Odds and Ends
Bend the truth on your job application
12 4, 6:44pm
That's true, and I only know two black Hungarians, one of them originally from Kenya and another who is the child of African immigrants in the 70s, but it's the way this was done and the timing that's bad.
First off they chose an opera set in a very specific time and place (Catfish Row, USA, in the 30s), and which it's author SPECIFICALLY requested to be played as he envisioned it, because the message itself is about race relation in the US. They chose to completely disregard the author's wishes, and doubled down when challenged by the Gershwin estate by having the audacity to have their singers sign a declaration stating that “African-American origins and spirit form an inseparable part” of their identity, which is clearly bullshit.
Secondly, this all comes with the background of Hungary having a really right wing government and attitude, being both anti-immigrant (especially anti Muslim immigrants) and ramping up persecution of their own minority, the Roma.
I see at least a few of ways the Hungarian state opera could have done this and be less racist - they could have changed the setting to be explicitly about the plight of Middle-Eastern immigrants in Hungary (I have an inkling this is what they were going for originally, but they probably got scared when a performance of the musical “Billy Elliot” was blasted in a government-friendly newspaper as “gay propaganda” and had to be cancelled) or they could have set it in a Roma community and have gotten as many actual minority singers as they could.
Or they could have just left it on Catfish Row and invited guest singers at least for the leading roles, or played it with a white cast but have an introductory piece explain to the audience the setting and why they didn't have any black singers on hand as the author specifically wished.
But no, they chose to handle it the most misguided and tone-deaf way possible, by saying "well, the author says this is to be played exclusively by African Americans, well, I say these white ethnic Hungarians are actually African Americans, even though they're clearly not... what are you going to do about it, bub?" and then act surprised and defensive when people call them up on their bullshit.