New sponsorship deal leads opera company to ban iconic work for cigarette references.

Carmen is one of the most beloved operas in the canon: after Verdi’s La Traviata it is the most performed opera in the world, with over 470 different productions staged internationally last year. Countless thousands of performances of Bizet’s treasured operatic staple have played to packed houses all over the globe since the curtain lifted on the first performance in 1875. However it seems that a case of conflicting interests means that audiences in Western Australia are unlikely to see the tragic tale of rebellious Carmen and her untimely downfall at the hands of her jilted lover at least for the next two years.

West Australia Opera has announced it will no longer include Carmen for consideration in its 2015 and 2016 seasons as its depiction of smoking does not fit with the values of its major new corporate partner, Healthway, the state government’s health lobby. Under the new sponsorship agreement, which will see $400,000 invested in the company over two years, West Australian Opera will be reflecting the health conscious ethics of its new benefactor, including promoting Healthway’s Think Again responsible drinking campaign through its 2015 and 2016 programming and using its regional school tours to champion the Smarter than Smoking message.

Healthway’s zero tolerance policy to the smoking of either tobacco or electronic cigarettes (which have been adopted by some opera companies to protect the health and voices of its singers) at any of its sponsored events is unfortunate news for WA Carmen fans as the opera’s opening scene takes place in front of a cigarette factory, and smoking is referenced several times in the libretto. Healthway’s Chairwoman Rosanna Capolingua outlined her organisations reservations about staging Carmen, saying “The portrayal of smoking on stage, in film and on TV normalises smoking and presents it as being attractive, which could dissuade smokers from quitting and encourage young people to take it up.”

West Australian Opera’s General Manager Carolyn Chard confirmed the company’s decision to omit Carmen from its upcoming seasons saying “Carmen is one of those operas that is always on the table, and we have a wonderful production by Lindy Hulme which we’ve staged many times, but for the next two years we’re not planning to program Carmen to show we share the same anti-smoking values as Healthway.” 

West Australian Opera General Manager, Carolyn Chard

Describing the new sponsorship as a “significant uplift in funding”, Chard promised that opera-goers in West Australia wouldn’t be disappointed with the company’s offerings over the next two years, which will be reaping the benefits of the recently secured cash injection. While a Carmen embargo will definitely be in place until 2017 Chard also hinted at a return for the much loved opera in a new production at some point after the Healthway partnership comes to an end, saying “We’ve shown our current production many times and our audience loves it, so we’re definitely thinking of creating a new production in the future”.

WA Opera are yet to unveil their 2015 offering, so many opera goers in Western Australia are still waiting to see what impact the new ethical restrictions imposed by the partnership has on programming decisions. Since most 19th century operatic master-works feature a drinking chorus or an indulgent brindisi, there maybe more omissions ahead. Meanwhile, expect a (health conscious) 2015 season announcement on November 12.

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