From the New York Times opinion page:
Classical Opera Has a Racism Problem
Don’t try to hide it. Instead, make audiences confront it.
By Katherine Hu
Ms. Hu is a student at Yale.
Dec. 19, 2019
This fall, the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto gave a botched face-lift to “Turandot,” a Puccini opera about a barbaric Chinese princess in “ancient Peking” who executes her suitors. …
Alterations like these have become part of a broader trend as opera clumsily reckons with its racist and sexist past. But if it hopes to win favor with younger listeners like me, opera needs to realize that shallow changes can’t erase the problematic foundations of season fixtures like “Turandot,” “Madama Butterfly,” “The Magic Flute” and “Carmen.”
The Orientalist stereotyping in “Turandot,” for instance, seeps into the music itself. The only way to get rid of it would be to rewrite the opera entirely, a revision that would destroy the classical canon. So how do we bring opera into the 21st century? How do we preserve the beauty of Puccini’s music, the likes of which will never be composed again, while also recognizing that it taints how we perceive Chinese women like me?
Have I mentioned my hair? We should have a conversation about my hair. It’s gorgeous.
… A helpful model for this is Seattle Opera’s 2017 production of “Madama Butterfly,” another Puccini work, about a 15-year-old Japanese geisha named Cio-Cio San who is impregnated by an American naval officer. He later deserts her for a “proper” white wife named Kate; the opera ends with Cio-Cio San committing seppuku. Seattle Opera didn’t shy away from the ugly parts of this work. Instead, it addressed them in a large-scale exhibition in the lobby with posters detailing Mickey Rooney’s racist portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”…
Note: “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is not an opera.
Mickey Rooney being cast as Mr. Yunioshi is Emmett Till for Asian-American op-ed grifters.