For many opera-goers, the Royal Opera House’s (ROH) latest production of Puccini’s Turandot will stand as an example of a truly diverse cast, with performers from around the world.
The nine main actors come from six different countries, including singers from South Korea, South Africa and Congo.
But a group that promotes Asian representation in the theater industry says ROH’s latest production is an example of opera’s “whitewashing” problem.
The group British East and South-East Asians in Theater and On Screen (BEATS) has criticized the production for the lack of British East and South-East Asian (BESEA) singers in the cast and production team.
On Saturday, the nonprofit complained on Twitter that out of the nine starring roles, only two were BESEA cast members.
Composed by Italian Giacomo Puccini, Turandot is set in China and tells the story of Prince Calaf who tries to win the hand in Princess Turandot’s marriage by solving puzzles at the risk of his life.
The casting of a white Italian woman as Princess Turandot, a specifically non-white role, was one of the group’s main complaints to ROH.
A spokesman for BEATS said, “Casting a white actor in a specifically non-white role, known as ‘whitewashing,’ is regressive as it perpetuates the historical and current exclusion of black artists from the stage.”
However, the ROH responded to the criticism, saying it was opposed to categorizing singers into specific roles based on their ethnicity.
The institution called this “limiting and reductive,” adding, “We’re proud that this revival presents an outstanding and diverse cast, and we will continue to work with others from across the industry to ensure broader representation on our.” Stages and across the performing arts industry is reached.”
Many nationalities represented
The opening performance of the opera lists a cast of nine principal actors. Two of the performers are from South Korea, Yonghoon Lee plays Calaf and Hansung Yoo plays Ping.
Six nationalities are represented among the remaining seven performers, including Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha, last year’s finalist for British Singer of the Year, who is originally from South Africa.
While acknowledging in its statement that black performers were on the cast list, BEATS said the lack of BESEA singers for an opera set in China was disappointing, especially given that historically this group has had limited opportunities in the arts and British life.
It also accused the production of incorporating “Orientalist tropes and stereotypes” and being as regressive as previous performances, which included “yellowface” makeup.
The group’s statement read: “The Royal Opera House trailer of the production [is] mostly singers with masks literally masking their lack of ESEA heritage.”
This is the second time BEATS has criticized a ROH production of a playset in Asia.
Last year it accused the ROH of “whitewashing” a production of Madame Butterfly.
The criticism came despite ROH consulting with Japanese culture experts for nearly a year to ensure the production was culturally respectful. The original script also underwent a full review of choreography, costumes and makeup.
Referring to the Madame Butterfly production, the BEATS statement said it was clear the ROH had not learned any lessons from its previous criticism.
It added: “It is simply unacceptable that an opera set in China in 2023 has so few BESEAs on and off stage.
“We urge the Royal Opera House to thoroughly review its casting processes to ensure its productions are much better and more appropriately represented on and off the stage.”
The group also urged all UK opera companies to include BESEA artists in the original creative opera teams, given their nuanced understanding of BESEA’s race relations, history and culture.
In response to the criticism, a ROH spokesperson said: “We have a duty to recognize the importance of the opportunities that exist on our stages, and we are committed to ensuring that the widest possible range of artists are, now and for a long time to come.” can benefit future.
“We are proud that this revival presents an outstanding and diverse cast, and we will continue to work with others from across the industry to ensure broader representation is achieved on our stages and in the performing arts.”