Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) has offered the audience for Così Fan Tutte a refund before they have even seen it performed. That’s because Christophe Honoré’s adaptation, which was part of Festival d’Aix-en-Provence in June, includes ‘volatile, violent racism’ that may cause upset.
Ticket buyers were warned up front that this would be a ‘provocative and sexually explicit take on Mozart’s opera’ and that it would feature ‘adult themes and nudity.’ However, EIF believes the controversial director’s opera goes beyond that original description. It moves the story from its original Naples setting to Eritrea in the 1930s, and puts racist treatment of Black people at its centre.
In his review for The New York Times Zachary Woolfe wrote that: ‘Honoré’s staging is, for whites – that is, for almost everyone watching here – often a brutal, shaming experience, as the Black Africans onstage are shoved, dragged, ground against and used as avatars, fantasies and objects, encountered as spurs for white imaginations rather than as people’
To some extent this should not come as a surprise; Honoré’s previous work includes a film about incest (Ma Mère), and he is known for dealing with difficult subjects head on. However, the festival has acted in advance in an attempt to avoid controversy.
‘We will normally provide as much information as possible about a show when tickets go on sale, but this is a brand new co-production with Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. The fact is we didn’t know exactly what it was like until we saw its premiere in France last month,’ said an EIF spokesperson in an interview with The Scotsman.
‘We don’t want to offend anyone. If somebody has bought a ticket, doesn’t think the show will be suitable for them and doesn’t want to come, then we will obviously try to help them.’