Hindus urge Belgium’s Opéra Royal de Wallonie-Liège to drop culturally insensitive opera Lakmé

Enepalese Published on: June 5, 2022

Hindus are urging Opéra Royal de Wallonie-Liège (ORW) in Belgium to withdraw “Lakmé” opera; scheduled for September 20 to October one; which they feel seriously trivializes Hindu religious and other traditions.

Distinguished Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, said that reportedly taxpayer funded ORW should not be in the business of callously promoting appropriation of traditions, elements and concepts of “others”; and ridiculing entire communities.

Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, indicated that this deeply problematic opera was just a blatant belittling of a rich civilization and exhibited 19th-century orientalist attitudes. He also urged ORW to apologize for such an inappropriate selection.

ORW should have shown some maturity before selecting an opera like Lakmé (Lakshmi), displaying Western caricaturing of Eastern heritage and abetting ethnic stereotyping, Rajan Zed noted.

It was highly irresponsible for an establishment like ORW to choose such an opera which had been blamed for caricaturing, appearance of mocking of “other” cultures, colonial terminology, degrading and offensive elements, dehumanizing portrayal, essentialism, narratives often failing to represent “other” cultures with dignity and humanity, imperialistic outlook, justifying ideas of superiority, looking down on people and customs, misrepresentation, considerably wrong about the culture it was supposed to be portraying, needless appropriation of cultural motifs, patronizing flawed mishmash of centuries-old orientalist stereotypes, pseudo and unabashed orientalism, reimagining Hindu traditions-practices-deities, shallow exoticism based on prejudice, etc. ORW could do better than this to serve its diverse stakeholders; Zed stated.

Rajan Zed suggested ORW Board President Willy Demeyer, General-Artistic Director select Stefano Pace and Music Director Giampaolo Bisanti to re-evaluate its systems and procedures and send its executives for cultural sensitivity training so that such inappropriate stuff did not slip through in the future.

Zed also urged its partners— Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, City of Liège, Province de Liège, etc.—to withdraw their support from Lakmé opera; and to rethink their relationship with ORW if it continued with operas like Lakmé, which trivialized traditions of “others”; Zed added.

Like many others, Hindus also consider opera as one of the revered art forms which offers richness and depth. But we are well into 21st century now, and outdated Lakmé, which premiered in 1883 in Paris, is long overdue for permanent retirement from the world stage; Rajan Zed points out.

Frédéric Chaslin and Davide Garattini Raimondi are conductor and director respectively of this production of Lakmé, whose tickets are priced up to €87.

Lakmé, a French opera in three acts, was composed by Léo Delibes and set in India in the mid-19th century.