Today’s storm in a teacup was provided by Bay Primary School in Bridlington, which caused the cancellation of a new opera by pulling 300 of its pupils out of the production due to sheer, unbridled homophobia.
Well, that’s the spin that the media and social networking sites seem to be a-tweet with. The story I read states that the school had a problem with the opera’s ‘drug taking, sexual conduct and the use of homophobic name-calling’, only one of which is related to homosexuality and looks to me more like an objection to language than sexual inclination – something which an institution devoted to the care and education of youngsters has every right to be concerned about.
But let’s have a look at librettist Lee ‘Billy Elliot’ Hall’s side of the argument – after all, he wrote the best translation of an opera I’ve ever seen in ENO’s 2007 Pagliacci and if he refused to have his work censored he must have had good reason.
Fortunately, the same article gives us a taste of one of the more offensive bits, which goes like this:
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.
…eh? Is this a joke? Did a BBC journalist just make it up? Or is this actually an excerpt from Hall’s libretto? If the latter, I’m beginning to sympathise even more with Bay Primary School in Bridlington.
Let’s have a quick look at the sins here:
1. The scansion is dreadful. Only the third couplet has a regular rhythmic pattern and however you say the others the stresses fall in the wrong place.
2. Hall has attempted to rhyme ‘infer’ with ‘prefer’ and ‘lass’ with ‘class’, neither of which is actually a rhyme because the accented consonant is the same – this makes them mere identities, which as Sondheim says in his recent book ‘are death on wit’. (These couplets prove his point pretty succinctly.)
3. Who exactly is talking here? A Northern working class character who uses words like ‘lad and lass’? Or a pretentious effete person who likes to ‘infer’ and ‘concur’? There’s absolutely no consistency to the language and unless it’s a deliberate attempt to roll Northern and gay stereotypes into one stanza, all that inferring and preferring just makes it look like he was stuck for a rhyme. Sorry – stuck for an identity.
Offensive? I’ll say. And bravo to Bay Primary School in Bridlington for saving 300 children – and indeed thousands more innocent theatregoers – from being exposed to this shamelessly immoral use of language.