Artists in general "make you see things differently, make you see things in a new light. When we see a painting by Francis Bacon or a film of Sydney Pollack, we get a very precise idea of the problems of our century," Battistelli said.
He began work on the opera a year ago, and the Milan opera house La Scala plans to present it during the 2011 season as part of celebrations for the 150th anniversary of Italy's unification in 1861.
"I thought it could be a good idea to deal on this important occasion with a subject that involves not only Italy but the world," Battistelli said.
The opera will be told through characters and not a narrator, he said.
La Scala's chorus will figure prominently, and Battistelli said he plans to include the figure of the former U.S. vice president in the story.
"It will be about the tragedy of our present situation," Battistelli said. "It is a great challenge, of course, to write an opera on such an unusual subject. It is certainly not the story of Romeo and Juliet."
Battistelli, 55, has worked frequently in Germany and England, besides his native Italy. He briefly was the artistic director of the Arena in Verona until last year, when he left because of conflicts with the new city administration.