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How Is The White House Like The Opera House?

With the presidential election set for Tuesday, we take a look at operas that tackle today's toughest political issues.
Scott Olson
Getty Images
With the presidential election set for Tuesday, we take a look at operas that tackle today's toughest political issues.

With the election very nearly upon us, you might think the opera house would offer some respite from the dominant issues of the presidential campaign. Well, yes — and no. Composers from Monteverdi to Verdi used the operatic stage to further the debates of their days and to make political statements. In Monteverdi's case, he attempted to present Venice as the great superpower of his time; Verdi broached all manner of political intrigue in his work, from his allusion to the assassination of Sweden's King Gustav III in Ballo in maschera to Italian nationalism in Attila and Nabucco.

Following in this ageless tradition, today's composers have also used opera as a frame in which to explore today's most pressing concerns, from terrorism to the ups and downs of the U.S.-China relationship. What's changed, though, is how modern artists approach these topics. Rather than issuing polemics, the best composers delve deep for intimately drawn character studies portraying the lives and stories behind the headlines and sound bites — a world away from the stereotype of the opportunistic "CNN opera."

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Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.
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