After severe backlash, the opera “The Golden Dragon” has been canceled, as Hackney Empire pulls the show from its East London October 31 premiere.
The theater released a statement on Thursday that disavows any involvement of Hackney Empire to the production of “The Golden Dragon” and Music Theater Wales, the United Kingdom’s leading national contemporary opera company.
“The debate aroused by the non-Asian casting in The Golden Dragon compromises the Empire’s commitment and position as a champion of diversity and accessibility across the theater industry, and therefore the decision has been taken to withdraw the forthcoming performance on 31 October.
“Music Theater Wales were renting the theater for this production and Hackney Empire has not been involved in any part of the production or casting process,” Empire wrote in the statement, according to The Guardian.
Many people from the Asian community were upset at the Music Theater Wales’ portrayal of its main characters, called “Chinese mother”, “Chinese aunt”, “old Asian”, “an Asian” and “the Chinese immigrant”. Additionally, the descriptions for these characters specifically mentioned they were all of Asian descent yet were all played by five Caucasian actors.
Initially, the company refused to admit fault, defending “The Golden Dragon” by saying the “yellowface” casting is not racist because it’s not from a real story.
“The Golden Dragon is a story about anyone who, through no fault of their own, find themselves dislocated in a strange country without official status. It addresses the crucial issue of modern slavery,” the UK-based opera company wrote in their defense.
“The original play and the opera on which it is based is post-Brechtian story-telling: the cast narrates the story and introduces the multiple characters they are about to play. Quite deliberately, there is no realism.”
Music Theater Wales changed its mind, issuing a response statement after Hackney Empire announced its decision to cancel the show. The letter reads:
“We should have reflected more deeply on the implications it had for the kind of production we made. These errors of judgment were ours alone. Our exceptional performers are not to blame.
“This is a transformative experience for the company and one from which we are determined to learn. We are already in the process of meeting with a number of professionals and practitioners who wrote to us to raise their concerns, and we will be listening to them as we engage in a thorough review of our approach to equal opportunities and diversity: in our programming, in our casting and across all our activities as a company. We are committed to incorporating this learning into everything we do.”
“The Golden Dragon” was a story about a young Chinese man who had his tooth pulled out by a wrench and how it accidentally landed in a customer’s soup. The opera was based on a play by Roland Schimmelpfennig and written by Hungarian composer Péter Eötvös.
Image via YouTube / Music Theater Wales