A Toronto Transformation

Sexism, Racism and Annoying Jewelry at the Opera

When I was little there were four cassettes awarded highest rotation on my Fisher Price tape recorder: The Little Mermaid, The Velveteen Rabbit narrated by Meryl Streep, Celine Dion’s The Colour of My Love, and Mozart’s The Magic Flute.

So it was with an eager nostalgia that I got dolled up and headed off to see the latter performed at the gorgeous Elgin theatre on Friday.

While no, “Colour of My Love,” Mozart’s music was as delightful as I remembered, and I wriggled happily in my seat as the orchestra launched into the familiar first act.

We were seated next to the most enthusiastic opera-goer imaginable. She was made entirely of binoculars, delighted, hearty  laughter and and “brava!s”. She almost made up for the woman behind us, who wore a bracelet that I’m pretty sure was made of twenty pounds of tiny tambourines, bells and scrap yard metal and flailed about almost constantly even after the woman beside her told her she was driving her insane. Haha. I actually sailed right on past irritation to giggling incredulously at the situation. It was pretty unreal.

Plus I was distracted by the marring of my childhood memories by the crazy amount of sexist and racist garbage being beautifully sung from the stage. I feel like the line “Men are strong where we are weak, they always think before they speak” sung by some ladies defiling an awesome manly temple with their lady feet may have been left out of my Mozart for kids cassette. Or maybe I was just too wee to be aware of it.

There was also a fair amount of uncomfortable shifting during scenes featuring the villainous antics of the “moor,” the princess’ jailor, who has problems controlling his lust and refraining from being just a general jerk.

In the end, the young white, boring couple of wimps whose highest aspiration is to get hitched and Sarastro, the sanctimonious, patriarchal male wizardly Freemason guy with the awesome name live happily ever after, while the evil moor and the Queen of the Night, a “proud” woman who dares to try to get back the magic powers Sarastro allegedly stole from her late husband before kidnapping her daughter for herself are cast into hell (or maybe just fall down some stairs, it wasn’t entirely clear) along with the queen’s lustful ladies in waiting.

And let that be a lesson to you all.

Apparently some productions tone down the racism and sexism for modern audiences, leaving out the skin colour of the evil jailor, for example, which I think I might be inclined to do if I were directing this particular show as I don’t think it actually furthers the story and it would still make sense without it, but others argue that the integrity of the opera would be ruined if these details were left out.

What do you guys think? Would you update a story like this or would you leave it as is and just hope that the audience is viewing with a critical eye? If you have children would you take them to see this show and if so, would you talk to them about the stereotypes and misogyny in it, or would you ignore it and just enjoy the music?

One Response to Sexism, Racism and Annoying Jewelry at the Opera

  • Emma says:

    I have been agonizing over this too. And the conundrum is only accentuated by my new obsession with Bewitched, the most sexist tv show of all time. But you know what? I think really obvious, over-the-top sexism is actually a lot less harmful than the more subtle brand of today’s shows/films/everything. At least it’s unmissable… you can’t not notice it and laugh at it.

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