“Oublions le passé, fêtons ce doux moment!”: Encountering the other in the operatic canon

How do operatic organisations and artists engage with racial and cultural depictions in historical operas? What are the ethical and practical issues shaping such encounters?

Early on in Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers (1863), the fishermen Zurga and Nadir encounter one another and resolve to put aside their former differences: “Let us forget the past and celebrate this sweet moment”, Zurga exclaims. But the past is not so easily forgotten: not only do both men continue to love the same woman, but – according to the stage directions – the meeting takes place in front of a ruined Hindu temple. Even were these directions to be ignored, the presence of nineteenth-century colonial attitudes and a free-wheeling approach to exoticism looms large over The Pearl Fishers. Opera companies do not have the option to simply celebrate the moment and forget the past, for it, and its attendant problems, are written into the score.

In the fourth webinar in the Sadler Seminar Series Telling Stories: Race, ethics, and authenticity, we turn to the some of the ethical issues underpinning the (re)production of the historical operatic repertory. With Opera North’s forthcoming production of The Pearl Fishers as a starting point, panellists and audience members will discuss the ways in which opera companies negotiate racial and cultural representations in the operatic canon. Discussions will consider, but not be confined to, matters of staging, casting, and fidelity to the score.

Confirmed speakers

This event will take place via Zoom and is open to anyone interested in opera, culture and society. 

Please contact Luqian Zhao for further information.

Image credit

Hazel Croft as Giovanna, Eric Greene as Rigoletto and Jasmine Habersham as Gilda in Opera North's Rigoletto, 2022. Clive Barda.