Madame Mao's filthy mouth angers Methodists

Those mother fuckers being taught how to dance.

  • Those mother fuckers being taught how to dance in 'Nixon in China.'

I can't say as I noticed it the first time around,

Madame Mao's m-f-bomb in the third act of Nixon in China

, which I saw via HD simulcast at a Southside movie theater. (Longtime Nixon James Maddalena struggled with a cold — Janis Kelly, playing Pat Nixon, even asked him if he was all right following Act 1, while they remained mic'ed for all to hear prior to a backstage interview during intermission — but it's certainly one of the more impressive contemporary operas I've had a chance to see/hear.)

But then again, I've become inured to profanity; we curse like sailors around the NUVO office — or, as the case may be, like Madame Mao. Plenty of stations around the country noticed though, fearing FCC fines, in some cases; in others, merely because such profanity was out of line with their programming philosophy.

University of Indianapolis radio station WICR was among those that took offense, and station leadership brought up the opera during negotiations to broadcast the Metropolitan Opera for the 2011-12 season. Those negotiations are ongoing, and as the broadcasts remain off the air for the first time in recent memory, longtime listeners — many of whom cannot or choose not to listen online or attend the HD simulcasts at local theaters — are starting to get restless.

According to Chris Tolzmann, administrative vice president for the Fine Arts Society, which contracts with WICR to provide local classical music programming, WICR and the Met have agreed to terms for the season, but nothing has yet been signed. WICR makes the final decision on programming, in concert with the Fine Arts Society, and they have been in negotiations with the Met over three concerns:

1) WICR has asked that they be notified in advance if a broadcast will contain profanity, which was not the case for the broadcast of Nixon in China, which contained profanity in violation of FCC rules. As Tolzman puts it, "The University, a Methodist school, and WICR, an FCC licensee, cannot tolerate such actions in the future."

2) WICR is concerned about the start time for Met matinee performances gradually creeping earlier in the afternoon, necessitating the pre-emption of programming.

3) And WICR would like the right to pre-empt the opera for sports programming.

Local opera buffs have been on the horn about this; a letter to the editor appeared in the Star last week, and I've been hearing this week from Peggy Hillman, who has also contacted The New York Times in the effort to bring attention to the situation, which she characterizes as censorship.

Here's part of her email to the Fine Arts Society: "Historically, the Fine Arts Society, a very small not-for-profit group, has teamed up with WICR, an FM station associated with the University of Indianapolis, a small, private, Methodist college which supposedly is committed to fine arts. I was surprised when the first opera of the Met radio season was not broadcast last week (Saturday, December 3rd) ... Simply unbelievable: Can you imagine telling John Adams that Nixon In China is profane? I saw the opera (in the HID at the movies) last spring, and I wonder what caused them grief (something Nixon said???) ... I strongly suspect that the Fine Arts Society is not behind this censorship. It is a lovely little group founded by an Eli Lilly chemist from Poland who would be turning over in his grave if he knew."

Hillman goes on to note that Gounod's Faust, broadcast last weekend by the Met, is "somewhat profane in staging and libretto (in French)," and to wonder if WICR would censor or edit such material.