Will Turandot give the Met grief from the race police?

Will Turandot give the Met grief from the race police?


norman lebrecht

October 13, 2021

There is only one Asian singer, in an unobtrusive role, in the Met’s present revival of Puccini’s Turandot.

Is that safe?

Heather Mac Donald thinks not:

Earlier this year, the opera world learned of the perils of casting white singers in nonwhite roles, a practice dubbed “whitewashing” by race activists. Scottish Opera had mounted John Adams’s Nixon in China in February 2020, garnering rave reviews and a sold-out box office. When the production was nominated for a British arts award in June 2021, a member of an obscure Asian advocacy group complained on Twitter that Scottish Opera had cast whites in the roles of Chairman Mao and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai. No one had noticed Scottish Opera’s dereliction during the 2020 run; indeed, no one had noticed that same dereliction in the vast majority of Nixon in China productions since the opera’s premier in 1987. Within 48 hours of the “whitewashing” accusation in June 2021, however, Scottish Opera had withdrawn its arts nomination and had issued a groveling apology for causing “offence.”…

Read on here.



  • Low Sai Choy says:

    The world has gone mad. Speaking as an Asian, I think the best singers should be cast, regardless of their skin colour.

  • Music Theorist says:

    You wonder what (if anything) those “advocates” are thinking. So black or Asian singers are no longer allowed to sing white characters?

  • J Barcelo says:

    I’m sure glad we had Birgit Nilsson in Butterfly before all this insanity started. But the Met, a very liberal institution in an even more liberal city in a predominantly blue state can’t have it both ways; or they shouldn’t be allowed to. Either stand up for everyone who’s a victim of this dumb cancel culture or cancel Turandot on racial grounds.

  • M McAlpine says:

    I always thought that acting was someone playing somebody he or she isn’t. Perhaps that little truth has gone unnoticed in this day and age of woke nonsense?

  • Anon says:

    Why does no one cancel hip-hop? It’s misogynist and anti-semitic.

  • caranome says:

    Why are all these people running arts and universities boneless wonders? It’s their craven weakness that keeps this woke nonsense going. Just tell these ignorant, bored, addled nuts online to shut up. The storm will pass in a few days and that’s that.

    Minor peeve: the banner in pic says Turandot king (the bottom character), vs. princess. This is so easy to check. You see this kind of silly mistake all the time with tattooers getting “Chinese” characters on their butts, but which turn out to be gibberish. These idiots can be excused, but not the Met.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Once I had a tattoo done on a private place with Chinese characters which later-on appeared to say ‘fool’ instead of ‘lovely’ as was my intention. This means I can never have a Chinese lover, which I much regret. Don’t do tattoos! You can’t rub them out.


  • KCB says:

    Sorry, but Heather McDonald always her knickers in a twist about something or other. Best to ignore the silly lady.

    • Sixtus Beckmesser says:

      Nope. She brings more intelligence to the table than any of the New York Times music writers. Her argumentation is very difficult to refute.

    • Tom Phillips says:

      She fancies herself a lover of opera about which she is every bit as reactionary a troglodyte as she is about law enforcement, racism, education etc. A truly unoriginal and mediocre mind with ever-predictable views despite all of her advanced (Ivy league) degrees.


    How do you get a gipsy soprano for Carmen

    • Diane Valerie says:

      Same place as you find your gypsy mezzos for Azucena and Ulrica, I guess. I’m sure some trendy agent will be only too happy to oblige (for a fee)…

  • Philip A Kraus says:

    This is an example of misguided political correctness. Should black opera singers be prevented from singing white or Asian roles. I think not. It’s theater folks. Makeup and costumes help to allow artists to pretend they are somebody else.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Indeed and you even don’t need theatre to pretend you’re somebody else. Sometimes I forget that I’m somebody else but nobody notices. My therapist says it doesn’t make any difference that’s what theatre means.


  • SlippedChat says:

    The problem with this kind of thinking, aside from what people think of “wokeness” in general, is that it cuts both ways, probably to the detriment of great performances in general.

    If only Asian singers are considered “authentic” enough to perform roles such as Butterfly or Turandot, doesn’t that also mean that roles such as Tosca, or Violetta, or the Verdi Leonoras, or Lohengrin, should be restricted to Caucasians because Asian singers would NOT be considered “authentic” for such purposes?

    I’ve read that Leontyne Price generally refused to appear in Aida as her debut role with an opera company. Similarly, over the years an assortment of black singers have been quite wary of being typecast if they appear too often in Gershwin’s “Porgy & Bess.”

    I’ve just been watching a video of Puccini’s “Fanciulla del West” with Jonas Kauffman, a German, in the role of the Mexican bandit hero. It was wonderful. And no one can persuade me to give up the pleasures of hearing Lawrence Brownlee in Rossini just because the composer probably had white people in mind for his characters.

    And so on. Cast-by-race thinking really does no favors to anyone and, pursued to its logical conclusion, results in typecasting of everyone, to the impoverishment of audiences and the performing arts in general.

    I say: Bring on the great singers, whatever their racial or ethnic heritage, in whatever roles their voices are well-suited to sing. Most operas already require so much suspension-of-belief, just to accept the validity of their plots, that casting decisions shouldn’t represent much of an additional hurdle.

  • Karl says:

    Imagine doing Porgy and Bess with a white cast in blackface….

  • Jack says:

    I guess we should only stage The Mikado, Turandot or Madama Butterfly if the parts cast as Asians can only be sung by Asians. And Otello if only there’s a black singer for the lead role.

    And then there’s the matter of gender. Shouldn’t Niklausse really be sung by a man? A countertenor perhaps. And what about Cherubino? And Octavian?

    • John Borstlap says:

      Octavian should be sung by a young countertenor or male soprano. And he should love elderly women, and be of noble blood, and be quite superficial emotionally. And have a silvery 18C costume at home. How to get around the two ages difference of history, will be a problem to be solved by woke specialists.

  • Araragi says:

    Yet silence from Heather MacDonald on Hamilton, which casts mostly minorities as America’s decidedly paler Founding Fathers. Toss off Ms. MacDonald.

  • Ray Harleston says:

    Stop the reverse racism.

  • John Borstlap says:

    The lady is right, but why alert the woke mob in advance? Some of them can read.

  • msc says:

    It is easy enough to stage Turandot in a non-Chinese setting. The original story was Persian (I think). A few minor tweaks to some names in the libretto and it can be easily set in any fantasy land and not be the worst for it. I disagree with this extreme awareness of race and would not change the setting just to appease the extremists, but it is not be a travesty to set Turandot somewhere where race is not an issue.

  • True North says:

    As I said before: a know-nothing who has found a niche area to exploit.

  • Not a Fan! says:

    Sammy Sussmann gotta be beaming while David Gier quivers in his bed.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Nothing has happened. Heather McDonald is just raising questions. Life goes on.

  • Francois says:

    Oh no! Rigoletto wasn’t sung by a real hunchback. Norma wasn’t celtic (or Whatever), the Scarpia of the evening didn’t have any real police training. And horror of horrors, Aida wasn’t sung by an Ethiopian! And Bess was sung by a white woman from the Bronx. The horror and indignation!

  • Jonathon says:

    How exactly do sing stylish ornamentation in Nessun Dorma?

  • Binky says:

    Can we just eradicate all whining race-crazed snowflakes off the face of the earth?

  • James Weiss says:

    I was watching Robert Montgomery’s Ride the Pink Horse (1947) the other night in which Wanda Hendrix plays a Mexican girl. She’s absolutely splendid and got a much deserved Oscar nomination for it. Then I thought … she would not be allowed to play that part today. To this we’ve come.

  • Singeril says:

    It’s theater. People always find something to complain about. NO problem with non-Asians singing these roles. No problem with a non-black singing Otello. I have a much bigger issue with a female mezzo singing Don Jose in “Carmen” as happened recently in Chicago.

  • Sylph Ear says:

    Not wishing to be seen throwing another salvo over the top,but what about “The Mikado”….!!!!!

  • Pho says:

    I wouldn’t quote the right-wing nutcase Heather Mac Donald even when she’s right – especially when she’s right.

  • Anonymous says:

    This will be an interesting discussion at the end of the day. Then it’s also politically incorrect having singers from Asia on stage who play Europeans, (e.g. Italy). Believe me there are more operas playing in Europe rather than in Asia or elsewhere.