- The Hungarian State Opera is putting on a production of George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” with a predominately white cast.
- Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” is set in an African-American neighbourhood in Charleston, South Carolina, in the early 1930s and traditionally has an all-black cast.
- The Hungarian State Opera changed the setting of the opera to a refugee center in modern Europe and is using white performers, despite facing criticism.
- Before performances kicked off, the State Opera reportedly had performers sign contracts that said: “I, the undersigned, hereby state that African-American origin and identity are an inseparable part of my identity.”
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The Hungarian State Opera is asking its white performers to sign a paper agreeing to identify as African-Americans to perform George Gershwin’s folk opera “Porgy and Bess,” a show that’s traditionally played by an all-black cast.
Gershwin’s 1935 opera “Porgy and Bess” is set in an African-American neighbourhood of Charleston, South Carolina, in the early 1930s, and centres around a story involving a disabled beggar and a woman named Bess.
The Hungarian State Opera put on “Porgy and Bess” last year, changing the setting from a poor black community in racially segregated America to a refugee center in modern Europe, according to The Guardian.
At the time the opera was criticised for its decision to use predominantly white performers and was forced to say in publicity material that the production was “unauthorised [and] contrary to the requirements for the presentation of the work.” And now, the show has returned for six performances, again with a mainly white cast.
The paper reportedly 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.'”
Index reported that most singers signed the contract, and some were worried about how not signing could affect their future with the opera company.
Programs for the opera again said that the show was “unauthorised” and “contrary to the requirements for the presentation of the work.”
Last year, Szilveszter Ókovács, Hungarian state opera’s general director, told The Guardian that it had a right to cast white performers.
“In a country where virtually no black people live, as we had no colonies, this stipulation [cannot] be explained. I must express a strong doubt regarding the stipulation in the will. If anyone has not made such a decision in life, why would they do it after their death,” he said.
When Gershwin was alive, he defended his decision to use an all-black cast for the show, and even turned down a deal from the New York Metropolitan Opera after learning it would have involved white actors in blackface, according to The New York Times.
Gershwin based his opera on the novel “Porgy,” by American author DuBose Heyward.
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