About Verdi, Horowitz, and Campus USA

Washington Times 3.27.01
Balint Vazsonyi

Last Saturday, the Metropolitan Opera devoted its traditional Texaco broadcast to Giuseppe Verdi's "Nabucco," revived to commemorate the centenary of the composer's death. Nabucco was not only the work that in 1842 firmly established Verdi as a major composer of Italian opera, but the setting for the chorus "Va pensiero, sull'ali dorate" (Go forth thought, on golden wings) which the people of Italy sang spontaneously wherever the hearse carrying Verdi's remains passed a hundred years ago.

The haunting melody, sung in the opera by Hebrew slaves in Babylon where they are held captive, deeply affected Italians at the time of the first performance because Northern Italy was then captive to the Habsburg Empire. Ever since, it has become a kind of "anthem-by-consent" for people seeking freedom wherever music of this kind is at home.

In New York, this kind of music clearly is at home. And on this occasion, the singing of "Va pensiero" unleashed an emotional storm that transcended the usual broadcast experience. The applause, cheering, shouting, and all-round jubilation was not going to end until the conductor gave the signal for the chorus to be repeated.

Now I have had a love affair with Verdi since my early teens, and - being in the performing arts - I have had a lifelong exposure to ovations from both sides of the rostrum.

This was no ordinary ovation.

This was a celebration of freedom by the audience through empathy with the Jews of old. And one understands Jewish members of the audience especially, for in America, Jews found a level of freedom neither their ancestors nor Verdi could imagine. Jews in America are freer than they would be anywhere else - because everyone in America is freer than people anywhere else.

And that is something to celebrate.

But it brings to mind one particular Jew called David Horowitz. His parents used the freedom America had given them for working toward the destruction of that same America. Young David operated in that mode himself, until he came to see the truth and decided to devote the rest of his life to the preservation of the America that had given his family first refuge, then freedom.

Lately, David Horowitz had some special thoughts to communicate to his fellow Americans. "Va pensiero," he said to himself, "Go forth thought." Instead of wishing for golden wings, though, he chose to place the thought as paid advertisement in college newspapers to facilitate its reception.

"Reception" is important in Academia. It has, as any academic will tell you, replaced value judgments. Everything written is just a text, and the value of a text depends not on merit, but on its momentary reception.

The Academy has decided not to receive Mr. Horowitz's thought at all. David has met his Goliath.

The overwhelming majority of college newspapers refused to run his ad, and the few that did either published an apologetic retraction or unleashed an emotional storm that transcended the usual protest experience.

In case you missed it, Mr. Horowitz presented a personal view about the idea of reparations to be paid to black Americans because many of their ancestors had been enslaved. He explains in ten points why he sees no justification for such a move. One would think the university campus is the venue for discussions about intellectually problematic issues, just as the opera house is for the expression of sentiments.

Something is wrong with these pictures.

The eruption at the Met, typical of captive people when shown a glimmer of freedom, seemed out of place. Yes, Italy in 1842; or Hungary in 1956. But New York, 2001, by people who can and did pay up to $150 for a seat?

And the eruptions on America's campuses are out of place even more. They conjure up Germany's sordid past in which assorted youths fanned out to seize and burn thoughts in print - mostly by Jewish authors.

As if further to complicate the picture, "Va pensiero" is sung by Hebrew slaves, reminding us that slavery had been the longest-standing institution in the history of our planet - by no means peculiar, much less unique, to the early decades of the United States of America.

Among the countless reactions to Mr. Horowitz's thoughts, a television interview with Mr. Hugh Price, president of the National Urban League, stands out. Mr. Price was outraged by David Horowitz's suggestion that black Americans owe this country for "one of the highest standards of living of any people in the world," and for "the greatest freedoms and the most thoroughly protected individual rights anywhere."

"Imagine the outcry," protested Mr. Price, "if a similar suggestion had been made about Jews, Hispanics, indeed any other minorities!"

Wrong, Mr. Price.

Similar suggestions - no: statements of fact - are made all the time about everyone who lives here. They are made about people of every conceivable skin tone, including white. They are made about people of every ethnic extraction, every religion, and both sexes.

For the simple truth is that everyone who lives in America owes this country and its Founding Fathers for the highest standards of living, the greatest freedoms, and the most thoroughly protected individual rights anywhere.

If you don't believe me, post observers at our international airports and other border crossings, and record the movements of people. The flow of migration is strictly one-way, and it has been so, always.

And since this is the only country not even requiring a show of passports as you exit, we may assume that everyone is staying here by choice.

If those attending "Nabucco" really care about freedom, they need to turn their attention to America's universities where, unlike in Nabucco's Babylon, the threat to it is here and now. If those rampaging on the campus really care to comprehend the issues, they need to learn about history, read books, and spend some quiet time thinking.

They might, also, go to the opera now and then.