Telegraph arts editor accuses Welsh National Opera of ‘patronising’ and ‘insulting’ audiences
A Telegraph arts editor has accused the Welsh National Opera of “patronising” and “insulting” audiences after the company said they would stage talks on imperialism and colonialism alongside their production of Madam Butterfly.
The opera company based in Cardiff will run a lecture Prof Priyamvada Gopal of the University of Cambridge alongside the opera to discuss the UK’s history of slavery and colonialism.
The move prompted Indian historian Dr Zareer Masan to say that the “Welsh National Opera needs to grow up and escape this wokedom.”
In an article for the Telegraph, Ben Lawrence added that the move was “an insult to opera-lovers” and asked “should not art be allowed to speak for itself?”
He said that such attempts to explain the opera to attendees “essentially assumes everyone who doesn’t have a job in the arts is a bit thick, and people, irritated by what is essentially middle-class hectoring, will stop bothering to turn up”.
“My advice to Welsh National Opera (and others going through similar hand-wringing exercises) is to have faith in the work you are producing and, above all, in your audience. To think otherwise is not only prissy, but also just a little bit insulting.”
Madam Butterfly tells the tragic story of 15 year old Cio Cio San, a young Japanese girl who falls in love with American naval officer Pinkerton.
In its notes on the talk by Prof Priyamvada Gopal, Welsh National Opera say that despite having no direct link with Britain, “Madam Butterfly was premiered at the height of the British Empire”.
“Many books continue to be published today about empire and its lasting effect, however for some it is only recently that we have started investigating independently what Britain’s role and impact in the world has been in the wake of Black Lives Matter,” they said.
“How many of us have, in fact, benefitted from formal education about the British Empire?
“In this discussion, we consider how the UK is still shaped by its past and which stories of the empire are common knowledge and have been reflected on our stages and from whose perspective.
“Are there some tales that still need to come to light and be shared?”
All four talks will be held online from September 14 to 21, with the WNO’s tour of Madam Butterfly beginning in Cardiff on September 26.