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Over the past couple of years, and more recently the last few weeks, there have been many occasions in our universities and those overseas where cultural sensitivities have taken precedence over artistic imagination and licence. I've learnt new phrases – “cultural appropriation” and “no-platforming” – and discovered that it seems that even though no offence is meant, if one person is insulted by something, then that is enough to get it silenced.
A classic example of this Orwellian world came from Bristol University and its Musical Theatre Bristol recently, when a student production of Aida (the musical by Tim Rice & Elton John, not Verdi’s opera) was shelved because of a complaint of “cultural appropriation”. Here the thought-police decreed that white singers would likely be playing the parts of characters that are non-white.
Opera has a grand tradition of blurring and mixing things up. One only has to think of trouser-roles and the great black singers that have sung ‘non-black’ roles.
Salman Rushdie, Philip Pullman and others offer this: no-one has the right to be not offended. There is now a generation of university students and recent graduates who genuinely believe that their views are wholly ‘right’ and that to challenge them is to be offensive and that such actions should incur the full force of their ‘law’. That the panjandrums at our universities acquiesce in the face of such intellectually moribund arguments beggars belief.
The ridiculousness of this situation is that very soon it will be indefensible for white European musicians to play jazz.
Here's a radical thought: let's judge on artistic merit. There should be no bars on people singing or enjoying the art-forms that we all relish, and our orchestras, opera and ballet companies are doing more and more to engage a wider audience, but let's ensure things are not dumbed-down or compromised. There's so much to enjoy out there; let's celebrate it.
The Classical Source