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Emily Brown

Too Colourful a Production?

The McGill Opera’s winter production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Benjamin Britten featured some fantastic vocalists alongside cultural appropriation, racial fetishization, and racism. The performance was staged in Pollack Hall, with a student cast and a professional orchestra. The setting chosen by the director Patrick Hansen was India under British rule, shortly before World War One. The fairies were translated into a myriad of sexy non-specific “Hindu Goddesses.” The changeling child was painted a dark shade of blue that appeared to be black in the many dim moments that reoccurred throughout the piece. As The McGill Daily stated: ”[…] the only character who cannot speak for himself, and who is treated as a ‘creature’ to be owned by the Fairy King and Queen, appears the darkest.” In my opinion, the most culturally insensitive aspect of the piece was the racialized identities given to the Athenians and the Mechanicals. The Mechanicals, a rag-tag bunch who provide comedic relief through their drunken and imbecilic antics, were portrayed as impoverished Indians, while the pure-hearted Athenians were portrayed as upper-class white British people. The end of the opera felt particularly racist, when the actors playing people of colour put on an oafish performance for the amusement of the sophisticated white characters. In my opinion, whatever benefit the spectacle of 'Indian-ness' added to Britten’s music in this case is far outweighed by the problematic ramifications of this interpretation. The fairies’ portrayal as sexy Hindu Goddesses is problematic for a number of reasons. It equates a pantheon of powerful deities with a fluttery group of comparatively impotent tricksters. Furthermore, it reduces an incredibly diverse group of deities into an aesthetic that only varies along the gender binary. The sexualized nature of the fairies’ costumes, which included low cut tops, pants hanging low on hips, and bare midriffs,… Read More