There isn’t that much unusual in Desmond Tutu calling on a South African opera company to cancel its planned production of Porgy and Bess in Tel Aviv next month. Tutu’s views on BDS are well-known. But what I did find interesting is this oblivious statement from the Israeli opera company’s director:
Hanna Munitz, general director of the Israeli Opera, said in a statement that the intent of the collaboration between the companies “is culture and art, and definitely not politics,” adding: “Both houses relate to culture as a bridge, the aim of which is to be above any political dispute.
Perhaps someone should send her a copy of the libretto of Porgy & Bess and a history of the opera and its productions. Perhaps someone might want to tell Munitz about the reason that George Gershwin wrote a revolutionary opera with an all-Black cast and the impact that this casting had on a segregated 1930s America. No politics in that for sure:
Originally conceived by Gershwin as an “American folk opera”, Porgy and Bess premiered in New York in the fall of 1935 and featured an entire cast of classically trained African-American singers—a daring and visionary artistic choice at the time.
I have a really provocative suggestion for all involved: let them mount a production in Tel Aviv, but make the cast all-Palestinian! What about a Palestinian Porgy?? Now that would knock the audience’s socks off wouldn’t it? That would immediately make a slightly musty piece of 1930s Americana relevant to the Israeli audience, wouldn’t it? It might make them throw shoes at the stage. Might make ’em walk out. Good. Anything to force them to confront the evil they are perpetrating.
In rejecting Tutu’s eminently sensible plea for black South African opera to boycott, the opera director made this statement:
Mr. Williams said the company was also in negotiations to perform in Arab countries, adding that “Porgy and Bess” contained “much which should provide food for thought for audiences in Israel.”
Man, this guy hasn’t a clue about contemporary Israel if he thinks that an Israeli audience will find anything in this opera as he will stage it that will provoke them to think of the way they are treating the Palestinians. That’s far too subtle for Israel. As an example, look at the self-congratulations of the Israeli headlines noting that the opera company is ‘snubbing’ Tutu’s request. Do you think Porgy will get through to such an Israeli audience?