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Obama Named in Hubbub Over Hungary's Super-White Opera

Director defends move to ask actors to identify as African American
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 11, 2019 9:40 AM CDT
This Jan. 25, 2018, photo shows a rehearsal of "Porgy and Bess" in the Erkel Theater of the Hungarian State Opera in Budapest.   (Marton Monus/MTI via AP, File)

(Newser) – When the Hungarian State Opera took heat last year for casting only white performers in a production originally about racism and violence in an African American community, the general director, Szilveszter Okovacs, appeared to brush off the wishes of Porgy and Bess creator George Gershwin, whose will demands the show be performed only with black actors. "We have the contract and it is without this language," Okovacs said, per the New York Times. In what the Times calls "a defiant publicity stunt," he's now asked 2019's nearly all-white cast to declare themselves as African American. Hungary's Index claims to have seen a copy of the declaration stating involvement in the opera is "a special joy" since "African-American origin and identity is an inseparable part of my identity," per the AP. Some 15 of 28 performers reportedly signed it.

As "there is no public registry of skin color in Hungary ... I can't really say about the cast if it meets or not the requirement, so I'd rather ask them," said Okovacs. "One of Barack Obama's grandparents was 'white,' do you think it would be right if he performed in Porgy and Bess?" he added, per the Guardian. This version of Porgy and Bess moves the action from Charleston, SC, to a refugee camp. One review cited by the AP describes it as "not Porgy and Bess" but set to the opera's musical scores, which were reportedly photocopied. The agents of Gershwin's estate therefore have several reasons to be exploring legal action. The opera "is not permitted in its current form and contradicts the work's staging requirements," they say, per the AP. They also claim operators broke a written promise to cast black singers in its 2018 licensed production, per the Times. (Read more opera stories.)

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