Last year’s public spat between Estonia’s President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and economist Paul Krugman will be transformed into a short operatic work based on the disagreement on fiscal issues between the two men.
In a blog in June 2012, Mr. Krugman questioned the assertion Estonia was booming and described the country as “a poster child for austerity defenders,” which hadn’t fully recovered from the global financial crisis. The post got a fierce response from Mr. Ilves, who posted angrily on Twitter in defense of Estonia, which enjoyed a budget surplus.
Among others, he said: “Let’s write about something we know nothing about & be smug, overbearing & patronizing.” One tweet included a profanity to say people could get away with insulting “East Europeans,” whose “English is bad” and who “won’t respond and actually do what they’ve agreed to and reelect governments that are responsible.”
Composer Eugene Birman and journalist Scott Diel found inspiration in the quarrel. The operating work they’re creating will be titled “Nostra Culpa,” Latin for “Our fault”, which Mr. Ilves used in an ironic admission to being one of “dumb and silly East Europeans.”
“Scott took various parts of the president’s tweets and we tried to create almost a refrain for the respective public figures. For Krugman, for example, it’s simply ‘Stimulate!’, while for Ilves, it’s ‘Nostra culpa’,” Mr. Birman said.
The 15-minute “financial opera” has two movements and will be performed by Estonian mezzosoprano Iris Oja.
“Iris sings the economic ideas, or better to say the vocabulary of Krugman, and follows with Ilves’ response. The response is completely based on the Twitter postings,” Mr. Birman said.
“I was reading a lot about this, following the austerity debate and the soap opera that surrounds it,” Mr. Diel said. “These two gentlemen represent two different sides of a debate that’s lasted for 70-80 years and hasn’t delivered a clear answer.”
The project will be part of the upcoming Estonian Music Days, a festival that has provided overviews of the current state of Estonian music for more than 30 years.
“The theme for this year’s Estonian Music Days is going to be collisions and oppositions. This was one of the biggest collisions in Estonia,” said Mr. Birman, who holds a degree in economics from Columbia University. One day, he would like an opportunity to compose a full-length dramatic financial opera, he added.
The work premieres in Tallinn on April 7.