Last fall I wrote a blog, The Operatic Republican Characters, in which I compared the Republicans seeking their party’s nomination for the Presidency. In it I compared Donald Trump to Dr. Dulcamara in Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore. Several correspondents criticized this choice, saying that Dulcamara was an amiable quack, not at all like Mr. Trump. I certainly agree and am sorry that I ever likened the good doctor to the man nominated by the Republican Party to be our President.
I have given some thought as to whether he has a parallel in opera. The most efficient way, I think, is chronologically to go through the different composers who have contributed the most to repertory. In Mozart there is certainly Don Giovanni, but the essence of the character is incredible charm united with evil, not a good fit. Rossini, at least in the standard repertory, does not offer an ideal character, nor does Bellini or Donizetti. Verdi offers a few but none seem right. Attila, for instance, is a conqueror but does heed the Pope, Macbeth a murdering tyrant somewhat controlled by his even-more-evil wife, and going chronologically through his works no one fits the bill. Iago clearly fails as Donald Trump is more than outspoken about what he plans to do to the United States if he were elected to the Presidency; clearly a Falstaff he is not.
Puccini’s Scarpia in Tosca, who might come to mind, doesn’t work either. Trump is neither in the business of bribing nor killing nor doing any of what the good Baron unapologetically does, and though the idea of his being similar to Guillot de Mourfontaine in Manon or or Geronte de Ravoir in Manon Lescaut is attractive, it doesn’t work any better than does Sheriff Jack Rance in The Girl of the Golden West. Frustration in pursuit of the ideal woman is not Trump’s problem. Giordano, Leoncavallo, and Mascagni offer us no good choices either. I would love to propose Barnaba in Ponchielli’s La Gioconda, but his nefarious actions dwarf anything Trump has even imagined.
French, English, and American operas all have villains but none really fit the comparison, and the Slavic operas are not much help either.
Solid gold, however, was found in Wagner. Not Rienzi, the Dutchman, Telramund, Beckmesser, or Klingsor. The Ring of the Nibelung is where there can be found a good partner to Donald Trump. The characters are all larger than life, which God knows he is; they are frequently many sided, that is, not outright villains, much more complicated than that. I am not thinking of Wotan, who certainly has a lot of negative action on his plate, but Wotan has something big that causes him to make many of his mistakes. He gave away his left eye for knowledge, and so, according to the ancients, lost his sense of perception and insight. He has only the factual right eye, which causes him to decide what he wants without thought of the future. Alberich has no redeeming traits; after the theft of the gold he spends his life brooding about getting back the ring; I don’t see Trump as a brooder. Hunding is just a low-class wife beater, and Gunther a weakling.
The real Trump figure is Hagen. He had a powerful father in Alberich who directed his life virtually from birth. He is fixed on success and never for a moment loses focus on his goal, in his case the Rhinegold. He is humorless, extremely sensitive to any criticism, much cleverer than his relatives and comes paralyzing close to winning the prize. His men obey him and seem to like him, but although in the second act of Götterdämmerung he offers them a fantastic banquet, he never delivers–or if he does, we don’t know about it. Incidentally, his character requires a major artist, one who can sing throughout the bass-baritone range with excitement. He certainly can convince his less-than-bright half-brother and half-sister of anything he wants. He seems destined to win, but guess what? A woman named Brünnhilde is smarter. My vote for the Trump of opera is Hagen the Gibichung, one of Wagner’s greater if supremely unlovable characters.