January 27, 2023

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Operas studied

Can a non-black singer sing the role of Otello? Is Wagner more frequent? Should we destroy the misogyny of Mozart’s operas?


Opera, like other artistic fields, is seriously affected by the wave of revisionism, which tends to eliminate or correct values ​​and realities that are difficult to connect with our century. This art firmly rooted in the 18e and XIXe Over the centuries, defenders of political correctness have offered a thousand and one reasons to intervene.

Get ready, the phenomenon of “attack plays” is just beginning. He took over the largest opera house. One can imagine that hearing and seeing the works in their original version is rare. Worse, some risks get blacklisted altogether.

The latest stark example of this broader movement is the prestigious Glyndbourne Festival in England, which announced just before the holiday season that it would “rethink the way offensive plays are presented to the public”. The agency recognizes that some of the works have “historical and social” perspectives that may shock today’s audiences.

“Where exoticism and orientalism depicting non-European cultures was once acceptable, we recognize through our lens that what was wrong then is still wrong today,” it said in a press release.

deletion black face Inside Ida

The festival joins Madrid’s Teatro Real, which announced last fall that it was closing down altogether black face in its productionIda. Earlier, in 2022, the Arena di Verona had the misfortune to resort to this old practice (in the same opera) and drew the ire of some audiences and performers (the American soprano Angel Blue was dropped from the production).

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I have to say that I totally agree with this view. It’s even shocking that this hasn’t been resolved yet. Opera lovers always accept a 17-year-old character sung by a 43-year-old artist. So, can they imagine others?

On the one hand, we fight against changes, on the other, we seek authenticity. The German tenant Jonas Kaufmann tasted the consequences of this combination of claims. When he played the title roleOthello, by Verdi, in November 2021, at the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, where he was given some boos. The public did not accept Kaufman, a white man playing this black character.

This brings us back to the problem of inclusion in Opera. Great strides have been made in recent years, but much remains to be done. If there were enough black singers to sing Otello, there would be no problem.

talkingOthelloRenowned choreographer John Neumeier got the surprise of his life when he learned that his work around this ballet had been canceled by the director of the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen, which he had expressed “racist stereotypes”.

The representation of an African dance was the catalyst for this controversy initiated by the dancers. The scene, which lasted just two minutes, showed a white dancer painted in blue performing an African dance. The 83-year-old choreographer defended himself by saying the dance was “codified and documented”. This did not convince the management which stopped the ballet last November.

Mozart’s misogyny

Some opera houses now require more careful preparation work before presenting an opera. This is what happened during the production at the Royal Opera House in London Madam Butterfly Last summer. For a year, experts accompanied the director to pay homage to Japanese culture in the director’s performance (sets, costumes, makeup, etc.).

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These are things that can be easily revised. But opera is a complex world that presents all kinds of dangers and challenges to directors.

What are we to make of some of the “awkward” elements at the heart of stories imagined by librettists? Should we eliminate the misogyny found in it? Così Fan TutteMozart, or examples of incest the ringWagner’s?

How to deal with the fate assigned to certain female characters like Tosca, Carmen, Desdemona or Pamina? Beaten, kidnapped, or isolated, women in opera don’t always have the best roles.

Then there is Wagner’s anti-Semitism or Verdi’s racism.

How many pebbles in the shoes of the founders of programming! Mostly male and white a few years ago, they now rub shoulders with women and minorities.

The weather is cold now. Opera house managers look at what others are doing. We live in constant fear of a controversy erupting. We protect ourselves as best we can. New York’s Metropolitan Opera also posted a warning on its website for those wishing to view a work through its online service.

It says: “Some shows are available on schedule Met Opera upon request Includes offensive racial and cultural depictions and stereotypes. The issues are different – ​​from past production practices like make-up black face, brown face And yellow face Racist Cultural Representations in the Texts of Operas. »

A revolution in staging

Where does all this lead us? A revolution on stage, in my opinion. Imaginative and daring directors are years ahead. Opera directors increasingly turn to them to find “solutions”.

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But predictably, this wave creates another problem: opponents of progressivism in opera. More and more artists denounced the corruption of classical works. In May 2022, tenor Roberto Alagna and soprano Alexandra Kurczak retired from conducting. Tosca It is currently offered at the Liceu de Barcelona.

To highlight the church as an instrument of political oppression and moral domination, director Raphael R. Villalobos incorporated elements of the film. 120 days of Salo or Sodom, Written by Pasolini, it depicts the last days of the Fascist regime in a grim and tragic way.

After watching the video footage, the two interpreters were shocked to see a universe where sadomasochism, nudism and pedophilia were intertwined. When Alexandra Kurczak saw Scorpia’s character wearing a sado-masochistic necklace, it was overwhelming. The two singers left the ship.

The world of opera has great challenges ahead of it. And no doubt a lot of controversies, crises and heated debates. As for the battle between purists and progressives, it will undoubtedly be epic and entertaining.

But since this art form can do just about anything, including letting a character sing a six-minute aria with a knife in his stomach, I’m sure it too will sink into the 21st century.e century