Culture

Telegraph arts editor accuses Welsh National Opera of ‘patronising’ and ‘insulting’ audiences

19 Aug 2021 3 minutes Read
Svitlana Dekar (soprano), Slavoljub Kocić (tenor) in a production of Madam Butterfly. Picture by Miomir Polzović (CC BY-SA 3.0).

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.”

‘Perspective’

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.

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Andrew Thomas
Andrew Thomas
2 months ago

Clearly expressing a different view is problematic for the telegraph and with other attacks on Wales watch out for a campaign to defund WNO and other Welsh institutions for not being British enough!

CJPh
CJPh
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Thomas

I agree with both the general thrust of the article and your comment – entertainment and the arts are being intertwined with activism, politics and an overly paternalistic drive to put a message first. However, it is every artist/group/company’s right to do so. This could certainly be used as a cudgel to attack Welsh institutions. The use of certain well-reasoned positions in order to push for cultural hegemony is a feature of post Victorian ‘Britishness’ – “why not hire the best person for the job? By putting in a language requirement your narrowing the talent pool” may seem perfectly logical… Read more »

Cai Wogan Jones
Cai Wogan Jones
2 months ago

I have heard Prof Priyamvada Gopal speaking on a number of occasions. She is a very engaging speaker.

CJPh
CJPh
2 months ago

She’s certainly one of the better critical theorists, but still begins with an a priori political position that informs her work. What follows are passionate, well-reasoned, logical, eloquent mistakes. She also doesn’t react well (at all) to push back or critique; usually a sign of ideology-bound practices. Her work has value, and long may it continue, but the narrowness of the research used to underpin her conclusions necessitates a sack and a half of salt for regular pinches when reading.

Cai Wogan Jones
Cai Wogan Jones
2 months ago
Reply to  CJPh

She is a good foil for conservative historians of the Andrew Roberts/Max Hastings/Niall Ferguson stripe. The description you provide above is surely applicable to them in spades!

CJPh
CJPh
2 months ago

Oh certainly, and a welcome departure from TV historians who smuggle outright lies in via production values. Starkey, Schama, that Scottish bloke with the long hair etc. The move away from history as the discovery and reporting of the past into redefining past events in order to justify present actions is not confined to those who employ the Marxian lens. It is them, in my opinion, that tend to lie (or, more often, obfuscate) and do less of whatever subject they claim to teach/study – history is a biggie right now; the NYTimes ‘1619 project’ is the perfect example of… Read more »

Robin Lynn
Robin Lynn
2 months ago

The tour starts on 24th September, at least that what it says on my tickets.

Richie
Richie
2 months ago

Welsh opera will never have a speech about the effects of Colonialism on Cymru mind you 😉

Erisian
Erisian
2 months ago

Oooooh I don’t like the sound of that Mother they seem to painting our long dead greedy forefathers in a bad light – They used the ‘I’ word and the ‘C’ word.
True to its nasty nature the Torygraph couldn’t even wait for it to happen, send a reporter and then complain about what they actually saw – why bother to wait – just whinge now to try stoke their pathetic ‘War on Woke’.

Last edited 2 months ago by Erisian

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