without talking to any of its principals, he has called for talks. To a country that understands better than its leaders that there can be no victory in Iraq, he has suggested graceful withdrawal in time for the presidential election of 2008.
Americans are not as stupid as the Bush family and its well-paid retainers have always believed. After six years of hopeless messes made by junior, we want out. All the study groups in the world cannot change this. We are not fighting a holy war for democracy. We are killing off our brave young people for the sake of the oil cartel and the war profiteers. Everyone can now see this--except Dubya and his nannies. Iraq is falling apart whether we stay or go. Its Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds have hated each other for a thousand years and only Saddam Hussein's brutality was holding them into a nominal country. When we deposed him, we put an end to the fiction of Iraq even if no one was willing to admit that.
Meanwhile the nuke-happy Iranians are sufficiently emboldened to have a conference on whether or not the Holocaust happened. The Lebanese Christians are falling to terrorists. The Israelis have lost their military genius. And it is getting harder and harder to be Jewish in a world gearing up for the next pogrom.
Bush has brought the program closer than ever by compromising our army in an endless quagmire, weakening our position in the world because of allergy to diplomacy and talking loudly without having any sort of stick to back him up but his family's pink-faced fixers.
Like Radames and Aida, we are on the verge of being buried alive. Our dollar is in the toilet, our army is overstretched, and our ballooning debt is in the hands of Chinese apparatchiks. We might as well all be Ethiopian slave girls. And Baby Bush keeps raving away as if he still had credibility.
Meanwhile, in Milan, Alagna gave a second performance of Radames on Sunday night and walked off the stage when the boos began. His understudy continued in street clothes, surrounded by the blued-faced Egyptian legions with robes to match, the nearly naked dancing girls and boys sacrificing to Isis, and Aida (the brilliant Violeta Urmana) singing her heart out.
Stephane Lissner, the manager of La Scala appeared to calm the second night audience. Everyone was excited and happy because there hadn't been a drama like this at La Scala since 1950 when Maria Callas went on for Renata Tebaldi in Aida, initiating, as Corriere della Sera wrote, their duello.
Italians do their operas so much better than we. Enthusiasm and spectacle full of sound and fury signifying--music (the art of the angels). In Washington, there were the spear-carriers of the press, the white papers issued by pink men, the predictable grumbles of the predictable pundits--signifying nothing. No music came out of these duels and no solutions to the bloodshed in Iraq.
In Italy, there are some actual changes after the melodrama. Perhaps a new star is born. Or a new duel of divas to excite us. At least they have fun and music. Catharsis is always fun. We Americans wind up with nothing--no catharsis and no music. Baby Bush is still in the briar patch he leapt into--covered with blood and seeing no way out. He can't even sing for us. Nor can he walk off the stage to show his manhood.
And Obama waiting in the wings is the best we can do for opera. But the climax is two years off. And we have to watch this dumb show for what seems like forever while the rest of the world laughs and throws rotten tomatoes.