Musings on political correctness and art. Prompted by the opera Poros by Händel we went to see a couple of weeks ago. The original plot revolved around Alexander the Great, but this time the director set it in the colonial era India. This setting and the way the characters were depicted left me feeling uneasy throughout the whole performance.

How often do you go to the opera? My last visit got me thinking. We went to see the premiere of Händel’s Poros to Komische Oper in Berlin. The performance was very enjoyable, the stage spectacular, the costumes a real eye candy and the music and singing great, but the plot was set in colonial era India.

Director’s take on the events was from the standpoint of Händel’s time, which saw the British Empire as an enlightened force bringing law, order and civilization to the wild jungle world of India. We now know how that played out in the reality, exploitation and all.

The opera shows locals as they were seen back thenimpulsive individuals who cannot see past their own pleasure and emotions. Whereas Sir Alexander, the British envoy whose military controls the area, is the wise and just hero, bringing peace and understanding to hapless Indians.

I’m not a fan of US-style political correctness. I think they overdo it a lot. But last night I could not help but wonder if that plot is OK today. Music is timeless, but so are historic injustices.

What do you think, should we view old operas as just that – historic pieces of art to be enjoyed despite changing world views and politics? Or is putting such reactionary plots on stage something to be avoided because we (hopefully) have gotten wiser as humanity by now? I am on the fence. What do you think?

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Komische Oper Poros India

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