The current social media sensation, Operatico Politico’s IMPEACHERÀ!, is greeted by many as a new twist on operatic politics or political art. It is not. Before tracing the centuries-old connection between art and politics, here’s some information about the video itself:
Featuring soprano (and, apparently, part-time bass-baritone) Rebecca Nelsen as the first and third singer, tenor Eric Stokloßa as the second, IMPEACHERÀ! superimposes on Rossini merciless “Italian” denunciation of the current White House administration — with hilarious subtitles. Properly, Operatico Politico acknowledges the inspiration of Adam Sandler’s “Operaman” on Saturday Night Live.
Going back in time, a recent example is a double-whammy: Riccardo Muti conducting Verdi’s Nabucco in La Scala. The opera’s famous chorus of the Hebrew slaves, “Va Pensiero” (Go thought), in 1842 was a battle cry for Italy’s unification and liberation from foreign domination.
In the ovation that followed the performance in La Scala some 170 years later, Muti spoke to the audience about the need for continued state support for the arts. He said the chorus “in old days, was a political symbol. I’m not a politician but I can say that if our culture goes on being slain, our Italia will be ‘si bella e perduta’ (so beautiful and lost),” a quote from “Va pensiero.” The whole house then joined in reprising the chorus.
Shakespeare’s historical plays serve as political chronicles and they give voice to the Bard’s own political views. Long before him, political satire in Greek theater influenced public opinion in the Athenian democracy more powerfully than today’s late-night talk shows impact TV viewers.
Back to opera, the interplay with politics runs from Monteverdi and 17th-century Italy to Mozart and 18th-century Vienna and Salzburg, all the way to John Adams’s contemporary “CNN operas” such as Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer, Anthony Davis’s The Life and Times of Malcolm X, Stewart Wallace’s Harvey Milk, and others.
IMPEACHERÀ! is just a wild, new example of “operatic political commentary.”
Watch the whole thing: