While watching a recent Live in HD transmission of Don Giovanni, opera and politics collided, turning into a sharp commentary for what’s going on in American politics today.
Don Giovanni is a licentious aristocrat, a libertine who relentlessly seduces women and even gets away with rape. He doesn’t just brag about his conquests, he keeps a tally enumerating his liaisons, and he gleefully anticipates adding ten more to the list that very night.
Don Giovanni doesn’t discriminate by wealth or class; he pursues the noble Donna Anna and the peasant Zerlina with equal zeal. But his behavior with the ladies doesn’t make him popular with the men. He mistreats his servant, he offends Zerlina’s fiance, and he murders Donna Anna’s father.
Despite his behavior, Don Giovanni is hard to stop. His peer, Don Ottavio, doesn’t want to believe that a nobleman would behave so ignobly, so Ottavio is slow to admit that Don Giovanni is morally corrupt.
Mozart wrote Don Giovanni in 1787, when the ideas of the Enlightenment promoted reason as the primary source of authority, and not hereditary power or wealth. These are the same Enlightenment ideals at the root of American independence, which emphasize individualism over tradition and self-determination over tyranny. These ideals were written into the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution; they fostered the French Revolution and the development of democratic self-rule as a viable form of government around the world, a world where men and women have an equal vote.
But sadly, the sexual exploitation of women, especially by powerful, wealthy men, continues. As a woman who has endured what I’ve come to believe is the “usual and customary” amount of being groped, harassed, and even abused by an older, male relative, I’m delighted to have a chance to cast a vote for a candidate who knows what it’s like to strive in a culture that only pays lip-service to protecting women while denying us equal protection, equal pay and equal rights, including our right to privacy.
In my corner of Vermont, the majority of candidates I find most highly qualified, well-informed, compassionate, smart, and capable up and down the ballot this year happen to be women, including President of the US, Vermont Governor, and my three state legislators.
I’ll willingly spend a Saturday afternoon at the opera, which is an extended dramatic composition filled with music, passion and spectacle. Watching opera requires a willing suspension of disbelief. Politics should not.
I hope that after next week’s election, opera will return to the opera house and leave the political stage.
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