Let’s ban violence from opera, right?

Let’s ban violence from opera, right?


norman lebrecht

July 01, 2019

That’s the cry from 190 ‘leading Australian composers, directors, musicians, and vocalists’, who have signed a petition ‘to remove gender bias, sexism, and dramatised acts of violence against women in opera’.

Read on here.


  • Tom Moore says:

    Acts of violence against men are Ok?

  • anmarie says:

    Let’s just ban life itself.

  • London Cellist says:

    Open a separate opera house for the über-woke and let the rest of us enjoy the real thing. Seriously, where do they find these people???

  • PaulD says:

    Once again, Australians are on the cutting edge. Like trying to ban Carmen because it encourages smoking. https://slippedisc.com/2014/10/just-in-state-opera-cancels-carmen-because-it-promotes-unhealthy-behaviour/

    Ban the classics, and fans will stop going to operas. Well, they could always convert the Sydney Opera House to a hotel and restaurant with a view.

  • Brettermeier says:

    My second “Oh boy.” moment today.

    ”That will keep on perpetuating if orchestras are continuing to program a majority of work from pre 20th century. Then all they know of is works by males because women didn’t have any opportunities back then either.”

    Or, people just stop going to concerts altogether because they simply hate 20th-century music.

    I wonder what would happen if concertgoers were asked what they enjoyed more, Brahms or Pagh-Paan. I’m confident that Brahms is still preferred a hundred years from now.

    There’s a reason why some music is played even today while other music is played only today.

    Nice sentiment, wrong implementation.

    • John Borstlap says:

      All this sounds rather rude, but it is probably true nonetheless. The problem is not gendered ‘old’ music or lack of talent of ‘new music’, but a historicist, linear way of looking at history and an interpretation of ‘modernity’ which is very narrow and ideologically-loaded.

      When renaissance artist (and first art historian) Georgio Vasari defended imitation of antiquity, he was not advocating a reactionary position but a progressive form of modernity, progressive in the sense of improvement. If the Donaueschingen new music festival would celebrate real modernity today, it would encourage imitations of classical music and the best talents would create new music on a comparable level of quality of the ‘old’ repertoire, but with a personal – and thus, new – touch. We cannot imagine such thing, because it first has to be imagined and created. Instead, institutions prefer the conventional and oldfashioned which has no musical meaning:


    • Stereo says:

      Well said. In the profession we say there’s always a reason why pieces aren’t played.

  • David A. Boxwell says:

    What do about Britten’s opera except rename it “The Sexual Assault of Lucretia”? And herewith ban it from all performances.

  • n nescio says:

    Apparently, women commit no violence? Well played. In any case, I have removed myself from the audience long ago.

    How beautifully singers used to sing, as evidenced on youtube. So, keep your theatre, opera houses. You do not have a song in your heart.

  • Musician says:

    Australia’s music scene is tragic – lack of education, investment, leadership etc etc… This latest article just highlights that it’s at rock bottom… a great shame, because a lot of talent came from the island nation, but very few stay…

  • Anon says:

    Typical Australian nonsense. The Sydney Morning Herald which once thought Simone Young was a man and the (then) Artistic Director of Opera Australia, Adrian Collette was a woman, and who printed an interview with the late baritone, John Shaw where he claimed his greatest performaning experience was in Hamburg singing Scarpia to the Tosca of Maria Callas is hardly regarded as a font of knowledge as far as arts commentaries are concerned.

    Never mind violence against women in opera, what about violence against composers? Puccini, Verdi, Wagner etc., etc., are all assaulted regularly by talentless, (but inexpensive?) local Australian directors. Setting aside the issues mentioned in the SMH article, people working in the arts in Australia, especially opera, had better start wondering where the audiences will be coming from in the next few years as Opera Australia’s regular, but ageing, audience dwindles away. Performing operas as miked-up spectaculars, replete with fireworks on Sydney Harbour at ridiculously high prices is certainly NOT the answer.

  • Bob Boles says:

    Coming soon to the Sydney Opera House….

    The Trojans Take A Beach Holiday
    Hunding & Sieglinde Get Marital Counselling
    A Peaceful Day At The Repurposed Seville Cigarette Factory
    The Marriage Of Onegin & Lensky
    Peace, Peace. & More Peace!
    The Replenishing Angel
    The Rake’s Progress In A Modern Enlightened Corporation
    Katya Kabanova Throws A Lovely Picnic
    King Priam’s Birthday Party
    Giulio Cesare Distribuisce Aiuti Umanitari In Egitto
    Werther Attends Firearm Safety Classes
    Le Fils Du Regiment
    It Wasn’t Consumption, Just A Bit Of A Cough
    The Flying Dutchman Rescues Migrants At Sea
    The Mixed-Voice Democratic Chorale of Nuremburg
    Wozzeck’s Lovely Day Out
    From The House Of The Successfully Reformed Offenders
    The Sustainable Pearl Fishers
    The Absolutely Honest Little Vixen
    Life In Venice

    • Gordon Freeman says:

      No joke though, wasn’t it in Western Australia where they changed the setting of Carmen so that it wasn’t at a cigarette factory because they didn’t want to encourage smoking? Yeah…

    • John Borstlap says:

      Hilarious……. “The Flying Dutchman Rescues Migrants At Sea” wouldn’t actually need much refurbishing by Regietheater director.

      • n nescio says:

        They started the narrative with “refugees”, then “asylum seekers”, finally “migrants”. Flow, my tears. All against racism. Save the 17-year-old men.

    • David A. Boxwell says:

      Wozzeck and Marie Amicably Settle Their Differences.

      Lulu and Her Wife the Countess Outwit the Ripper.

    • Diane Valerie says:

      Werther wouldn’t have needed the Firearm Safety Classes if only he had attended counselling beforehand: “She’s married someone else; time to move on” …

    • Marc says:

      ‘Giulio Cesare Distribuisce Aiuti Umanitari In Egitto’ is my favorite. Thanks!

  • Karl says:

    What about violence against men? Men have always been the victims of violence more often than women, but all we we hear from the PC crowd is how horrible it is that we have violence against women. Look at how many innocent men Turandot killed. She gets a happy ending. Maybe she should get stabbed to death like Scarpia? Or maybe Scarpia should find redemption and get a happy ending?

  • Greg says:

    Well, it’s bound to be asked so here goes:

    What about violent operas composed by women?

  • Absurdistan says:

    Political Correctness run amok and suicidal ambition which will finally do in Western civilization. In the ’80s idiotic students of Nothing Studies, led by racist, anti-semitic hate-peddlers of the Sharpton/Jackson/0bama/Farrakhan ilk, chanted “Hey hey, ho ho, Western Civ has got to go” … and people smiled.

    Hard to smile today, when racism, fascism, intolerance and hatred have been dumped in the now “mainstream” toxins of lefty rivers of alleged thought.

  • Bruce says:

    I’ve often thought that Carmen being killed by her stalker ex is a little unconvincing. After all, she seems like the type to carry a knife — especially going into a dangerous situation — and have some idea how to use it. At the end, when she tries to walk past José and he makes a grab for her, there’s no real reason why she, having her knife ready but hidden, shouldn’t be able to stab him in the kidney and go join her new boyfriend in the arena. You wouldn’t even have to change the music: he could sing his “O Carmen, ma adorée” as he lies bleeding to death. The “fate” motive would signify triumph instead of death. (You’d have to figure out some way of dealing with the card scene, which would be rendered nonsensical, but it’s fun to think about.)

    • Bob Boles says:

      Even before the post-modernist directors got their oar in, Carmen has been messed-around with from the very outset. I mean, how can you have a big number ‘Toreador, en garde!” … when Escamillo isn’t even in the original book at all? Nor indeed is Micaela either. Imagine a Carmen without those two ?? Blimey – it might even end-up being about the Basques who are the central characters of the original story….

      • Bruce says:

        To be fair, it’s an adaptation, not meant to be a transcription. I’m sure lots of operas are equally untrue to their sources.

    • anon says:

      lol, so true, if anyone was going to do the cutting, it was going be the Cardi B of Spain

  • Robert Groen says:

    Oh, I see. Then we’ll have to make some changes. First, Otello and Desdemona seek marriage counselling; then, Fasolt and Fafner draw straws over who gets most of the gold; Don Giovanni gets kneed in the groin by Zerlina; bad news for the Duke of Mantua for yes, it IS he who ends up getting knifed by Sparafucile, thus providing Rigoletto with that rarest of opera house phenomena: a happy ending; Brunnhilde gets done for animal cruelty in Gotterdammerung and Butterfly slaps a paternity suit on Pinkerton and wins a million bucks a year in child maintenance. Trust the politically correct maniacs Down Under to try and alter an entire art form to suit their loony notions….

    • Bob Boles says:

      At the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, the museum’s official guides have a little coffee-room of their own, where they keep a notebook of fabulously fatuous remarks made by visitors. My favourite is from a combative Ocker lady, who even filed an official complaint…

      ‘The galleries of this museum are full of different pictures of the Madonna and Child. Why is her child always a boy? Why can’t it be a girl – at least in some examples? How much would it cost to have a proportion of them repainted to show a girl instead?”

    • John Borstlap says:

      The reason that most operas don’t have a happy ending is because that is so unconvincing.

      As Miss Prism says: “The good end happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.” (The importance of being Earnest)

  • Edgar says:

    There goes opera…. The authoritarian purists put even the Boston Puritans to shame!

  • M McAlpine says:

    Well, that should weed out the operas and empty the opera houses pretty quickly then! Mind you, the tripe people like this put on that will be a blessing!

  • ThrownOutOfTheKremlinForSinging says:

    Then what will operas be about???

    Here’s a question for an opera quiz: how many operas can you name which don’t involve either an act of violence, a threat of violence, or a deception?

    Let’s see: Orpheus and Eurydice, Tannhauser, Flying Dutchman, Capriccio, Ariadne auf Naxos, (unless you count the tenor’s outburst at the wig-maker as an act/threat of violence), ….

    • Tom Moore says:

      Orpheus has an act of violence (by a snake) against Eurydice….

      • ThrownOutOfTheKremlinForSinging says:

        Not DURING the opera. It happens before the first curtain rises.

        • Bob Boles says:

          Even in those early days of opera, Monteverdi understood the potential a stage-prop snake has for turning doleful tragedy into Funambules farce 🙂 He wisely left this scene to the unstaged backstory. It’s an example many other composers ((hello, Michael Tipppett?!) might have learned from 🙂

  • anon says:

    Men suffer pretty bad fates as well:

    -Carmen: Don Jose doesn’t have a girlfriend anymore
    -Butterfly: Pinkerton has to raise his child as a single dad
    -Pagliacci: Canio is a widower
    -Otello: Otello doesn’t get that last kiss from his wife

  • Gordon Freeman says:

    It doesn’t seem like the actual statement recommends rewriting the plots of old operas to exclude violence against women. So as usual, your headline is needlessly sweeping, provocative and clickbaity, but then why would we all keep coming here expecting anything less.

    However, their statement is somewhat unclear on this subject, although much of the rest of the manifesto appears to be referencing contemporary opera, so it’s safest to assume that’s what it refers too. But perhaps one of the signatories could elaborate? (I mean it’s hard to imagine any of the awesome people on the signatory list would read this antiquated quaint little blog but…)

    The line I’m referring to is point no.2: “We call for a questioning of the systemic acceptance of gender-based violence in opera.” Aside from the literal interpretation of what that says, and examples of trigger warnings and anything else already spelled out in the statement, what would the end goal be for older operas with applicable issues regarding the goals of this movement?

  • Part of a long development since Catherine Clément’s 1979 book, L’Opéra ou la Défaite des femmes. (Opera: The Undoing of Women)

    One of the challenges of opera is finding plots that justify a lot of loud, passionate singing. Long ago composers discovered that betraying, degrading and killing women fills that function quite well. (La Bohème, Carmen, Don Giovanni, Elektra, Lucia di Lammermoor
    Madama Butterfly, Norma, Otello, Tosca, Die Zauberflöte, etc. etc. etc.) Some musicologists, such as Carolyn Abbate, say that’s OK since the women have loud operatic voices and thus reverse the tradition of the passive, silent woman.

  • Nick2 says:

    How do they expect to do this without trashing much of the repertoire? And why stop at violence against women? How about incest (bye bye Ring cycle), violence against boys (bye bye Peter Grimes) and men (bye bye Billy Budd)? Or do they just mean offstage?

    • Bob Boles says:

      But you’ve missed their trump card – why even bother to stage the action that appears in the libretto?

      The modern fashionable trend is to sing all that nonsense in French, German or Italian, but meantime stage an entirely new story – using either the same singers, or a few additional ones. Study the work of ‘directors’ like Kaspar Holten, or their very own Barrie Kosky, to see this at work! If there are inconvenient, unfashionable, unpalatable scenes, or things you don’t know how to stage… then just leave them out! And put in a transvestite ballet instead! 🙂

      • Bob Boles says:

        Just to prove that not everything that happens in Russia is right either….

        … I recently had to watch a production of Handel’s ‘Orlando’ – which discarded the original libretto entirely, and staged a shameful travesty (complete with gender-bending characters, ‘natch!) which was set in ORLANDO AIRPORT, Texas (the only remaining link to the original work).

        Dreck from start to finish, complete with some rap interludes inserted by Gabriel Prokofiev.

  • LEWES BIRD says:

    On a related note, isn’t “190 ‘leading Australian composers, directors, musicians, and vocalists’ “ the definition of an oxymoron?

    • RW2013 says:

      Like Dame Edna’s huge bedside book “Cultural Leaders in Australia” Volume 1, AA to CE (or something similar).
      And who are these 190 deadheads? (except for Lindy Hume)

  • Jane Ennis says:

    This is a bit daft, isn’t. Are they seriously proposing to rewrite operas that were written in previous centuries? Or just to conmission composers and librettists to write works that reflect current attitudes? The latter wouldn’t be a problem……

  • Gery says:

    I suppose the next thing is to burn books etc

  • SVM says:

    The statement itself seems well intentioned, and many of its points are valid, but it is very vague on *how* it proposes to go about addressing the issues at hand. Perhaps that is because the signatories themselves do not agree on this, and the statement is designed as a means of ‘virtue signalling’ rather than as a vehicle for serious debate and/or concrete action?

    But there are a few matters in that letter/statement which bother me:

    1. It endorses the use of “trigger warnings” without reflecting on the fact that disturbing/perturbing audiences, and making them think anew about wider issues, is an integral part of many theatrical traditions — to insist upon trigger warnings without qualification runs the risk of marginalising the very issues that the signatories consider important, especially in a context when many bean-counters and administrators think of theatre as entertainment (and thus may consider a trigger warning a ‘red flag’ when it comes to making decisions as to what productions to mount);

    2. In its discussion of the Bowler case study, there seems to be an implicit assumption that only women are qualified to talk about rape in a sensitive manner, with the statement implying that everyone else just uses “acts of sexual and physical violence” gratuitously as dramaturgical “stock-in-trade” (I disagree — to take two obvious examples, Britten and Strauss have presented these issues with great seriousness);

    3. The “call for safe inclusive spaces” may be well intentioned, but will probably result in many of the “diverse voices and abilities” they claim to cherish being deplatformed (irrespective of how the term is intended, the fact remains that many administrators interpret ‘safe space’ to mean “a space where controversial views are censored”), because a lot of great theatre causes offence *necessarily* to some people, not out of a desire to offend gratuitously, but because it wishes to make a serious point;

    4. There is a lot of talk of the present and the future, but almost nothing on the value and relevance of understanding and remembering the past and its legacy — are we supposed to pretend that anything unpleasant (or worse) did not happen?; and

    5. Whilst it is admirable to reject ‘victimhood’, there is no serious reflection on whether the portrayal of violence may actually have some value in encouraging people to take the issue more seriously and change their behaviour for the better — if I recall correctly, the rationale for portraying *more* violence in a 2015 /Guillaume Tell/ production at Covent Garden was to draw attention to the horrific atrocities committed against civilians in wars and occupations.

  • Larry W says:

    “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” – Banksy.

    • John Borstlap says:

      That looks like a loop: when audiences have become disturbed by the productions, they need to be comforted, and when they have become comfortable they need to be disturbed again – ad infinitum. But to what end?

  • psq says:

    Some one please commission Brett Dean to write an opera (for no fee) about the genocide of the Aborigine over centuries and let it be put on by some of these 190 personages (for no fee), and see it performed (for extremely high tickets price) to sold out Aussie audience all over Australia, especially at the bottom or the top of Uluru (Ayres Rock). All the proceeds go to the Aborigine, thank you!

  • Marg says:

    Sigh … as an Australian opera lover my eyes just glazed over reading this. Who on earth are these people? Who are they speaking for? I suppose they want to knock off half of Shakespeare as well? Get a life people.

  • Jaime Herrera says:

    Women play a central role in advertising and opera. Why stifle a good thing?

  • Ms.Melody says:

    Dame Joan and Dame Nelli must be turning in their respective graves

    • Bob Boles says:

      In fairness, Australia has continued to produce exceptional opera performers of the finest international calibre. Tenor Glenn Winslade, baritone Malcolm Donnelly, and outstanding Heldentenor Stuart Skelton come to mind. Not just fine singers – but committed, hardworking professionals alongside whom it is a pleasure and privilege to work.

  • John Borstlap says:

    The point would be better made if a critique were directed at the utterly vulgar, ‘blood’-smeared type of productions which want to smash the ‘concept’ of violence as violently as possible into the face of the audience – as if it is incapable to understand anything what’s happening on stage if it is not suffering as much as the protagonists, as if it has no imagination at all.

    In the Greek theatre of antiquity, disasters and violence were happening off-stage and merely reported by ‘the messenger’, and the better he did this, the more the audience’s imagination was stimulated. The Romans were more drastic and played-out violence for real in their amphitheatres (and theatres as well), thereby offering a nice example for the populists of today’s theatres.

  • Bob Boles says:

    The Donmar Warehouse – a leading Off-West-End venue in London – plans to warn audiences in advance of anything which might make them feel uneasy in the shows it presents…

    …. reports The Guardian (who else, eh, readers??) in another right-on exposé of the appalling way shows in London abuse the paying public.


    Some of the ‘warnings’ include ‘man puts his hand on a girl’s leg’. Of course, there is no warning for ‘man puts his hand on a man’s leg’, because that’s just fine with the Donmar Warehouse.