Friday, August 8, 2014

Let's Have a Right-on Production of Verdi's Aida

Yesterday I was driving south through Oregon to visit with my daughter and family at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon.

Started by a high-school teacher in the 1930s the Shakespeare festival has become reliably liberal over the years, and why not: that's what its audience of 50-something liberal women wants.  So we've had a woman CEO as Julius Caesar and a succession of predictably liberal contemporary plays. Recently the festival developed an American Revolutions project.  But nobody ever submitted a play with a "conservative perspective."

As I drove south I started thinking.  First I thought about how beautiful this country is, how breathtakingly beautiful and how I love it.  Then I thought about Aida.

That's because I was listening to Aida on my smartphone.

And I thought: Imagine a super-trendy production of Aida!  No, it wouldn't be some predictable liberal thing with Aida as a man, or the Pharoah dressed up as the Koch Brothers.  No, this one would be Speaking Truth to Power, the only real power in America: liberal power.

Now the plot in Aida goes something like this: Young Radames is sent off to battle with the Ethiopians, and the Pharaoh's daughter Amneris is in love with him.  Unfortunately, Radames is in love with a pretty little Ethiopian slave Aida.  Wait!  From what I have seen of young East African women they are tall and stuningly beautiful.  Anyway, Amneris suspects something is going on and, when she finds out that the slave Aida is her rival, plots to deal with her rival.  Wouldn't you know it turns out that Aida is also the daughter of a king, the captured Amonasro, king of the Ethiopians, and when Amonasro sees his daughter he gets her to deliver intelligence on the Egyptian army from Radames.  Amneris gets wind of this so it's curtains for Aida and Radames.  Except for the fact that Amneris gets to execute the love of her life, and then she's sorry.

Here's my right-on version of Aida that is set up for telling truth to liberal power.  The Pharaoh is the President of Egypt University and the Chief Priest that sends everyone off to war is the Chief Diversity Officer.  Amneris, of course, is the Dean of Women's Studies and Radames is a young professor about to get tenure.  Aida is a young graduate student that's really a closet Christian, daughter of Amonasro, president of the awful Christian college across town.

Well, you can imagine what the feminist Amneris, Dean of Women's Studies, is going to do, especially with her power over graduate student Aida and with Radames' application up before the tenure committee.

Just saying.  But it's my conceit that the good folks at Ashland couldn't even conceive of a right-on adaptation like this, let alone actually dare to do it, let alone dare to "challenge" their audience of 50-year-old liberal women.

Why not?  Because the whole speaking truth to power was always bullshit.  It was not about speaking truth to power, it was about delegitimizing and marginalizing and "challenging" mainstream bourgeois culture and replacing it with liberal activist culture.  It was about smashing the patriarchy and destabilizing capitalism.  It was about reining in the culture of freedom and teaching people that they'd better bow to the liberal gods or they would never get tenure.

Oh well, it's good to have fantasies.  Imagine a world where Americans were allowed to make fun of their rulers.  Like, oh, back in the Bush era.

Now it's time to go have lunch with my daughter.  This evening we'll go to a production of The Tempest. 

Oh brave new world that has such people in it.

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