|Soprano Tamar Iveri
It was discovered last spring that Georgian soprano TAMAR IVERI's Facebook page included hostile comments about a 2013 gay-rights protest in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. Among other things, the page stated, "Georgian man has always been the symbol of bravery.... Should we, in the future, hand Tbilisi over to the guys with Louis Vuitton bags?" (There appears to be a large faction in Georgia — including many in the ruling party, the Georgian Dream Coalition — that feels public squares should not be given over to gay demonstrations.) It was subsequently announced that both Brussels's Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie and Opera Australia had been moved to cancel upcoming contracts they had with the singer. On June 23, Opera Australia denounced Iveri's comments as "unconscionable" and stated that she would not be singing Desdemona, as planned, in OA's production of Otello. It appears, however, that there was more to the story — on both sides.
According to Justin Koonin, the convener (or chair) of the New South Wales Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, the initial response from Opera Australia was silence. "After forty-eight hours," says Koonin, "the company issued a statement on its Facebook page saying that they had made Tamar Iveri aware of the situation, and she had issued an apology, and rehearsals were going ahead with her." Iveri did issue a statement, placing the blame for the posting on her "very religious" husband and his "tough attitude towards gay people." This appears disingenuous, as it seems that the anti-gay comments first appeared on Iveri's Facebook page in mid-2013, nearly a year before the scandal became international news. The Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, having discovered a July 2013 interview with Iveri that seemed to support her husband's position, turned up the heat under Opera Australia. Only then did the company post a statement finding Iveri's remarks "unconscionable." (Opera Australia's chief executive CRAIG HASSALL and artistic director LYNDON TERRACINI declined to discuss the matter with OPERA NEWS, and the company has since removed any comment on the matter from its Facebook page.)
When OPERA NEWS requested a comment from Iveri, the soprano claimed that she withdrew from performances herself, because she did "not want such an important artistic event to be marred by any problem which, however unintentionally, has developed because of my presence in the cast. This is the sole reason why I have left the production. I want to add that I am immensely saddened and hurt by the campaign which is now being mounted against me.
"I have never been prejudiced against anyone, whether for religious or racial reasons, or for any other kind of prejudice, including those regarding sexual preference. I abhor prejudice in any form altogether. I have been performing in an art form that includes thousands of gay people on both sides of the stage, and there is no one who can come forward and claim that I have ever exhibited any such prejudice against them, as indeed I do not. I have said before and say here again that the words attributed to me were not my own, and that I therefore cannot take personal responsibility for them. I can only repeat again and again that this is my position.
"I also want to make clear once more that my concerns last year about the Parade in Tbilisi for Gay Rights were not based on any opposition to the rights of gay people everywhere. Rather they were founded on my fears that the parade would arouse a violent reaction from parts of the arch-conservative Georgian religious community. Unfortunately, this is exactly what did happen, as those participating in the parade were criminally attacked by such elements."
At the moment, Iveri is scheduled to make her role debut as Tosca in Melbourne in November 2014, under the auspices of Opera Australia. Given her sluggish performance of "Vissi d'arte" in concert on YouTube, this casting seems questionable on artistic grounds; it remains to be seen whether the engagement is in jeopardy for other reasons.