Opera classics threatened by #MeToo movement, says top tenor

Tony Diver
Jonas Kaufmann performing at the Barbican Hall - Alastair Muir

Jonas Kaufmann, said to be one of the world’s greatest tenors, has suggested that half of the operatic repertoire could be struck from stages in the wake of the #MeToo movement and a climate of hostility towards misogynistic plot lines.

Speaking about a recent performance of popular encore ‘Girls are Made to Love and Kiss’ in Santa Monica, he warned that increased public awareness of sexual harassment and assault could make popular lyrics inappropriate.

The aria, from the 1925 operetta Paganini, features a man reflecting on women’s place as objects of male desire, singing: “I’m a man and I kiss her when I can”.

“If I have to ask myself whether these tiny little erotic hints that composers gave in the 1920s are inappropriate, half of our operatic repertoire can’t be played any more,” Kaufmann said in an interview with The Spectator.

His comments point to the influence of the #MeToo social media campaign against the sexual assault and harassment of women. In the light of fresh public awareness of the issue, many opera-goers are uncomfortable with the tendency for plots to end with the brutal death of a woman.

Although it is common for women to play in so-called ‘trouser roles’, as male characters, the role of women in opera and gender imbalances in casting have long been the subject of controversy.

A recent performance of Bizet’s Carmen in Florence replaced the death of the female lead with her murder of a jealous man, reversing the traditional ending. The reworking of the plot was intended to stage a “current Bizet”, which had a message of ‘anti-femicide’, the opera company said.

Jonas Kaufmann is a world-class tenor singer, and has been cast in some of the most high-profile roles in the industry. He first performed at the New York Met in 2006, and has since been named as one of the world’s greatest living tenors.

The #MeToo movement gained traction on social media last October, following a series of allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, which he denies. Since then, women from a number of industries have come forward with their experiences of sexual assault and harassment.

Kaufmann’s comments come after the opera world was dragged into the #MeToo campaign in December by the suspension of renowned conductor James Levine from the Met. Mr Levine was accused of the sexual assault of three teenage singers in the 1960s.

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