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Welsh opera under fire over non-Chinese cast

October 6, 2017 by norman lebrecht

20 comments.


Music Theatre Wales is performing The Golden Dragon by Peter Eotvos. It is set in a Chinese restaurant and has a cast of five, including ‘Chinese mother’, ‘Chinese aunt’, ‘Old Asian’ and ‘An Asian’.

All are played by European singers.

Cries are being heard of ‘another frankly disappointing and incomprehensible case of yellowface casting’.

MTW say the opera is a non-literal fantasy.

Read here.

photo: Music Theatre Wales


Comments (20)

  1. Halldor says:

    Such bullshit. One of the characters is an ant, for goodness’ sake. And the same singers who perform male Chinese roles also appear as female (presumably Caucasian) characters. Where were all these complaints when exactly the same production was touring for the first time 12 months ago?

    There are problems with the piece, for sure, but the cast isn’t one of them.

  2. Maria says:

    As a (very) rough and ready experiment, I googled “Chinese opera singers” (Chinese people who sing in Western opera). The Wiki result listed 37 singers, and that included singers who have passed on.

    How far can Music Theatre Wales afford to go in finding Chinese singers?

    Would its critics prefer the company to ignore non-European themes entirely?

    Ridiculous.

    1. Halldor says:

      The really troubling implication here is that great artists from non-western backgrounds should effectively be debarred from singing white, western characters. Identity politics is an ugly, divisive and demeaning game, wherever it’s played – you’d hope people in the arts world would be sophisticated (and tolerant) enough to see that.

      1. Elizabeth Owen says:

        Who has debarred them?

        1. Steven Holloway says:

          God, I do wish people would read closely. Halldor did not say they have been debarred. He is pointing out that if the banning of Causasian singers from performing Chinese roles is taken as a valid propositon, the corollary is that Chinese singers should be banned from singing Causasian roles and so on, mutatis mutandis. The result would be ludicrous, as is this current controversy.

      2. Sue says:

        Absolutely laser accurate! And they have the colossal gall to turn on others and call them divisive. More projections!! Sheesh.

  3. Jonathon says:

    I seem to recall the world premiere in Frankfurt having at least 2 Asian singers in the cast, possibly 3, though I’d have to check my programme to verify that.

  4. Don Ciccio says:

    Well, what else is new? In the 1950s producer Michael Todd chose the great Cantinflas to play the role of Passepartout in Around the World in 80 Days.

    Quel scandale! A Mexican playing a Frenchman? (Ironically Fernandel had a cameo in the film, though perhaps among the French actors Bourvil or perhaps Louis de Funès could have been a better choice as Passepartout.)

    As it turns out it was Cantinflas’ best (and certainly most prestigious) film, although I still believe that, unlike Chaplin, Totò (who worked with Pasolini) or Sordi, Cantinflas did not have a chance to play in a film that fully exploited his enormous talents. Sure, the Miguel Delgado directed flick are often funny, but they tend to be repetitive and do not give the great actor the range he deserves.

    But since this is a blog about music, let’s point out that Cantinflas did dance Ravel’s Bolero in ‘El bolero de Raquel’. Also, in the film ‘Por mis pistolas’, the name of his donkey was Fierrabras, just like Schubert’s opera!

    1. Sue says:

      Gender bending in Handelian opera and a woman playing a man’s role in “Der Rosenkavalier”. What next???!!! (Thumps table) “I’m not going to tolerate it any more because I’m a precious snowflake”!!!

  5. Gustav Mahler says:

    OK. To be fair then we also should have a serious discussion whether it is musically correct that asian singers are casted in european opera houses to sing in Italian or German operas. I’m not talking about Turandot, of course. However, is an asian soprano, mezzo, tenor or baritone the right choice for a Verdi or Wagner role? And a performance of a baroque opera with the aim to be historically informed cannot cast asians who sing in a set that plays in Old Greece. Hollywood wouldn’t do that in a film… But opera houses?

  6. Ellingtonia says:

    As Richard Dawkins once memorably uttered in a reply to a question…..”oh, just tell them to fuck off!” I think this is the most appropriate response to the PC brigade.

    1. Sue says:

      Brilliant! A good laugh. Sanity, at last.

  7. William Osborne says:

    I’m inclined to think the criticisms of the casting are unjustified and superficial, but the venom expressed in these comments reveals something more than just a concern with political correctness. Why does the commentary on this classical music blog lean so far toward the reactionary?

    1. Ellingtonia says:

      Who appointed you the arbiter of what is reactionary? Perhaps some of us just feel that expressing a view forcibly in the wake of a rising tide of political correctness is just what is needed.

    2. Will says:

      Thank you, Mr. Osborne. It’s sad that so many, including many with whom I agree in substance, find it necessary to be obnoxious rather than express themselves in a civil manner.

      I certainly support color-blind casting. I also think googling “Chinese opera singers” is naive. Are we looking for people who perform Chinese opera?

      As for the “who appointed you” comment….we are all equally entitled to express opinions. It’s peculiar to attack someone for a critical assessment while defending one’s right to make a critical assessment using intemperate language.

      1. Ellingtonia says:

        I look forward to an “all white” colour blind casting for Porgy & Bess and similar with West Side Story. As regards my alleged language, I can only respond by saying that you must have led a very sheltered life if you think that that is intemperate.

    3. Maria says:

      It’s not reactionary, Mr Osborne, it’s just a belief that some people are raising vexatious objections which have no basis whatsoever in reality or common sense.

      There are occasions, in my opinion, when Foxtrot Oscar is an appropriate response. It saves time.

  8. Sue says:

    I don’t expect to see any Asian singers in “La Boheme”.

    1. George Porter says:

      Not even Hong Hei-kyung?

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hong_Hei-kyung#Repertoire_at_the_Met

      La bohème: Mimì (64 performances)

  9. Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

    From now on, please remember to use Jews to sing Jesus in J.S.Bach’s Mathäus-Passion! Otherwise, it’s not correct!


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