Monday, 4 July 2011

What Opera North could have said.

Another day, another twitterstorm- this time around the unlikely epicentre of one of our most forward-looking opera companies, caught in a row which pits prejudice against pragmatism.

I have a lot of sympathy for Opera North's near-impossible position. Lee Hall's article in the Guardian about the circumstances surrounding the cancellation of 'Beached', the community opera for which he had written the libretto (pulled because a local school was unhappy that its protagonist was gay), was so eloquent, so passionate and so palpably right that there wasn't a lot they could say in response. And, there's no doubt that once the local school had withdrawn its pupils from the production, it was pretty much dead in the water.

But neither of the company's public pronouncements is, I'm afraid, good enough. The first attempted to be anodyne- to paraphrase, it was essentially 'Lee's work is wonderful but in order to avoid offending people...' etc. The second was feistier, placing the blame more or less where it belongs, on the school and the LEA. But here's what a lot of people, gay and (like Lee Hall, or the friend I was discussing the issue with earlier, who pointed out much of what follows) straight, might have wanted them to say.

'Opera North is very disappointed in the decision made by the school to withdraw its pupils from our production, which has come so late as to make the scheduled run impossible. While respecting the concerns of parents and teachers, the company cannot agree with their decision.

We remain committed to producing this opera, and will not allow a dated narrative of shame around homosexuality to prevent us from presenting works of art which feature gay characters. It is not harmful to children for them to be informed that homosexuality exists; it is a simple fact of life. We would welcome the chance to collaborate with any community and school in our catchment area who would like to work with us on mounting a production of 'Beached' as it is currently scripted, and greatly regret that it cannot be in Bridlington.'


Just that. Standing by their librettist, rather than washing their hands of him. Criticising those whose prejudice had forced them to cancel the production, rather than trying to appease them. Would that have been so difficult?

15 comments:

Yewtree said...

Well said.

Alex said...

I think the issue would be that their funding is not dependent on their working with Hall, it is with working with the school. Had they washed their hands of them and the LEA etc. they'd be kissing goodbye to whatever funding had caused the production to be commissioned in the first place.

It'd be doubtful that they could work with another school to do the performance, as the project funding would be tied to working with one school for the entire duration.

jondrytay said...

Alex- agreed, but once the production is pulled the project-related funding is gone anyway; their attitude to the situation won't bring it back.

And the company's third statement changed the game again- it was a pretty shabby attempt to place the blame on Hall himself, for refusing to change 'a couple of lines', and for going public. I don't think you'd find a decent writer anywhere who would accept that a character can be gay, so long as it's never mentioned.

world@21 said...

Yes. That is the sentiment exactly.

David said...

Bravo, and as I'd missed all this, your piece is very timely. Hope you're happy if I've gone ahead and quoted your 'alternative speech' - with due credit and link, of course, by way of preface - in an Arts Desk buzz piece. If I'd waited any longer, the issue would have gone off the boil completely.

Ref is here - sorry, don't have your e-mail.

http://www.theartsdesk.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=4049:opera-north-not-homophobic-just-craven?&Itemid=12.

Glory von Hathor said...

I bet the kids are furious.

As heartbreaking as it must be for Hall, I hope this story has led to many more people becoming interested in seeing the work when it is finally staged.

John said...

A very eloquent, restrained yet pertinent and comprehensive alternative statement. Given that Opera North must have felt the work was fine on artistic grounds before objections were raised by other parties, there is only one word for their stance, and that is 'spineless'.

Will said...

"I don't think you'd find a decent writer anywhere who would accept that a character can be gay, so long as it's never mentioned."

The attitude you decry is not unique -- it is, in fact the policy of the Catholic Church. They jus LOVE homosexuals who can definitely be members of the church, IF they don't do, say or think anything homosexual. Thus turned into eunuchs, they can be homosexuals in the Church. Of course, they aren't functionally homosexuals any more.

I was taken aback when I read this story earlier in the day on the Parterre site. England was not the country where I would have expected this to happen -- my mind leaped to the USA where we're now being told that gay marriage will lead to five year old boys being instructed to have sex with each other in schools, among other wholly idiotic fear-mongering from the Radical Right.

Anonymous said...

You've been picked up everywhere! You're currently being linked by the Graun.

Ianw2

http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatreblog/2011/jul/05/lee-hall-opera-north-firestorm

Craig O said...

The one thing that people keep forgetting is that this is all about the CHILDREN, not the adults who all (whatever their side of the argument) think they know what is best for the children! Opera Nort has been working with the school for over two years, long before the Opera in question was even conceived, and not performing the Opera is nothing to do with silencing the librettist, it is about ensuring that Opera North are still able to produce a performance with the children dispite their educators deciding this cannot be done through the Opera. If Opera North continue to fight the children may end up with nothing. I commend Opera North for their ability to maintain their interest in the people that really matter in this situation!

jondrytay said...

Will- it was a surprise to me too, although the near unanimity of the reaction has been heartening. Ian- I know- it's been quite astonishing!

Craig- I'd say the only people here who 'think they know what's best for the children' are the school, the LEA, and, well, you. I'm afraid I don't think the children ARE the most important people here. Hugely upsetting though it must be for them to have their show taken away from them, I think there are bigger, more universal issues at play here than whether a particular group of children get to go on stage or not.

I think your use of the phrase 'the people that really matter in this situation' is a little disturbing, to be honest- some of us think that adults matter too.

OperaNorth said...

An update on Bridlington, progress has been made but discussions continue www.operanorth.wordpress.com

David said...

That still tells us next to nothing, Opera North, and has predictably given birth to more angry comments. When can we expect the Unvarnished Truth?

OperaNorth said...

Bridlington community opera to go ahead as planned http://operanorth.wordpress.com/2011/07/07/bridlington-community-opera-to-go-ahead-as-planned/

kakal said...

Opera North is very disappointed