Opera apologises for anti-old, ugly casting (sort of)

Opera apologises for anti-old, ugly casting (sort of)


norman lebrecht

December 04, 2015

Message from Knoxville Opera, following the ‘old and ugly’ furore:

Knoxville Opera is deeply apologetic and sincerely regrets the hurt caused by our recent audition notice. When we posted the ad for engaging three singers for our education/outreach production of LA BOHEME we used language to communicate in “short-hand” the specific descriptions of the characters of Mimi and Musetta by Henri Murger, the original author, as they appear in the printed Puccini scores in the prefaces to Acts 1 and 2.

When considering all artists, our first priority has always been and always will be a person’s vocal ability to sing the role. We are a company committed to a culture of inclusion and will continue to hold ourselves ethically accountable for hiring diverse artists. If one were to take a comprehensive look at the entirety of the artists in our company over the past decade, one would find that our casting has been both diverse and inclusive. Please allow us to once again express our sincere and respectful apology.


knoxville opera

So it was all Puccini’s fault, then?


  • Wiebke Göetjes says:

    They are just trying to become less guilty…
    I am not buying it, sorry…

    • Thomas says:

      Agreed. It’s not an apology if you try to justify your original stance. I don’t buy their “short-hand” descriptions at all. They were not describing the type of characters in the original post, they were asking for specific actors.

      (And do they really need to “describe” who the characters in Bohème are?? It is not some obscure opera that people don’t know about…)

    • V.Lind says:

      Agreed. This smacks of something they thought would pass muster. They were probably shocked by the response. At least they have had a rethink, Maybe they will do better in future.

      Somehow I can’t hear “age-apppropriate” from Puccini…

  • David says:

    Oh will you all stop with the faux outrage? You’re no better than Fox News. Seriously look at their cast lists from years past. Tons of diversity of age, body type, race….

    You’re looking to be offended. But oh wait…outrage makes for click bait and self righteousness. It all becomes clear.

    Carry on, Internet. Carry on.

    • Respect says:

      David: bravo. The flurry of angry blog posts from offended singers, ” mighty roars” as publicity bids and maniacal reposts on Facebook from singers are hilarious and sad to read, but the aggressive reaction is reflective of Americans
      Politics at the moment: the louder and ruder you are, the more self publicity you generate.

  • Dan P. says:

    Obviously one has to be able to sing and act to a particular standard no matter what a role is, but at the risk of sounding politically incorrect, what is particularly wrong about casting someone who can at least appear to be a young and attractive woman as Mimi or Musetta, who are, one understands, young and attractive women in the story? Doesn’t it go to creditability? I don’t think any reasonable person would have considered both Judy Garland and Margaret Hamilton for the same role in “The Wizard of Oz.”

    Granted, describing it as a “restriction” is stupid and obnoxious, but it’s hardly the end of the world. As one who has long since risen past the category as young and attractive (and many other things) I still think that this unending outrage at everything trivializes those things that true outrage should be focused on.

    Actors take these kinds of things in stride – you don’t prep yourself for King Lear at 20, just as you don’t play Romeo as a grandfather. And that, actually goes for singing as well, there are roles you are more likely to be able to handle vocally as a young singer and those you shouldn’t touch until you’re middle aged. Why shouldn’t this go for appearance as well? Callas only sang Butterfly a few times and then gave up the role because she felt she was too tall to carry off the role. She refused to sing Salome because she didn’t think her ankles were attractive (or at least so she said). And what about Porgy and Bess?

    As I said, I think it goes without saying that one’s voice and acting ability are the first restrictions, but at least the ability to embody the person you are playing should be considered as well, no? Or maybe the ability to sing the role is discriminatory as well?

    • Yes Addison says:

      Good points, Dan P.

      I just recently heard Susan Graham say in an interview about her first Countess Geschwitz (during the HD broadcast of Lulu) that at her age, she could not go on forever singing Octavian, et cetera.

    • Eddie Mars says:

      Yes indeed, what about Porgy & Bess. The matter there is enshrined in law. The Gershwin Foundation insist that only black performers can play the roles (except for the policeman, who is intentionally white, as part of the storyline). Any theatre which tries to do otherwise will find their show shut down (and I have indeed seen that happen).

      Long before a note of music in these operas was written came the STORY, which remains the uppermost priority,

      Opera does not exist to provide would-be opera singers with a living. Quite the reverse – it’s the job of the performers to bring the opera to life.

      There is a place for singers who are not interested in credible stage performances to work. It’s called ‘the concert hall’ ;)))

      • Dan P. says:

        The thing is – and I say this as a long time progressive – art is not a democracy. What a composer, director, or producer put on stage has to reflect THEIR imagination and vision. That’s what I expect when I put down my money at the box office. I believe in equal opportunity employment AND social programs. No one should ever be forced to go hungry or be without work, but on the other hand, no one should be forced to hire an artist they don’t want when they believe it’s for legitimate artistic reasons. And they shouldn’t have to prove it to anyone either. It may not be fair, but the alternative is not a very happy one for art.

    • flipthefrog says:

      “you don’t prep yourself for King Lear at 20”

      Orson Welles played Charles Foster Kane at 70 when he was 26. That movie was too bad, was it?

      • Dan P. says:

        Only when not in flashback. Still, the role of Charles Foster Kane – as great as it is – is not King Lear. But that’s not the point, he was able to hire exactly WHO he wanted in his movie. And he hired his small company of actor associates from New York, Joseph Cotton, Ray Collins, and Agnes Moorehead. Whoever the casting director was I’m sure they went through all the available headshots – like all casting directors.

  • Paul says:

    following their explanation, for Puccini’s Madama Butterfly they will only be considering 15 year-old Japanese singers for the role of Cio-Cio San 🙂

    • Philip Amos says:

      One must think so, Paul. Re Lebrecht’s question about Puccini, they have in truth, as is evident from what is said, put the blame at the door of Henri Murger, the author of the book. That puts them in a bit of a bind, for they’ve said they shouldn’t have used his descriptions, so presumably now they won’t. They’ll put a fair distance between them. Paul makes us wonder at the possible casting in Butterfly. I suspect productions will be a bit odd for a while, for they sound as if they’ll try to earn forgiveness by getting far away from original descriptions. I foresee a production or two a bit like Mikado with Eric Idle.

      • Eddie Mars says:

        Murger’s picaresque novel was the basis for La Boheme. It was David Belasco’s play that formed the plot idea for Madam Butterfly.

        But what do facts matter?! If we can have sopranos of 55+ playing Cio-Cio San, than let’s make it all politically correct and have men playing the part too (the older, the better, eh?)

        As a shrill neoliberal voice once declared at a lecture on Italian Renaissance art – “Why is the Virgin Mary always shown with a little boy?! Why can’t it be a girl?! I bet you’ve moved the pictures with the little girls off view, haven’t you?”

        • V.Lind says:

          Sure it wasn’t someone from Slipped Disc? There is an obsession around here about the number of females doing this, that or the other. 🙂

  • mb says:

    So Baz Luhrmann was an ageist pig when he produced La bohème for Opera Australia in 1990 with David Hobson and Cheryl Barker, both about 30 at the time.