As Newt Gingrich rises in the polls, it’s worth putting one little item on the table of public discourse: He loves opera. In Washington, lots of people love opera, but it’s rare for politicians with national ambitions to love it so publicly and openly as Gingrich has in the past. As anyone who attends the Washington National Opera–now the official opera company of the Kennedy Center for the Arts–can attest, he’s often there, especially on big gala occasions. That puts him in company with several Supreme Court justices, including Antonin Scalia and Ruther Bader Ginsburg. But Supremes have lifetime appointments, which makes it considerably safer to love opera in the open. Gingrich is still looking for benediction from the national electorate, which makes his embrace of the Irrational Art Form all the more daring. How will it play out? When someone asks the inevitable question about what kind of music he likes, will Gingrich say Verdi, Puccini and Mozart? Or will he and his people attempt to sequester the opera lovin’ data point in the same category as the former Speaker’s taste for big ticket items at Tiffanys?
It’s also possible that his love of opera could reinforce his public persona as an intellectual. Opera is for smart people, of course. Not likely. The base probably doesn’t much care about Rigoletto, Rheingold or Radamisto, and there’s a difference between seeming smart (having ideas) and seeming cultured.
The real question, for opera lovers, is what kind of opera does Gingrich love. Italian? German? French? Early Instruments? Regietheatre? Or classic old-guard production? Is he a soprano man? Or more inclined to the bass and baritone roles? These questions matter.