La Nostra Siviglia

1 Nov

Crusty Doctor Bartolo doesn’t stand a chance with his ward Rosina once that picture of youthful vigor, Count Almaviva, comes to town. Plus, Almaviva’s a tenor. Practically a rock star.

Bartolo knows he’s in trouble. I almost feel sorry for him, at times. But, then comes that scene with Don Basilio, the one where Basilio proposes to Bartolo that Almaviva might be handily defeated with carefully fabricated slander.

Beaumarchais wrote Basilio’s calumny speech, but I know it (and love it) in Rossini’s musical rendition in Il Barbiere di Siviglia.

Here is the text, but I hope you will listen to Samuel Ramey sing it:

Calumny is a little breeze,
a gentle zephyr,
which insensibly,
lightly and sweetly,
commences to whisper.

Softly softly, here and there,
sottovoce, sibilant,
it goes gliding,
it goes rambling.
Into the ears of the people,
it penetrates slyly and the heads and the brains it stuns and it swells.

From the mouth re-emerging the noise grows crescendo,
gathers force little by little,
runs its course from place to place,
seems the thunder of the tempest which from the depths of the forest comes whistling, muttering, freezing everyone in horror.

Finally with crack and crash,
it spreads afield,
its force redoubled,
and produces an explosion like the outburst of a cannon,
an earthquake,
a whirlwind,
a general uproar,
which makes the air resound.

And the poor slandered wretch, vilified, trampled down, sunk beneath the public lash, by good fortune, falls to death.

Have you heard that Obama is a Muslim?

Have you heard that Obama is a Muslim?

Have you heard that Obama is a Muslim?

34 Responses to “La Nostra Siviglia”

  1. Man of Roma November 2, 2010 at 5:03 am #

    La calunnia è un venticello,
    un’auretta assai gentile.

    So many lies since Obama was elected. Today is the big day. All Europe is silent and waiting.

  2. Paul Costopoulos November 2, 2010 at 6:32 am #

    Let’s hope Beaumarchais will be proven wrong. However “la calomnia” is one of Rossini’s most beautifull and forcefull arias. To make such hideousness so beautifull!

  3. jenny November 2, 2010 at 7:12 am #

    MoR and Paul:

    I’m off to vote this morning, singing to myself:

    Sì, Lindoro mio sarà;
    lo giurai, la vincerò.

  4. Iden November 2, 2010 at 8:31 am #

    Please, Europe, don’t be silent and waiting. You are bound to be bitterly disappointed this time if you are waiting with breath bated. Britain has made budget cuts, France too. We are likely to follow suit shortly. Keynes is out of fashion – never well understood anyway. The pendulum swings back the other way today. Sadly but surely, it is only a question of how far. Then, after two more years of economic doldrums and rancor, it goes back again the other way.

    • Man of Roma November 2, 2010 at 5:04 pm #

      I know Europe will be bitterly disappointed. But we love to be silent and waiting. More waiting than silent.

  5. Mark Workman November 2, 2010 at 11:08 am #

    What a beautiful piece. You are obviously a professional writer. Where can I find your magazine pieces or newspaper reviews and op-ed columns?
    Keep on keepin’ on, girl.

  6. david osman November 2, 2010 at 1:31 pm #

    nicely written as usual you delivered

    • jenny November 2, 2010 at 9:43 pm #

      Thanks, David.

  7. Mr. Crotchety November 2, 2010 at 2:14 pm #

    No, but he might be Keynesian:

    • Iden November 2, 2010 at 7:11 pm #

      Ohhhhh – like Keynsia in Africa. Never occurred to me to think that way.

    • Philippe November 2, 2010 at 7:47 pm #

      By saying that what matters is Obama’s policies, not where he’s from, many Tea Partiers display a tolerance that their detractors don’t give them credit for.

    • jenny November 2, 2010 at 10:14 pm #

      Mr. C: That’s funny. But, hmmm, yes. Not exactly a bunch of Spinozas. Still, Michelle Bachmann freaks me out so bad that I’ll stand shoulder to shoulder with any of these guys. Michelle Bachmann, Mr. C, Michelle Bachmann.

      Iden: You know too much.

      Philippe: I think you are mistaken. These are not tea party folks. This is a clip from the Jon Stewart rally this past weekend.

      • Iden November 2, 2010 at 10:41 pm #

        Is it really that I “know too much” or should I just be looking for a different country to live in where the people know more? Serendipitously, I was thinking about Brazil today in relation to very distant relatives who went there from Europe and not the US. Ah Ipanema!

      • dafna November 3, 2010 at 12:47 am #

        hysterical video, thanks Mr. C. – but was it all scripted because the ignorance is shocking.

        jenny – yes add me to the chain, that is one scary woman

      • dafna November 3, 2010 at 1:02 am #


        what’s this talk about “originalists” in regard to the constitution? are they serious?

        msnbc had a panel “trying” to interview eric cantor. no matter what the question, he kept repeating “the people have spoken” over and over “washington is not listening”, the interviewers kept saying… “i haven’t heard an answer yet!” talk about, irony, now whose not listening?

        i hope iden is correct and the pendulum swings back.

      • Philippe November 3, 2010 at 5:01 am #

        “….These are not tea party folks. This is a clip from the Jon Stewart rally this past weekend…..”

        Why should they not have been Tea Partiers who were there to spy out the Jon Stewart rally?

        They were saying the sorts of things Tea Partiers say. One guy even had a Hitler moustache, probably a fake one. He would have to be a Tea Partier, right?

        Anyway, I would be surprised had there been no Tea Partiers there.

      • jenny November 3, 2010 at 5:48 pm #


        🙂 🙂 🙂

        @Philippe: Can we please have a green-tea party now?

        @Dafna: I’m having Bachmann overload. Please.

  8. Philippe November 2, 2010 at 2:16 pm #

    Another good example of art enabling us to understand ourselves and what goes on today in the public sphere.

    In the matter of lies and gossip, it’s always what we first hear that remains permanently in our minds, despite later revelations that it was all untrue, as this piece by *Shankar Vedantam* explains.

    • jenny November 2, 2010 at 10:22 pm #

      That’s a disturbing article, Philippe. I don’t know what to think now. What should Obama have done in response to these stories?

      • dafna November 3, 2010 at 1:13 am #


        i did not go to your link, but i have heard this theory before and often used it to my advantage… (not the lies and gossip part) for example, when my son has a problem at school – i always try to give his side of the story to the principal first. it has something to do with human nature to “believe the first version” of and event regardless of facts.

        re obama, probably taking the high road and ignoring the issue was not the best choice. as amateur political strategist, i would have suggested that he invited the press to his easter at the white house and any other public gathering that showed his christian faith.

        the calumney of calling obama a socialist and a communist seems infinitely more stupid that calling him a muslim.

        as thomas says, people need to make better use of their dictionaries 🙂

  9. Iden November 3, 2010 at 4:58 am #

    It’s not fresh polling but these data show USians self-identify as conservative twice as much as liberal. 40% vs 20% with moderates most of the rest (there seems to be an unexplained 4% of none of the above). We are truly dealing here with a country in which liberals are now a clear minority. There is a majority of people here who don’t bother to vote – disproportionately the poorer who presumably would vote Dem. This past pre-election polling showed likely Dem voters significantly less motivated than likely Rep voters. The flavor of the year is tea as opposed to latte. They really truly want and believe in deficit reduction above all else. Alas poor John Maynard of Kenya and Paul Krugman. The new agenda will be what can be cut cut cut. They also increasingly don’t believe climate change is caused by people.

    The obstruction strategy, seen as principled by the Right, has paid off. Now we will see what and how they propose to reduce the size and scope of central power. I suspect our executive will be true to form and seek the pragmatic over the principled and strike bargains to get the best deals he can manage which again will disappoint us progressives. Pronouncements two years ago of the End of the Reagan Era were espresso besotted hubris. We blew it. For now.

    Consider though, who better to preside over the dismantling of entitlements than a black president who has embodied liberal Hope?

    My dad, who has been voting since 1946 and calls himself an FDR Democrat, thinks things will swing back the other way again.

    I hope my overly prolix comment hasn’t exceeded unspoken guidelines.

    • jenny November 3, 2010 at 5:52 pm #

      “We blew it. For now…”

      …tomorrow was another day
      The morning found me miles away
      With still a million things to say…

  10. Philippe November 3, 2010 at 5:20 am #

    @ Dafna “…..the calumney of calling obama a socialist and a communist seems infinitely more stupid that calling him a muslim……”

    Excellent point. Calling him a socialist or communist is as factually incorrect as calling him a Muslim.

    But, his being called a Muslim gets bigger headlines than his being called a socialist or communist. What’s really going on here?

  11. jenny November 3, 2010 at 7:32 am #

    @Philippe & Dafna: I was actually planning next to address (not quite sure how) why calling Obama a Muslim is a particularly insidious. Maybe, you’ll do that, Philippe? There was a terrific segment on This American Life this past weekend about Obama’s (and the Democrats’) failure to respond (generally). It’s called “Mr. Hitt Goes to Washington” — Jack Hitt has done more than a few good pieces for TAL.

    @Iden: There are no guidelines here. C’mon, you know me. What I want to know is: What does your MOM say?

    Sorry, there’s a lot more I want to add, but I have a nasty day of work ahead of me today.

    • Iden November 3, 2010 at 8:10 am #

      You asked for my MOM’s statement so I solicited it forthwith. Her first election for symmetry’s sake was 1952.

      She said they [candidates/parties] think they are playing basketball or football and they are not responding to the needs of the people. And the people are so far distant that they don’t understand the backroom deals and politicking. Then she said she has to finish writing a letter (by hand) to the health insurance company that is denying payment for her bone medicine because she isn’t in enough pain.

      • Iden November 3, 2010 at 8:14 am #

        Oops slight correction. They are denying her the drug she wants to take, instead tbey want her to take is alendronate and she hasn’t demonstrated any “intolerance (i.e. sensitivity, drug allergy, or adverse effect)” to that one so they won’t pay for her to take the other one. She wants to take the other one because she forgets to take the one they want her to take. Sorry this isn’t as good a story as the first one I had.

    • dafna November 3, 2010 at 2:06 pm #


      you read my mind. as soon as i saw philippe’s post, i thought he could be the one to answer the question “…what’s really going on here…”

      i am interested to see what mr. hitt has to say about it. at the very least, i have to wonder why there are no media images of the president as a “non-muslim”.

      media coverage of the obamas going to church, or during the white house easter egg hunt etc. could be a way of responding “indirectly”.

  12. Cyberquill November 3, 2010 at 1:20 pm #

    If Obama were a Republican, he’d be called a war criminal by the left for his drone attacks in Pakistan, that’s for sure. The moment political ideology is in play, people’s brains appear to melt down.

    • jenny November 3, 2010 at 6:02 pm #

      @CQ: Honestly, one of the things I admire about you is your unpredictable (to me, anyway)line-up of opinions. I sorta want all people who have intelligent things to say about acting (and you nailed it over there on the HB, I meant to mention) to be on my side politically. That’s a little primitive on my part, I know.

      My brain is as vulnerable to melt-down as the next, perhaps more. Here, though, are just my observations of some nastiness directed at Obama.

      • Cyberquill November 5, 2010 at 12:38 am #

        Sorry to disappoint. I’m on nobody’s side politically. I’m my own party, the all-over-the-map party. My only motto is, “If it doesn’t gel, it ain’t Jell-O.” (If I recall correctly, that’s a line from Psycho.)

  13. Philippe November 3, 2010 at 9:52 pm #

    @ Jenny, Dafna: “….I was actually planning next to address (not quite sure how) why calling Obama a Muslim is a particularly insidious. Maybe, you’ll do that, Philippe…..?”

    I feel inadequate for so monumental an undertaking. But here goes.

    I suggest that those who openly say that Obama is a Muslim, and those who become choleric when they hear this being said, share something in common, which is an assumption that to be a Muslim is somehow a bad thing, but with the difference that this assumption is unconscious in the hearts of those who become choleric.

    It would make sense, would it not, that if being a Muslim was felt to be as inconsequential as being a Christian or a Jew, then erroneously to be called a called a Muslim might at most be felt as a mild irritation.

    Negative feelings about Muslims in western societies are no doubt partly the result of all the unpleasantnesses at governmental level over the last thirty to forty years between the west (primarily America) and the various Arab Muslim countries.

    Hence, in the words of Edward Said in his famous book, “Orientalism”, “……Muslims and Arabs are essentially seen as either oil suppliers or potential terrorists. Very little of the detail, the human density, the passion of Arab-Moslem life has entered the awareness of even those people whose profession it is to report the Arab world. What we have instead is a series of crude, essentialized caricatures of the Islamic world presented in such a way as to make that world vulnerable to military aggression……..”

    Said goes back even further, and invokes words from historical personages as disparate as Balfour, Napoleon, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Byron, and Dante, to show how Muslims have been depicted over the centuries as being both “other” and “inferior”.

    Only by regarding Muslims as such, could the “superior” westerner justify his colonising and subjugating Muslim lands.

    It follows that negative feelings towards Muslims are embedded deep in the western psyche, and one manifestation is all too many people calling Obama a Muslim, and the choleric reaction of so many others to Obama’s being called such.

    • jenny November 4, 2010 at 7:26 am #

      Thanks, Philippe. This is a far more nuanced explanation than I would have produced. I think you’re right.

      It does, indeed, place Obama in the quandary described on TAL: If he insists too loudly that he is not a Muslim, we might conclude that he, too, thinks that being called one is insulting.

  14. Philippe November 4, 2010 at 7:45 pm #

    Someone else who has felt the need to deny a certain religious affiliation is Christine O’Donnell, who made it a point of saying that she wasn’t a witch – which (sic) is to say, a follower of the religion of Wicca.

    In an enlightened society a candidate for public office shouldn’t feel the need to make such a denial.

    It shouldn’t matter whether a candidate is a Wiccan, a Muslim, a Buddhist, or an Atheist.

    Will the day ever come when this won’t matter?

    Think back only fifty years when John F Kennedy felt the need to make a special address to the American people to convince them that if elected, he wouldn’t, as a Catholic, be letting the Pope govern America through the back door.

    Indeed, many at that time thought it would be impossible for a Catholic to be elected president. Today, just fifty years later, it would be of no account.

    So, who’s to say that in fifty years or less from now, America won’t won’t elect its first Wiccan, or Muslim, or Buddhist, or Atheist president.

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