Opera in turmoil over casting white woman in Asian role

Calgary Opera has lost three members of its South Pacific team, including the director, after a row over casting.

The company says it cannot find an Asian singer strong enough to play the role of Bloody Mary.

An unnamed white singer was chosen, but the director, designer and one performer resigned before she could be contracted. The show is still in production, albeit in difficulties.

Report here.

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  • Kind of like the controversy over the casting of Scarlett Johansson in the movie “Ghost in the Shell”. Don’t really have an opinion one way or the other on the matter other than both sides are right. Let the show go on.

  • We are meant to be colour-blind when it comes to Africans and Asians singing roles of real historical people who were white, but not the other way around. And should diversity trump musical excellence?

  • Who will ever forget Juanita Hall in the film “South Pacific” and her references to the Loo-tellen. She was just a stand-out in an otherwise quite dull film – which looked good. And its eclectic music has always been a problem for me. The Viennese flavoured “Some Enchanted Evening” right through to the vaudevillian “Honey Bun”. What were they thinking?

    • It’s not eclecticism: it’s musical characterisation of a high order. Some Enchanted Evening is sung by a character who is a mature and cultured Frenchman (and it was written for a distinguished Italian opera singer). Naturally it reflects European romanticism. Honey Bun is a bawdy comedy number being staged by young American GIs: so it references jazz & US vaudeville. And so on throughout the score: the musical language of each song represents the personality, background and assumptions of the character(s) singing it. Rodgers was a superb musical dramatist; still underrated.

      • Juanita Hall – whether African American or anything else – was outstanding in that role.

        “You’ve Got to be Taught” was the kind of song you’d hear from Stephen Sondheim and didn’t fit the mawkish “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy”. All over the shop!!

        I’ve read a great deal about R&H and their collaboration and separate anthologies of essays about their work, and this is my considered opinion.

  • Must “West Side Story” only be performed by Puerto Rican actors? Only Jewish actors for “Fiddler on the Roof?” Only WASPs for “Oklahoma?” How about an all-Egyptian cast for “Aida?”

  • This question is simply ridiculous, quite crazy, it’s difficult not to make fun of it, but the real problem is that there is people who are taking it as a real question, people is geting fired or resignating from their jobs. It’s insane.

  • What about Hamilton? The founders were white, but none of the actors in Hamilton were. You can’t have it both ways. If you are going to cry cultural misappropriation, it goes both ways. (My opinion is that Hamilton is fine and so is using white singers in Mikkado or South Pacific.)

  • Most of the above contributors clearly expose the shallowness and self righteous of so many of the producer, director and management types who with their massive egos and wishing to draw attention to themselves do such great harm to the serious art that they infest.

    Perhaps if their remuneration were dependent upon success their silliness would be replaced by rationality or better still they would be forced into obscurity.


  • Haven’t seen a proper Othello in a while. Damn racists.

    Now Wotan, never casted as the real deal, a man with only one eye.

    Also, Alberich, Mime, we need dwarfs. I say swindle to all the productions in the past, shameful, so racist, this suppression of dwarfs.

    Let’s close operas. We can never find the real looking actors.

    Music is irrelevant after all. It’s all about the looks, particularly in opera.

  • What is stage make up for, I ask you? If you can’t find a Polynesian (not just an Asian) singer then just slap the right slap on a white woman and everything will be just fine. Political correctness gone crazy. Everyone is so ridiculously oversensitive these days.

  • This issue is legitimate with regard to spoken theater and musical theater (which is where it originated), because Asian and Asian-American/Canadian actors really do have trouble getting work because there are so few parts for them.

    As others here have pointed out, this is less of a problem in opera, where there are increasing numbers of well-trained Asian singers performing in standard repertory.

    A key question here, I think, is whether or not Calgary Opera was planning to use microphones for this South Pacific.

    If not (as I presume is the case with most of their productions), then they need a trained opera singer, and I could believe that they couldn’t find an ethnically Asian one who already knows the role of Bloody Mary, which isn’t exactly standard mezzo rep.

    I’m sure there are plenty of musical theater artists of Asian descent who know the role, but can they sing it (or anything else) without a microphone?

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