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Racial casting controversy in Calgary prompts resignations from opera production

WATCH: A well-known Broadway musical staged for Calgary is under a cloud of controversy. The plot of ‘South Pacific’ centers around racism and intolerance. But as Jill Croteau explains, staff have 'walked away' over a casting decision, they feel, contradicts the very theme of the show.

Some are calling it a questionable call surrounding casting. Calgary Opera’s production of South Pacific opens this August. One of the characters, Bloody Mary, is a Tonkinese woman. But in Calgary, the role was put on hold for a white mezzo-soprano.

The now-former director of the musical, Mark Bellamy, didn’t agree with the choice and resigned.

“South Pacific is more than musical,” Bellamy said. “There are scenes portrayed, and she carries a story arc about racism and intolerance and we needed to seek out other options with artists of colour.”

Bellamy and two others, an actor and designer, also parted ways with the opera company.

“I didn’t feel like I could walk into the rehearsal hall every day with this Caucasian artist to say lines of dialogue written in pidgin English, and portray this character,” Bellamy said.

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“I didn’t know how I could direct someone like that genuinely.”

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The chair of the Calgary Opera issued a statement insisting it has been searching for a person of ethnic background to fulfill the role.

Michael Brown further said, “This leads us to the question, ‘Do now all opera roles, a significantly small pool of professionals from which we already have to choose from, become only available to those with the original ethnicity in mind?’ This opens up a whole series of debates about casting, and one that Calgary Opera Board takes seriously.”

You can read Calgary Opera’s full statement here.

 

South Pacific will be part of Opera Calgary’s summer outdoor festival, Opera in the Village. It will debut in August.

 

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