An Australian opera company is refusing to show a production of Georges Bizet’s Carmen because it is set in a factory that manufactures cigarettes. Australia’s ABC reports that West Australia Opera made the decision after receiving $400,000 from Healthway, a government body that sponsors arts companies to promote health messages.
Carolyn Chard, general manager of the West Australia Opera, attempted to justify the decision, telling ABC Perth: “Carmen is an opera that is actually set in a tobacco factory, so that does present some difficulties if you’re promoting non-smoking and healthy work environments.
“I think we were very respectful of the partnership and forward-thinking about recognising it would be in direct conflict with the aims of the Heathway support.
“I think sponsorship is so vitally important to arts companies and this is significant support and you need to deliver benefits.”
Rosanna Capolingua, the chair of Healthway, denied that the decision amounted to censorship, adding that they did not ask the company to shelve the opera. However, she did say that she was very pleased with their decision.
“It was their choice and I think it’s great that have chosen not to run Carmen and tell everyone about it,” she said.
“They have used the fact that they are not running it to make a healthy stand, and kudos to them for that.”
She added: “As far as Heathway is concerned, it is taxpayers’ dollars and we have to use it to protect and promote the health of Western Australians.”
Others have not reacted so favourably, however. Philip Sametz of ABC Classic FM said he was disappointed by the situation. “The thing that would sadden me is that if you were an opera lover and you wanted to take someone to see an opera, the very best introduction might be Carmen,” he said.
“The health of a society is important too and that’s one of the things that arts and culture do for any community.”
He added that many operas have controversial content, yet there are no calls for them to be censored.
“In Wagner’s ring cycle, Siegmund falls in love with his sister. We’re not talking about an art form that takes necessarily the high moral ground.
“I would like to think that the sponsor and the company could come to some sort of reconciliation.
“Carmen is a masterpiece and not a piece of art that I think should be censored or removed.”