By Siri Lundgren ’19
It’s no doubt that the 2016 presidential election has been extremely polarized. In fact, the election has become so polarized that politicization rears its head on the most unexpected front: the stage. Donald Trump has had several musicians ranging from Adele to Twisted Sister request that he refrain from using their music for his campaign. However, the most surprising request came from the family of Luciano Pavarotti.
So why would the family of Pavarotti, an Italian opera singer who died in 2007, care about the Trump campaign? Trump has been using a Pavarotti recording of a Puccini aria called Nessun Dorma at the beginning of his rally’s as “pump up” music. Using music, even operatic music, to promote political messaging or fire up a crowd isn’t rare or unique. So what’s the big deal? This specific aria is special for two reasons:
1) Its place in operatic repertoire,
2) its performer
Why would Trump choose Nessun Dorma specifically? Nessun Dorma is widely regarded as the “crown jewel” of all tenor arias and has been recorded by several prominent opera singers. Its incredible emotional and vocal range make it difficult to perform. When campaigning on a message of “Make America Great Again”, using one of the greatest arias of all time makes a little sense. Most importantly the text of the aria echoes the messages that Trump wants to portray in his campaign. An article from the Washington Post offers this translation of the text, “’Dilegua, o notte! Tramontate, stelle! Tramontate, stelle! Vincerò! Vincerò! Vincerò!” (Vanish, o night! Fade, you stars! Fade, you stars! At dawn, I will win! I will win! I will win!)’”. The text of the aria (known in the opera world as libretto) reflects the drive of the Trump campaign to win at all costs, rhetoric that increases the polarization of the voting populous. And while I personally support the exposure of such an aria to the general public, I question the validity of using it as a politicized work of art.
Pavarotti would have agreed with me. Or at least that’s what his family thinks. Luciano Pavarotti is considered one of the best operatic tenors in history. He sang Nessun Dorma at the opening ceremonies of the 2006 Winter Olympics and nailed every sing note (at the age of 70, no less.) More importantly, he was an advocate for human rights across the globe. He was a UN Messenger for Peace and received a Nansen Medal from the UN High Commission on Refugees for his fundraising efforts. The family of Pavarotti, as cited in a New York Times Article, believed that the singer would have opposed the Trump campaign, and therefore requested that the Campaign stop using his recording of the aria. All of this goes to show how incredibly polarizing this election cycle has been. If even opera, an art form relegated to stuffy recital halls and a few shelves in the St. Olaf Music Library can get dragged into this election then what’s next?