London’s Royal Opera House Combats Racism

The company will review classic operatic works to ensure they are not culturally or racially insensitive for modern audiences

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The Royal Opera House (Image courtesy: The Times)

 

In May 2021, the Royal Opera House (ROH) released an executive summary of their Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy — led by ROH’s Board of Trustees and Executive Team. The strategy will be next updated in September 2022.

“It is important to recognize that our history is flawed and our record on diversity has been inconsistent,” the summary reads. “We are committed to delivering our equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) goals and we acknowledge that we must learn as we go.

“Making a difference requires systemic change and we outline here the steps that we will take over the next eighteen months towards achieving our long-term diversity goals.”

In keeping with these goals, ROH has recently made the commitment to reevaluate the contents of its concert repertoire. This is to ensure “cultural sensitivities” are accounted for, as the company prepares for upcoming concert programs since reopening in May this year.

ROH’s reexamination of operatic works is a significant step in giving performances appropriate for contemporary audiences. According to The Times report on ROH’s strategy, their initiative stems from several reforms being drafted in response to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests.

In June 2020, in a statement on the BLM protests, Alex Beard, ROH’s CEO stated: “We are deeply troubled by events of the past fortnight and acknowledge that we need to effect and embed change at the Royal Opera House.”

According to The Telegraph, in addition to ROH pledging to ensure “culturally sensitive costuming, wigs, and makeup,” the visual staging of classic operas will also be reviewed — with ROH aiming to extend diversity to production design.

Recently, ROH hosted a discussion titled “Storytelling in Opera,” as part of their Black History Month celebrations. When discussing how theatre could move towards greater representation, tenor Lawrence Brownlee said: “Opera is about telling human stories and it doesn't have to be just one race or one demographic to tell the story.”

“Our repertory contains a raft of work both contemporary and historical,” stated ROH. “To ensure we present these stories in a way that is suitable and enjoyable for modern audiences, both our artistic companies consult widely to ensure that the Royal Opera House takes account of all cultural sensitivities in its staging, casting and presentation of much-loved historic works.”