Callas and Italian politics, c. 2010

Italian politics makes the prose of Jacques Lacan seem pellucid by comparison, so readers better informed than I are welcome to correct this brief reportage.

Sandro Bondi is a former communist who is now a lackey to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. (Berlusconi’s ongoing attempts to suppress freedom of information in Italy have reached a fever pitch of late.) Even while nominally communist, Mr. Bondi was known as ravanello (“radish”)—red on the outside but white on the inside.

As culture minister for Berlusconi, Mr. Bondi nominated a former managing director of McDonald’s for a position of authority within the ministry. (I am not making this up, alas!) * He also proposed a reorganization of opera house administration that sparked widespread protests, and this is where Maria Callas comes in.

Non zittite l’arte, “Don’t silence art.” Cecil Beaton’s portrait of Maria Callas along with this slogan is the symbol of the group Salviamo i teatri lirici italiani (“Let’s save Italian opera houses”). All of the images in this post come from their Facebook page.

Why Callas? A few hypotheses:
  • Because, given her greatness and enduring fame, she is the icon of opera.
  • Because, after more than half a century, her work at La Scala with Visconti, Zeffirelli, Wallmann, and others still represents a high point of opera in Italy. (Let us not forget: That work was the result of “genius,” yes, and also of lavish spending.)
  • Because, given their nauseous, knee-jerk esterofilia (“anything-but-Italy attitude”), Italians had to choose a foreigner rather than, say, Toscanini, Verdi, or Puccini. (For the record, I do not believe this, but the thought crossed my mind.) **
  • Because, on the contrary, Italians in fact think of “la Maria” as Italian. (Callas, to my mind, was rootless, so why not? Let us pass over in silence the fact that the Italian media more or less destroyed her career after the Rome Norma incident.)
  • Because no “Italian” singer surpasses her in greatness and notoriety. (The careers of Caruso and Pavarotti were more international than Italian; and, without wishing to seem unkind, how many people today would recognize Tebaldi on a banner or t-shirt?)
* By the way, Starbucks will soon open in Italy. I invite my Italian friends and readers to safeguard the art and livelihood of their local baristi and to boycott and protest by all means necessary this despicable, polluting, exploitative multinational.

** A propos of Verdi: Leghisti (racist Italian separatists of the north) have appropriated ”Va, pensiero” as an anthem of “Padania.” (Verdi, you will recall, played his rôle in the unification of Italy.) The maestro is surely turning in his grave at the Casa di riposo; G-d grant that he rise from that grave and scare those idiots to death!

No comments:

Post a Comment