Scottish Opera pulls out of award in Nixon in China make-up race row


Scottish Opera apologises for ‘inadvertently’ causing offence after critically-acclaimed production of Nixon in China becomes centre of ‘yellow face’ row

  • Scottish Opera’s production of Nixon in China was lavished with praise in 2020
  • But nomination for a Sky Arts award sparked a row led by a composer and MP 
  • Producers accused of ‘yellow washing’ with cast made up of mainly non-Asians
  • ‘Yellow face’ row over make-up for white Chairman Mao in hit production
  • Sources say it is impossible to find an entirely east Asian cast outside China 










A ‘gripping’ opera has been accused of ‘yellow-washing’ because it is set in China but has only one east Asian person playing a major part – forcing the company to withdraw its nomination for a top British arts award, it was revealed today.

Scottish Opera’s production of Nixon in China was described as ‘entrancing’ by critics who lavished it with praise in four and five star reviews – but the row over the ethnicity of its cast means some believe it will now never appear on stage in the UK again. 

A Labour MP and a London-based composer say the casting has been ‘offensive and dehumanising’ for people of East and South East Asian (ESEA) descent – others have said they are ‘witchfinder generals’ who have now sunk a wonderful production that has a black man playing Nixon.

Producers have been accused of ‘yellow-washing’ and accused of giving white stars a ‘yellow face’ by make-up artists. In relation to the casting of a white Chairman Mao, Scottish Opera insisted they ‘intended to portray the character as old and in ill-health and in no way were we trying to change his ethnicity’. 

The show’s lack of Chinese or east Asian singers has caused a major row with Scottish Opera even withdrawing itself from nomination for the South Bank Sky Arts Awards opera category and issuing an apology for ‘inadvertently’ causing offence.  

Sky Arts also apologised for ‘the offence caused by the nomination’, saying they supported the withdrawal, even though the independent panel who put Nixon in China forward stood by their decision.

Sources have said demands to cast the opera entirely from those Chinese and east Asian descent is simply ‘impractical’ and will kill off any future productions of the highly-rated show.

Scottish Opera has pulled out of a Sky Arts award ceremony after its opera Nixon in China, where its star is black (right, Eric Greene  as Richard Nixon) because its stars are almost all white even its Chinese characters (Nicholas Lester as Chou En-lai centre) with Julia Sporsen  as Pat Nixon

Scottish Opera has pulled out of a Sky Arts award ceremony after its opera Nixon in China, where its star is black (right, Eric Greene  as Richard Nixon) because its stars are almost all white even its Chinese characters (Nicholas Lester as Chou En-lai centre) with Julia Sporsen  as Pat Nixon

Scottish Opera has withdrawn itself from nomination for the South Bank Sky Arts Awards opera category and issuing an apology for 'inadvertently' causing offence.

Scottish Opera has withdrawn itself from nomination for the South Bank Sky Arts Awards opera category and issuing an apology for ‘inadvertently’ causing offence.

King’s College London is accused of ‘woke hypocrisy’ for honouring China’s hardline justice secretary in Hong Kong with fellowship – after being forced to apologise for marking Philip’s death 

A university forced to apologise for marking the death of Prince Philip has been accused of ‘woke hypocrisy’ for continuing to honour China’s hardline justice secretary in Hong Kong with a prestigious college fellowship, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

King’s College London endorses Teresa Cheng as a university fellow despite the fact she was sanctioned by the US administration last year for suppressing democratic rights in Hong Kong.

As a student she graduated from King’s College with a degree in civil engineering in 1981 before being awarded a fellowship.

And a list of fellows published last month reveals she is still honoured by the university despite her central role in cracking down on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

It comes after last month the Mail on Sunday revealed how bosses at King’s College apologised for emailing a picture of Prince Philip to staff marking his death in April.

The picture tribute sparked complaints from staff over the Duke’s ‘history of racist and sexist comments’.

It forced the university’s associate director of libraries to send out an extraordinary apology for the ‘harm’ caused by including the photo in the email.

An insider told The Daily Telegraph: ‘This controversy will make it very hard to stage this opera in the West because it requires a large Chinese cast and if they all have to be from that part of the world it is just too difficult to find singers of the quality you need to stage an opera in a country the other side of the world from China’. 

The source added: ‘This controversy will make it very hard to stage this opera in the West because it requires a large Chinese cast’.

Another told The Times: ‘The singer who played Nixon is black. Opera gives us the freedom to explore different identities and locations wherever we are, even if it’s a wet Tuesday in Glasgow. We should embrace it’. 

The opera, written in 1987 by John Adams, is based around president Richard Nixon’s official visit to China in 1972 and his his historic meeting with Mao Zedong.

It has largely been shown in US opera houses but was taken on by Scottish Opera in 2019 and received rave reviews until lockdown ended its run 15 months ago. Nixon was played by African-American baritone Eric Greene in the most recent production.

Last week when it was nominated for South Bank Sky Arts Awards opera there was a backlash led by composer Julian Chou-Lambert, who said having only one of the Chinese roles filled by a ESEA singer was ‘not good enough’. 

He tweeted: ‘It’s like blackface, but applied to East and South-East Asian characters. It’s offensive and dehumanising for ESEA people. Opera folks, please learn about this and do better.’ 

He added that using make-up to make people look more east Asian was a ‘degrading form of cultural appropriation that dehumanises those it claims to represent’.

Sarah Owen, Labour MP for Luton North, also picked up on the criticism and demanded to know why it involved ‘so few’ ESEA people. 

She tweeted in a series of questions for producers: 1) why are there so few ESEA people in this production? 2) why do cast members have exaggerated winged eye make up on? Classic #yellowface. 3) has this production received any taxpayer funding? 4) why does this continue, especially on stage?’.

A Labour MP and a London-based composer say the casting has been 'offensive and dehumanising' for people of East and South East Asian (ESEA) descent

A Labour MP and a London-based composer say the casting has been ‘offensive and dehumanising’ for people of East and South East Asian (ESEA) descent

One critic hit back and said: ‘Politicians wonder why people don’t trust or listen to them anymore… MP seeks a moments fame on the back of huge skills, dedication and hard work from @ScottishOpera. Playing the race card divides us all’.

Another wrote: ‘Yet another witchfinder general uses Social Media to immediately denounce’.



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Written by bourbiza

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