Hungarian opera asks white cast to declare they're African-Americans

A scene from the Hungarian State Opera's Porgy and Bess.
A scene from the Hungarian State Opera's Porgy and Bess. Photo credit: Hungarian State Opera/Facebook

The cast of a Hungarian opera have reportedly been asked to sign documents confirming they are African-Americans to get around strict rules put in place by the show's authors.

Porgy and Bess - written by George Gershwin - was groundbreaking when it was first performed on Broadway in the 1930s, featuring a mostly African-American cast. Modern productions are expected to follow this example.

With few actors and singers of African descent in the eastern European nation, the Hungarian State Opera came up with a cunning plan. Hungarian news site reports performers have to sign a paper that reads: "I, the undersigned, hereby state that African-American origin and identity are an inseparable part of my identity. Because of this I am especially glad to be able to perform in George Gershwin's opera, Porgy and Bess."

Most of the cast reportedly signed it, fearing their careers would be in jeopardy if they didn't.

More than 90 percent of Hungary's population are ethnic Hungarians, Romani, Germans, Slovaks, Romanians and Croats, according to World Atlas.

Tams-Witmark, the company which owns the licensing rights to Porgy and Bess, has withdrawn authorisation for the staging.

The show's programme reportedly has a disclaimer which reads: "The manner in which this production of Porgy and Bess is being produced is unauthorised and is contrary to the requirements for the presentation of the work."

Szilveszter Ókovács, general director of the Hungarian State Opera, declined to answer questions from and UK paper the Guardian, instead posing a series of questions of his own.

They included, "What colour is 'black' on the Pantone scale?" and "One of Barack Obama's grandparents was 'white', do you think it would be right if he performed in Porgy and Bess?"

Obama's mother was in fact white.

The Hungarian State Opera last year cancelled a run of Billy Elliot when ticket sales plummeted following a government-linked media campaign claiming the story "could turn children gay".