Calgary Opera’s production of South Pacific, planned for this summer, is facing upheaval over the same issue at the core of the musical: race. A dispute over the casting of a Tonkinese character has seen the director, a designer and a performer quit the production. The company says the director’s departure was premature as the role has not been definitively cast – although a white artist is on hold for the role while Calgary Opera continues its search for a race-appropriate fit.
The original director, Mark Bellamy, left the production over the issue, according to Bob McPhee, who retired as general director and chief executive officer from Calgary Opera last month for health reasons and is now special adviser to the company.
“We want a strong vocal, physical performance and yes, we want it to be someone of appropriate ethnicity, but if we can’t achieve that, it’s not from a lack of effort. And then [Bellamy] said, ‘Well, I can’t agree with that,’ and he said, ‘I want to pull [out],’” McPhee says.