A London theatre has emphasised its commitment to diversity after cancelling a performance of The Golden Dragon opera due to its cast of non-Asian singers.
A statement shared by Hackney Empire said it took the decision to withdraw the show, by Music Theatre Wales, because it “compromised” the organisation’s aim to “champion diversity and accessibility across the theatre industry”.
The move comes just weeks before the production was due for the stage on October 31, which would have marked the finale of its autumn tour.
A representative for Hackney Empire said: “Music Theatre Wales’ production of The Golden Dragon has been the subject of much discussion and debate around the casting of non-Asian singers.
“Hackney Empire sits at the forefront of the debate on diversity in the arts and, along with many other theatres, is totally committed to reflecting the diverse population of the UK on its stage.
“The debate aroused by the non-Asian casting in The Golden Dragon compromises the Empire’s commitment and position as a champion of diversity and accessibility across the theatre industry and, therefore, the decision has been taken to withdraw the forthcoming performance on 31 October.”
The statement added that it is “imperative” that discussion on diversity is encouraged in the theatre industry and said the venue would be willing to work with Music Theatre Wales to “increase diversity within the opera world”.
Responding to the decision, Music Theatre Wales expressed its disappointment and acknowledged that it had “made mistakes”.
Bosses said in a statement: “We acknowledge that we have made mistakes. Having chosen to stage this work – an operatic adaptation of a German play, partly set in a pan-Asian restaurant – we now recognise that we did not discharge in a sensitive way our responsibility to the communities it depicts.
“Featuring Caucasian singers as performers playing multiple roles, some of whom are specified as Asian characters, has caused offence.
“This practice is still widespread within the opera world, and we acknowledge that it is problematic, and realise that we should have reflected more deeply on the implications it had for the kind of production we made.
“These errors of judgement were ours alone. Our exceptional performers are not to blame.”
It continued: “Music Theatre Wales’s work is undoubtedly challenging, but we have never set out to offend. We continue to believe in The Golden Dragon as an important and powerful modern opera that is a sincere attempt to engage with the issues that face people living at the margins of Western society, and which gains its power through forcing audiences to confront their complicity in exploitation.
“This is a transformative experience for the company and one from which we are determined to learn.
“We are already in the process of meeting with a number of professionals and practitioners who wrote to us to raise their concerns, and we will be listening to them as we engage in a thorough review of our approach to equal opportunities and diversity: in our programming, in our casting, and across all our activities as a company.”