If Maria has to be Latina….

If Maria has to be Latina….


norman lebrecht

April 25, 2018

Here’s a list of other roles that should be cast to type:

Otello – must be a Moroccan, preferably from the south.

Falstaff -has to be genuinely fat, well over 220 pounds, no padding.

Violetta – this role is reserved for retired sex workers.

La Juive – goes without saying.

Carmen (pictured) – strictly for Roma women.

Flying Dutchman – only licensed KLM pilots need apply…

Any more?

These are the likely consequences of the withdrawal of the BBC’s intended Maria in West Side Story in order, she said, to give more opportunity to singers of Latin origin.

The excuse offered by Sierra Boggess is ridiculous. The BBC should sue her for breach of contract.



  • Sharon says:

    Was this entirely her decision? I kind of doubt it. Otherwise, she would have refused it in the first place.

    I suspect that she came under a lot of pressure by some groups(s) or organization(s), including possibly a faction in the BBC itself.

    It does not take a lot of people or media criticism to intimidate an artist. Who, other than the very biggest stars, can afford to take the risk of being boycotted at this performance and in the future due to charges of cultural insensitivity or worse still, racism?

    • SVM says:

      Actually, the question should be: Who, other than the very biggest stars, can afford to take the risk of being boycotted in the future due to charges of being unreliable? A concert-promoter or impresario would think twice about hiring a performer with a history of reneging on previous engagements, unless there were compelling medical/personal/logistical reasons.

      Examples of acceptable compelling reasons might include: illness; injury; vocal problems (if applicable); bereavement; pregnancy; serious bullying/abuse by colleagues; failing to obtain a visa; severe weather conditions leading to mass cancellation of flights/trains/&c.

      Examples of unacceptable reasons might include: disinclination to fulfil engagement; accepting a conflicting engagement with better pay (unless the clash arose because the engagement from which the person is withdrawing had furnished erroneous/misleading information about dates/schedule/&c.); poor, but not toxic, working relations with colleagues; travel problems that could reasonably have been surmounted; artistic or political disagreements (unless the person withdrawing had been *grossly* misled about the nature/context of the engagement).

  • John Borstlap says:

    It should not only be restricted to opera. In the St Matthew Passion, a real Jew of impeccable character should be crucified, and the chorus should consist of antisemites.

    • Anmarie says:

      Despite being Jewish, I’m in total agreement.

    • anon says:

      Don’t worry, the quite a few Passions of Bach (St John, St Matthew) I’ve attended in the Easter season, it’d not surprise me one bit that not only the chorus, but the orchestra, and the conductor, were, indeed, anti-semites, and that the passion plays are not for them just a concert on the program, but a real passion that is, or borders on, antisemitic.

    • Mike Schachter says:

      The St John Passion is undoubtedly anti-Semitic, probably the norm in early 18th century Leipzig.

      • anon says:

        Bach was undoubtedly anti-semitic. That is the growing scholarly consensus.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          Yes, Bach was likely antisemetic, but we should be clear that he understood Jews to be a religious group and not a biological group. He was hostile to them because they denied Christianity, and not because of their race or ethnicity.

      • Ainslie says:

        Yes, the text of the Johannespassion reflects animosity towards the Jews of 1st century Palestine. No, it is not antisemitic. It simply reflects the feelings of a community at a particular place and time, when relations between traditional Judaism and the followers of Jesus were especially fraught.

        Until somewhere about 100 C.E. most of the followers of Jesus were Jews, who continued to worship together with other, more mainline Jews. With the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E. by the Romans, Judaism became unique among all religions of the day in that it had no central place of authority and communal worship. Synagogues existed throughout the Jewish world as places of worship, and early Jewish-Christians shared those spaces. In the decades since the death of Jesus, many points of theological disagreement grew between the Jews and the Jewish followers of Christ. Also, many non-Jews were adopting the Christian principles, while refusing to follow Jewish customs or law. Distrust and anger grew between the communities.

        Bad feelings reached a peak in about the year 85 C.E., when Christians were expelled from worship in the synagogues. With no common point of reference or discussion, the Jews and Christians grew farther apart. Animosities grew as Jews tried to suppress the new movement (Judaism was officially sanctioned by the Romans; Christians were not yet officially persecuted by Rome, but had no legal standing).

        The Gospel of John was the last of the four gospels to be written, probably between 90 and 110 C.E., and is much different in content and style than the three earlier gospels. Its author was himself a Jew who became a follower of Jesus, and his telling of the events of Jesus’ life and death reflects the feelings of Christians at the end of the first century. He writes of events that took place about sixty years earlier, while maintaining the fiction that he was there during Jesus’ ministry (not uncommon for literature of the day: the earliest gospel, Mark, was probably written 30 years after Jesus’ death).

        John writes as a member of a Jewish-Christian sect who are being persecuted by the Jews for their beliefs. The animosity evident in his text is not aimed at the Jewish religion or ethnicity, but specifically toward the Jews of 1st century Palestine, his contemporaries. Yes, the Jerusalem Jews of circa 30 C.E. had insisted on Jesus’ death sentence, but by the accounts of the gospels, Jesus seemed to be quite popular among Jews elsewhere.

        Criticism of the Johannespassion needs nuance and perspective, not name-calling. I know somebody who is Jewish but is very angry with people in our local synagogue and refuses to attend worship there. That doesn’t make him antisemitic. Anger is not necessarily prejudice.

      • Sixtus says:

        This is natural considering the Gospel on which it is based is most consistently anti-Semitic of the four. This even though it is Matthew that contains that most fateful and unfortunate of all New Testament verses: His blood be on us, and on our children (Matt 27:25).

  • Adrienne says:

    And so far as the Ring is concerned, gods are very thin on the ground, and no doubt very expensive.

    • Sixtus says:

      Not to mention dwarves, giants and women who come out of the ground or do needlepoint/macrame with the fate of the universe. I guess the flying horses and dragons can be special effects creations without arousing protest.

  • collin says:

    Oh ho, wait til women start asking to sing men’s roles, or as with transgendered singers, or when male counter tenors fight to sing Octavian and Cherubino, and lo and behold, all of a sudden, it’d be like: NO, the role was written for THAT gender, only that gender can sing it.

    • anon says:

      Well, partly, it’s about intentions. Mozart intended Cherubino to be song by woman mezzos, but he never intended Cherubino to be sung only by Italian woman mezzos. But one can argue, what about transgender mezzos? I think Mozart would’ve been fine with any gender who can sing the part.

    • Nik says:

      The ROH is casting a countertenor as Cherubino next year.

  • JackyT says:

    Well, having been to Morocco many times and noticed how very handsome and charming the Moroccans are, I have always felt the directors completely missed the point when casting Otello, the opera or Othello, the play.

    • Nik says:

      There is one overriding point when casting the opera Otello, which is that it’s exceedingly difficult to find anyone who can handle the vocal demands. Whenever someone turns up who can sing Otello well, no opera house has the luxury of turning him down based on looks, ethnicity or even acting ability.
      When it comes to Othello in the theatre I must admit I am baffled by the current established practice, which is that a white actor is a no-go but any black actor is considered eligible. Most of them are of Caribbean or sub-Saharan African descent, which means that they look no closer to an Arab-Berber than a white guy does.

    • Ainslie says:

      At the time Shakespeare wrote Othello, “Moor” was a term that either meant a dark-skinned person, a person from northern Africa, a Muslim, or possible all three, but not necessarily one from Morocco. The name ‘Morocco’ probably derives from that nations city of Marrakesh.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Actually, the blackness of Otello (and the whiteness of his wife) doesn’t actually refer to race; referring to race is anachronistic and the racial overtones only come during the 18th century.

        Within each race, men are very slightly darker than women. Hence blackness refers to excessively masculinity, while whiteness is excessive femininity. There are many colour references in English which have this original meaning. A black mood, means we are angry and vengeful. A black heart means we a cruel and pitiless. Going white (or pale) means we are cowardly or afraid. We show a white flag to surrender. It is a common trope going back to the Greeks that our masculine qualities need to balanced with feminine qualities.

        Otello is too male in that he is governed by his angry passions rather than tempering his masculinity with reason. Hence the repeated emphasis on his blackness and his lack of reason. The part can actually be played by anyone of any race. Contemporaries would have been baffled by the insistence on using a black actor for the part (and where would you have found one in Elizabethan London).

  • Tribonian says:

    The singer’s statement could almost be headed “A White European’s practical and creative response to just criticism”. I can’t believe that a performer would withdraw from a performance at the proms other than as a result of bullying and the threat of being called a racist.

    • PaulD says:


      A perfect comment for these neo-Stalinist times.

    • Marc says:

      In fact, Sierra is American — born in Denver, Colorado. Personally, I’m not amused by NL’s list. The ideal in opera is not to achieve a perfect match between singer and character. Never has been. We don’t blink at mezzos in trouser roles, because we know and accept a simple truth: It’s opera, folks, it’s not real life. I mean, it’s make-believe and…they’re singing to each other, for heaven’s sake! I like what Ms. Boggess did, as a gesture toward minority singers who are struggling to find work (though she should’ve refused the gig when it was offered).

  • Robert says:

    Akhnaten has to be sung by an Egyptian hermaphrodite

  • Mmellobari@gmail.com says:

    If “Porgy & Bess” has to be done with a cast of black people only…

    • FS60103 says:

      Actually, even that’s not enough now – someone was posting yesterday that a recent Berlin performance used the wrong kind of black singers. Only *actual* Catfish Row residents are now permitted. Unless they’ve actually lived in poverty on the Charleston waterfront, it’s Cultural Appropriation.

      • Rodrigo says:

        Please don’t exaggerate. I pointed out that the South African black chorus in Berlin’s Porgy was ethnically correct but not as culturally authentic as an African American chorus would have been. All black people may look the same to white Europeans but they sure don’t to most US citizens. It’s a US opera. Gershwin was from the US. We don’t tell you guys how to play Elgar (you guys nearly ran Bernstein out of the UK when he tried) so please don’t insert your white European assumptions into our opera.

        The Catfish Row & and having lived in poverty requirement is your invention not mine.

    • Linda Ginsburg says:

      In the United States it must be. The Gershwin Estate has stipulated it and it still controls the rights.

      • norman lebrecht says:

        Can you give me a source on this?

        • Rodrigo says:

          Hi, Norman. I’ve searched & while I can’t find an official source, it’s been covered & debated a lot in the NY Times over the years. The Gershwin bros. apparently made it very clear in their estate that Porgy should be an all black cast. Not sure how that is expressed in the actual licensing.

          The topic resurfaced with a vengeance in Jan. 2018 when the Hungarian State Opera once again presented a mostly white Porgy. They did it also in the 70’s. According to this article they claim to have received some special authorization from Tams Witmark, who own the rights, to do so. But it looks like they were only able to use a white cast by printing a statement in the program saying that they were presenting an unauthorized production of Porgy.

          I reiterate what I’ve said before in this thread. I fear that many Europeans totally miss the boat on Porgy. They don’t get it. It’s not malintended, it’s just naive. Be it a minor naivety like Simon Rattle’s use of a South African chorus in Berlin or a major one like Hungarian State Opera’s complete oblivion of the Gershwins’ express wish to use a black cast. Just my two cents on this. . .


  • JoBe says:

    What about Madame Butterfly and the entire cast of Turandot? And L’Africaine? Hänsel and Gretel will be sung by 10 year olds and Titurel by 100 year olds.

    As for Die Entführung aus dem Serail, you better get some world-class bassos from Turkey for the part of Osmin pronto.

  • Wurtfangler says:

    That’s the last we will hear of L’enfant et les sortilèges then. There are so few clocks, cats, trees, dragonflies, or frogs up the demands of the roles.

    I haven’t hard of a falcon who has yet had a go at Die Frau ohne Schatten.

    Simply. Ridiculous.

    • V.Lind says:

      And imagine — no more Britten’s Midsummer Night Dream because of the dearth of singing fairies, to say nothing of the loss of the Ashton ballet because,agile and spritely (!) as they allegedly are,they have not mastered the ballet discipline.

      Enough of this sort of nonsense — all that is required of the soprano for Maria is that she be able to sing the Bernstein score. This is a concert version, so she need not even be a top actress.

  • PaulD says:

    Those singing Fassolt and Fafner must be tall and large enough to play center in the NBA.

  • Graeme Hall says:

    They are going to have a challenge casting Elena Makropoulos.

  • Don Ciccio says:

    Yes, let’s have all this casting that Norman is mentioning. But let’s totally disregard the libretto. Let’s have the usual regie-surrealist type of production with absolutely no resemblance of the composer and librettist’s intention, but with the right ethnic cast!!!

    • Sue says:

      It’s an ugly idea altogether. But we can lampoon it mercilessly – that might help as substitutes for a cross and garlic, or a stake through the heart at midnight.

  • Daniel Somerville says:

    This ‘article’ completely misrepresents the cicumstances. It was not to do with racial purity or casting racially according to the character. The resignation was a bold and generous act concerning redressing inequity of opportunities for Latina singers. And should be applauded.

    • Sue says:

      You have learned your lessons well.

    • Greg Hlatky says:

      Since the announcement of this concert, I have had many conversations about why this is a crucial time, now more than ever, to not perpetuate the miscasting of this show. I apologize for not coming to this realization sooner…

      There’s the tell. One can only imagine the “conversations.”

      • Alex Davies says:

        It sounds like she has undergone a process of self-criticism.

        • Greg Hlatky says:

          An example of self-criticism:

          “At a time when my soul is filled with nothing but love for the party and its leadership, when, having lived through hesitations and doubts, I can boldly say that I learned to highly trust the Central Committee’s every step and every decision you, Comrade Stalin, make… I have been arrested for my ties to people that are strange and disgusting to me.” – Lev Kamenev

          They shot him anyway.

  • Nik says:

    On the bright side, it should be easy enough to cast an opera singer as Tosca.

    • Sixtus says:

      To judge by recent live performances of Tosca from all over the world I’ve heard streamed over the Internet, I wouldn’t be too sure about that.

  • Gadi says:

    Siegfried’s Fafner has to be a Bass singing Dragon.
    Rheingold Fassolt and Fafner have to be above 3 meter high singers.
    Alberich and Mime cannot be above 1.40 meter.
    As well all cosi fan tutte cast to be not older than 16 years old, appart from don Alfonso.

  • edgar says:

    Lots of self-appointed political-correctness-Reichskulturkammerpersonalities decide now who is allowed to represent which character on any stage. The horror!

  • Opera Joe says:

    These fears and arguments are ridiculous. If there is a great Latina Maria, hire her. If someone doesn’t want to sing, they don’t want to sing. If Dame Kiri is available…I’d listen to her sing the phone book. I just hate the fake accents…I come from a Latino family and none of them say “jes” over “yes”.

  • peter owen says:

    A problem I’ve always had with Cherubino and Octavian is if they are as randy and, in Octavian’s case, sexually accomplished as the libretto has them to be then surely their balls and hence their voices would have dropped by the time we meet them.

  • Jameson says:

    How will anyone ever stage The Ring Cycle again?

  • Jameson says:

    Cate Blanchett was brilliant as Bob Dylan in “I’m Not There”. It’s called “acting.”

  • ThirtysomethingPitViper says:

    She was mercilessly crucified on social media for taking this role; there was no other option for her but to resign. I make a great deal of my day to day living as a musician on Broadway, (though I’m classically trained and my heart lies in the opera world), and as such, a huge percentage of my Facebook friends/acquaintances are from the theatre world; my newsfeed was nearly 100% people screaming for blood for days after this announcement was made. The millenials of musical theatre, who make up the vast majority of not only her fanbase but her coworkers, would never, ever have let this stand, because god forbid we are anything less than absolutely perfectly politically correct at all times. *insert eyeroll here* In summary, she was basically torch-mobbed into resigning, or else…

    • ThirtysomethingPitViper says:

      (I mean, of course, after the announcement of her casting in the role was made, not her resignation)

  • Marc says:

    Nor will Dialogues des Carmelites ever be staged again, alas. Although I don’t doubt that the quasi-fascists attempting to enforce the current identity politics etc etc regime might welcome the availability of a few guillotines.

  • Bob Wilcox says:

    Some Danish actors have put out a contract on anyone playing Hamlet who is not Danish.