X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week. If you receive it, you’ll also find your subscriber number at the top of our weekly highlights email.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.spectator.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050. If you’ve only just subscribed, you may not yet have been issued with a subscriber number. In this case you can use the temporary web ID number, included in your email order confirmation.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

If you have any difficulties creating an account or logging in please take a look at our FAQs page.

Culture House Daily

Opera takes on Islam

24 February 2014

2:51 PM

24 February 2014

2:51 PM

You know how it is. You’re finishing off Friday prayers, wondering what to do with your evening. You notice some women in a cattle truck and decide to engage in a spot of ritual humiliation, bunging the women into burkas and forcing them to distribute petals in front of your feet. Critiques of Islam don’t get much more savage than the one delivered by a new French production of Rameau’s 18th century opéra-ballet Les Indes galantes. The third act assault on Iran’s patriarchy drew gasps from the audience – and even a protest at the Toulouse premiere.

The idea of casting Islam as an oppressor is a concept almost completely unknown to the art world. In Britain, the only fictional role open to Muslims is that of harassed victim. That Les Indes galantes arrives at the Barbican Hall on 6 March in a concert performance (burka-less) is, then, no surprise

The arts have diligently avoided taking part in this cultural battle. When works specifically invoke Islam, the reaction is sweaty-browed. Out comes the airbrush. Film and TV are notably nervy. Producers aren’t foolish enough to completely avoid the dramatic scenarios that Islamist terror throws up but most are still extremely keen to avoid the root cause. Surreal contortions result: Czech despots, Micronesian suicide bombers, Inuit terrorists.

[Alt-Text]


Novellists are braver but the conversation is often subtler and more inward and, inevitably, has less consequence. And those writers who street brawl like Michel Houellebecq are ostracised.

Contemporary art avoids the subject altogether; there’s too much sponsorship money tied up in the Gulf. So, the most significant attack on the freedom of the Western artistic hand for two centuries – the prohibition on the depiction of Mohammed – is met with Trappist silence from the establishment.

Theatre is too left-wing. Pop occasionally finds itself on the receiving end of Imam wrath but few within it have the intellectual stamina to follow up their accidental provocations. Remember Rihanna’s photoshoot in the Abu Dhabi mosque? That was an interesting no-no. But I doubt it was an intentional feminist riposte to institutional misogyny. I could be wrong.

So, it’s left to opera. It may well be the best art form to have a friendly word with the religion. It’s used to tackling civilisational clashes, and has traditionally had a reasonable relationship with Islam. An obsession from its earliest days with Tasso’s crusader poem La Gerusalemme liberata has forced it to engage with the Middle East from the beginning. And while there’s a tendency to associate Muslims with sorcery, slavery and sexual depravity, recurring Islamic characters like Clorinda, Ermione and Armida are often characterised with sympathy and complexity.

The bias that opera has to its past means that it has had to revisit the East-West relationship far more than any other art form. And though opera directors can be as lily-livered as the rest, most are forced to develop a slightly stronger stomach for taking on the issues surrounding Islam. But you’ll have to get on the Eurostar to see the most radical stuff.

Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.


Show comments
Close