Max Frankel, the former executive editor of the New York Times, has written a piece comparing John Adams's Nixon in China to his own experiences as a reporter in China in 1972. He comes to the conclusion that composers, playwrights, and, it seems, filmmakers should let a century pass before attempting to portray a particular historical event. Apparently, it's just too soon for dramatic works about the Russian Revolution, Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, the Cold War, or, of course, Watergate. Frankel derives his century rule from, he says, Shakespeare, with reference also to Verdi's habit of setting his historical operas deep in the past. What Frankel fails to acknowledge is that composers often gravitated to the deep past because they were not permitted to address more contemporary themes. In 1857, Verdi set to work on an opera titled Gustavo III, depicting the assassination of the King of Sweden in 1792. It was inspired by an Auber opera that had enjoyed great success at the Paris Opéra in 1833, only four decades after Gustav's death. The Neapolitan censors, however, rejected the idea as incendiary; in its final incarnation, as Un ballo in maschera, the opera was set in seventeenth-century Boston. We can only imagine what Verdi might have done if he had had perfect freedom in his choice of subjects; the results may well have proved disconcerting to the politically connected pundits of his day. "Respectful patience" is really not the right phrase for Giuseppe Verdi.