Operas and other works of art reflect the values and belief systems of the societies in which they were created. Often, that means that perspectives on diverse and intersecting identities such as race, ethnicity, gender, class, sexuality, and ability are poorly aligned with current views. While it may be more comfortable to politely disregard the problematic elements of our treasured masterpieces, it is more constructive to confront these issues head-on. The cultural movements that came before us affect our present reality in a myriad of subtle and sometimes imperceptible ways. Viewing ourselves through the lens of our collective past can reveal lingering beliefs we may prefer to ignore.
When we look at historical works within the context of a specific cultural moment, instead of glossing over differences, we can explore a new (or old) viewpoint and open our eyes to the fundamental changeability of human systems of belief. Rather than communicating universal truths or transcending time and space, historical works of art can give us a glimpse of a social reality perhaps far removed from our own. Instead of reinforcing essentialist readings of history, art can encourage audiences to explore alternative perspectives and even question the assumptions of their own, contemporary culture.
As performers and artists, it is our mission to connect with audiences of today and together build a better and more compassionate world for tomorrow. We must be thoughtful in our choices — artistic and otherwise — and respectful in our representation of marginalized communities. The messages we send to audiences can have a profound impact on the people they reach. It is our responsibility to ensure that the stories we tell are ones which embrace difference, advocate for diversity, and encourage a respectful dialogue.