Hungarian State Opera asks their white cast to ‘self-identify as African-American’ so they can get away with putting on Porgy and Bess, which is supposed to be performed by a black cast
- The Hungarian State Opera has allegedly asked their performers to attest they are of African American origin in order to perform the musical Porgy and Bess
- George Gershwin, the deceased composer of the opera, stipulated that the show should only be performed by a black cast and his estate has upheld that rule
- The musical is an American opera written and performed in 1935 and tells the story of a black street beggar in Charleston
- The Gershwin estate went after the Hungarian opera after they performed the piece last year with an all-white cast
- The current cast has one man from Guinea-Bissau in west Africa and another whose father is from there
- Szilveszter Okovacs, the general director of the Hungarian State Opera, slammed the rule as ‘racist’
- 15 out of 28 performers have signed a declaration claiming African origin
- The opera was scheduled to perform six shows of the show starting April 5
The Hungarian State Opera has allegedly asked their white performers to say they identify as African American in order to bypass a rule by the creators of the musical Porgy and Bess that only allows an all-black cast to perform the show.
The opera company was set to put on six performances of the famous musical on April 5, despite having a majority white cast and facing backlash for putting on the show last year.
Porgy and Bess is a hit American opera composed by George Gershwin that debuted in 1935 and tells the story of a disabled black street-beggar in Charleston.
Gershwin’s estate maintains his rule that the cast of the opera should be all black to be reflective of the characters in the story.
The current Hungarian cast only has two performers that identify as of African origin: one man from Guinea-Bissau in west Africa and another whose father is from there.
The Hungarian State Opera has allegedly asked their performers to attest they are of African origin in order to perform the musical Porgy and Bess
15 out of 28 performers have signed a declaration claiming African origin in order to circumvent a rule that states performers of Porgy and Bess should be black. A rehearsal photo of the Hungarian National Ballet’s Porgy and Bess performance above
Last year the Gershwin Estate, which manages the legacy of George and Ira Gershwin, told the opera they couldn’t perform the play unless they complied with the creator’s wishes.
But Szilveszter Okovacs, the general director of the Hungarian State Opera, slammed the rule as ‘racist’.
‘I don’t want to fulfill this condition, he said to Euro News.
‘It’s just not possible to do this [an all-black cast], you cannot decide who performs in a show based on the color of the skin or their origin,’ he added.
He went on to say that Hungary doesn’t record the race of individuals so he’s asking the cast to share how they identify.
‘There is no public registry of skin color in Hungary… and I can’t really say about the cast if it meets or not the requirement, so I’d rather ask them,’ he said to the station ATV.
According to Hungarian website Index, before the April 5 performance, singers were asked to sign a declaration that said: ‘I, the undersigned, hereby state that African-American origin and identity are an inseparable part of my identity. Because of this I am especially glad to be able to perform in George Gershwin’s opera, Porgy and Bess.’
Okovacs said that the singers and actors aren’t obliged to sign a declaration in which they claim to be of African origin, but 15 out of the 28 performers have.
The State Opera says on its website that the rights’ holders of Porgy and Bess noted ‘the production is not permitted in its current form.’
The State Opera says on its website that the rights’ holders of Porgy and Bess noted ‘the production is not permitted in its current form.’ The Erkel Theater in Budapest, where the show was performed last year and is set this year, above
A notice is also on the show’s programs stating: ‘The manner in which this production of Porgy and Bess is being produced is unauthorized and is contrary to the requirements for the presentation of the work.’
It’s not clear of the Hungarian Opera House put on the performances despite the spat with the Gershwin estate.
According to Index, the company is also using illegal copies of the musical scores made last year before the music sheets were recalled by the Gershwin estate.
The Berlin Philharmonic put on a production in 2012 with black opera singers.
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