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Hindus urge Washington Concert Opera to discard culturally insensitive opera Lakmé

Hindus are urging Washington Concert Opera (WCO) in Washington DC to withdraw “Lakmé” opera; scheduled for May 22, 2022; which they feel seriously trivializes Hindu religious and other traditions.

Distinguished Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, said that a renowned institution like WCO should not be in the business of callously promoting appropriation of traditions, elements and concepts of “others”; and ridiculing entire communities.

Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, indicated that this deeply problematic opera was just a blatant belittling of a rich civilization and exhibited 19th-century orientalist attitudes. He also urged WCO to apologize for such an inappropriate selection.

WCO, whose mission is “to provide a secure home for rarely performed operatic masterpieces…”, should have shown some maturity before selecting an opera like Lakmé (Lakshmi), displaying Western caricaturing of Eastern heritage and abetting ethnic stereotyping, Rajan Zed noted.

It was highly irresponsible for an establishment like WCO to choose such a ballet which had been blamed for caricaturing, appearance of mocking of “other” cultures, colonial terminology, degrading and offensive elements, dehumanizing portrayal, essentialism, narratives often failing to represent “other” cultures with dignity and humanity, imperialistic outlook, justifying ideas of superiority, looking down on people and customs, misrepresentation, considerably wrong about the culture it was supposed to be portraying, needless appropriation of cultural motifs, patronizing flawed mishmash of centuries-old orientalist stereotypes, pseudo and unabashed orientalism, reimagining Hindu traditions-practices-deities, shallow exoticism based on prejudice, etc. WCO could do better than this to serve its diverse stakeholders; Zed stated.

Rajan Zed suggested WCO Board President Melissa Rhea, Artistic Director Antony Walker, and Executive Director Tehvon D. Fowler-Chapman to re-evaluate WCO systems and procedures and send its executives for cultural sensitivity training so that such an inappropriate stuff did not slip through in the future. 

Like many others, Hindus also consider opera as one of the revered art forms which offers richness and depth. But we are well into 21st century now, and outdated Lakmé, which premiered in 1883 in Paris, is long overdue for permanent retirement from the world stage; Zed points out.

Single tickets of three hours long show of Lakmé opera; starring Erin Morley, Frédéric Antoun, etc.; and being presented in the “35th Anniversary Season” of WCO; cost up to $114. WCO, founded 1986, claims to have performed nearly 60 operas in concert format. Lakmé “touches on familiar themes of forbidden love, duty, and honor”, an announcement states.

Lakmé, a French opera in three acts, was composed by Léo Delibes and set in India in the mid-19th century. 

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