After Revisions, Opera North to Stage Lee Hall Opera Beached
By Adam Hetrick
Opera North, which initially canceled its production of the new opera Beached by Tony Award winner and Academy Award nominee Lee Hall after a participating school group took issue with the text, has reversed course and will produce the work as planned.
As previously reported, Hall (Billy Elliot, The Pitmen Painters) charged that Opera North and local school officials backed out of he production because it included a gay character. The production was to incorporate 300 school children ages four to 11.
The school took issue with having students appear in the opera unless references to "drug taking, sexual conduct and the use of homophobic name-calling" were removed. Beached, which centers on a single father's attempts to spend a relaxing day at the beach, also included the lyric "Of course I'm queer/That's why I left here/So if you infer/That I prefer/A lad to a lass/And I'm working class/ I'd have to concur."
Hall had adjusted the tone and language, according to a BBC report, but the school felt the material was still not suitable for its students and backed out of the project, forcing Opera North to cancel the production. Hall charged both Opera North and the school with discrimination against the incorporation of a gay character.
Both Hall and Opera North general manager Richard Mantle appeared on BBC television to discuss the matter earlier this week, which led to "intense negotiations behind the scenes with all parties," according to a statement on the Opera North website.
Beached will now be performed July 16 at 2 PM and 6 PM, retaining the gay character and with full participation from the Bay Primary School and members of the community, who had been in rehearsals for weeks as part of the project. The production will reflect new revisions made by Hall, which are considered age appropriate for the children involved.
"We have been at pains to work closely with the writers at all times, and have supported their rights of artistic expression throughout," Opera North said in a statement. "We have also worked equally hard to ensure that the schools and community groups involved in the project have positive feelings of ownership and identity within the production. Thankfully rehearsals have been taking place throughout the week.
"At its core, Beached is not simply about sexuality, it is much more about the life and community of Bridlington, and other similar towns and communities in the UK. It is fiction, but it speaks directly, and often with humour, about the experiences of the community, its joys and its tensions."
East Riding of Yorkshire Council and Bay Primary School issued the following statement: "Neither the council, school or Opera North have ever expressed any concern over the inclusion of a gay character, only some of the language and tone around the character’s identity. The writer has now addressed this. Homophobia does not exist in any of our organisations and we take great exception to how this has been played out over the last week and we refute all such claims."
Opera North has also made Hall's libretto available for download online. Beached has music by Harvey Brough.
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