Just in: Tenor quits Mozart opera over ‘insult to Turkey’

Just in: Tenor quits Mozart opera over ‘insult to Turkey’


norman lebrecht

January 02, 2017

The Turkish tenor Mert Sungu has walked out of Bologna’s upcoming production of Die Entführung aus dem Serail.

He accused the director Martin Kusej of causing a ‘blemish to the dignity of a nation’, and misleading the audience’s ‘understanding of geo-political causes of our biggest problem today: TERRORISM.’

Bologna has made no comment on his departure, which was announced on social media a matter of hours before the New Year’s Day attack on an Istanbul nightclub.

Sungu, 31 and from Istanbul, works mostly in Italian opera houses.

Italian media have failed to report his action.




  • john Niles says:

    Personally, I am surprised this has not happened earlier. Just as several of my Puerto Rican Colleagues have problems with East Side Story so Abduction (and Rossini’s L’Italiana) are problematic as far as ethnic sensibilities are concerned.
    Although, I should point out that my friends from Puerto Rico DID like and appreciate the new English/Spanish version of WSS that was done recently. They are planning a production in San Juan with the 2 language version in 2018. Not sure who but I know it is in the works.
    And while we are at it, can we talk about Leoni’s L’oracolo which I love but MUST be done today with an Asian Cast or at least Asian Leads.

    • Alexander says:

      Why must it be done with an Asian cast or with Asians in leading roles? Must the Japanese characters in Madama Butterfly be Japanese? Must the Chinese characters in Nixon in China be Chinese? Must the cast of Turandot comprise Chinese, Tatars, and a Persian? Must Otello be black? Must Nabucco be Iraqi? Must the gypsies in operas such as Il trovatore, Carmen, and Der Zigeunerbaron be Romas? Must the cast of Les pêcheurs de perles be Sri Lankans? And don’t we then risk justifying those who claimed that Willard White could not sing Prince Gremin, since the prince obviously would not have been black?

      • John Borstlap says:

        And that is only the beginning. Where do we find a really ignorant fool today for Parsifal, and real Norns and Giants?

        • Alexander says:

          Well, indeed, that’s why I didn’t mention the question of whether a black man could accurately represent Wotan, since I considered it safer to restrict myself to actual human characters. I imagine that we can no more imagine what Wagner’s gods would really look like than we can imagine what God the Father or the Holy Spirit look like.

          • V.Lind says:

            You sayin’ you know what God the Son (aka Jesus Christ) looks like? 🙂

          • Alexander says:

            Well, we can guess what Jesus would have looked like, insofar as we have some idea of what the Jewish population of the Roman province of Iudaea may have looked like.

        • B Bailey says:

          If we are going to require genuine ignorant fools to play Parsifal, heaven knows there no lack of them teaching on college campuses today. And some of them are probably tenors.

        • Wai Kit leung says:

          I would think there are plenty of fools around? Granted not all of them can sing.

        • David Osborne says:

          A short, sexually inadequate man who enslaves his people in a quest for absolute power to play Alberich?

        • Paul Zarb says:

          You shouldn’t have trouble finding him. There are lots of fools around these days- otherwise they wouldn’t be so easily insulted.

        • Vienna calling says:

          There is definitely no shortage of ignorant fools to sing Parsifal.

      • B Bailey says:

        Game, set and match. In fact, one could argue and someone probably eventually will, given the prevailing insanity, that learning and attempting to speak a foreign language is unacceptable because it’s a form of cultural appropriation.
        Opera is theater and it is no more wrong to play the Mikado or Turandot with non-Asian performers than it would be to prohibit one playing Sweeney Todd unless you’re a serial killer.
        However, I am very skeptical that Mert Sungu had no idea of what Entfuhrung is all about, he must have studied it and learned the role (incidentally as a tenor he has to have been playing either one of the two Western characters, Belmonte or Pedrillo).
        Therefore, I’m not blaming Sungu. I suspect the director is he culprit and we have a case of what Andrew Porter called malinscenation. I’d like to know more about the production. Knowing well ahead of time, as he must have, the plot and setting of Mozart’s opera, I’d bet he would have been perfectly fine with a traditional non-Regie, non-smartassery, production.

      • Christopher Culver says:

        “Must the Japanese characters in Madama Butterfly be Japanese?”

        Isn’t it a common attitude in the industry now that because conservatories worldwide are cranking out so many talented musicians, recording execs can choose among them the most sexy (or otherwise most easily marketable) to sign to their labels? With so many talented musicians coming from Japan, China, the African-American community, etc. these days, might not casting singers who match the part now be a luxury that we can now afford ourselves?

        • Alexander says:

          That trend may well develop. I’m afraid I remain somewhat stuck in the past in that I continue to think of opera first and foremost as a musical, rather than a visual, art form. For that reason it has never worried me to see Rodolfo, who presumably would have been severely malnourished, sung by Pavarotti. It certainly would be sad if sexiness and marketability were to become the chief qualities sought in opera singers, rather than vocal quality, musicianship, and technique. There is another fundamental problem with this trend. While some characters in opera do represent people who are presumably supposed to be particularly beautiful (e.g. Tosca), many characters in opera are supposed to represent ordinary people. Returning to La bohème, I have always loved the pairing of Pavarotti and Mirella Freni as Rodolfo and Mimì. The beauty of the story lies in the fact that the lovers are two ordinary people who are transfigured into something extraordinary through art. I think we can reasonably assume that, based on sexiness and marketability, Pavarotti and Freni would probably never have been cast. That would be not just a great loss to music, but a great loss to humanity. Rodolfo and Mimì are not supposed to be particularly beautiful people. In the early 19th century the population of Paris contained many hundreds of thousands of people who were poor, cold, hungry, and sick. They are just two people out of those hundreds of thousands who fall in love and find each other beautiful, and in the opera they become something sublime, something which will perhaps be celebrated for as long as human civilization endures. If we were ever to say that Rodolfo and Mimì must be performed only by beautiful people we would miss the whole point of the opera (and of opera itself).

          • Christopher Culver says:

            ” It certainly would be sad if sexiness and marketability were to become the chief qualities sought in opera singers, rather than vocal quality, musicianship, and technique.”

            The point is that there is no reason you can’t have both. The idea that is circulating these days is that talent is now a commodity with the amount of performers coming out of conservatories today, so if you have a wide pool of talent at your disposal, you can now begin choosing performers according to such criteria as sexiness or, as I suggested above, whether they match the ethnicity of the part being written for. (Getting Sri Lankans might be hard, but surely no one will have trouble finding Japanese or Chinese willing to sing those parts as long as they are paying reasonably enough.)

          • “I’m afraid I remain somewhat stuck in the past in that I continue to think of opera first and foremost as a musical, rather than a visual, art form.”
            Ingmar Bergman managed to cast an opera for film where the look of the singers matched the roles [with the exception of the inherently troublesome role of Monostatos, here done in blackface]. Point being, it can be done successfully if the director has a good [in the case of Bergman, great] sense of the visual elements in an opera.

        • Una says:

          Great voices, great instrumentalists in particularly, but not always showing as singers faces or voices full of expression needed for the part is my experience … and they come cheaper too for the opera houses. I’ll probably be told I’m a racist now or something for saying it but it’s just my experience not necessarily everyone else’s.

          I am sure there will be plenty of British and Continental Europeans who will take his place.

          Happy New Year to you all by the way!

  • MacroV says:

    I think most of the comments so far are missing the key point, which is that he seems to be taking issue with the director – and perhaps some element of the opera that he’s playing up. He’s not, from what I can tell, objecting to the opera itself, which he would have to take up with the long-deceased Mozart. So the question of whether white people can play non-white characters, etc., is not really relevant here.

    • Alexander says:

      Oh, I know that this is not what the original post was about. I was just responding to John Niles’s comment, which I found a little problematic.

  • Ressae says:

    2017 will mark the start of the death of identity politics, so enjoy it while you can, Turk loser 🙂 Bigger than Mozart? Yup

  • Nick says:

    Clearly it’s political. To suggest that any professional singer has no idea what Entführung is about is just plain stupid. Kušej is a director of the regie theater school. When chosen to direct Idomeneo for Covent Garden recently, he announced “I don’t believe in gods. Religion, ideology – it’s all a fake.” So the Garden knew what it was likely to get. And the New Statesman critic said in her review, “Kušej’s Idomeneo is so cluttered with ideas, so baggy in concept, that it would take a chainsaw to find any conceptual traction in its slippery surface.” Too early to say what he is going to do to this Entführung but quite likely there will be something radical about its recent politics

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    No problem. I am sure there are lots of Italian, German, or Austrian tenors who can take the role immediately.

    • Just as there was no shortage of artists to take the place of the Jewish singers who weren’t able to appear in the German, Austrian and Italian opera productions of the thirties.

      • Pianofortissimo says:

        Sorry, I forgot the British, the French, the Dutch, the Americans, and of course the Russians. 🙂 No cultural racism or so against the singer, it’s just so that in Mozart’s time the Turks were The Enemy, bad guys known to kidnap and enslave and do horrible things (God forbid!) to our beautiful girls, and Die Entführung aus dem Serail tells us about one such case (with happy end). (The threshold to draw the Nazi card became so low these days.)

      • Ressae says:

        These replies can destroy my day because I laugh so much I loose concentration. More, more, more! :-DDD

      • Bernd says:

        Both antisemitism and islamophobia shouldn’t be part of anyone’s staging of the Entführung aus dem Serail. It’s the director that should be fired.

  • David Osborne says:

    Of course he knows what Entführung is about. I’m guessing this is another case of Regietheater strikes again. Previous poster was predicting the demise of identity politics this year. That’s fine as long as we acknowledge it’s existence on all sides, but for my part I’m predicting the demise of Regietheater/oper. Wishful thinking? A man can dream and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one…

  • Gerald Martin says:

    Didn’t Birgit Nilsson perform “Dance of the Seven Veils”?

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      Yes, La Nilsson did it very well, she danced with surprising lightness, but she was more known for her role as Turandot (“Isolde made me famous, but it was Turandot that made me rich”, she wrote). Do you insinuate that she should not sing these roles because she was neither Jewish nor Chinese?

  • Gonout Backson says:

    And think of all the certified virgins for oh so many roles.