The soprano has been sent packing. Damned for published anti-gay views, Georgian performer Tamar Iveri was finally fired by Opera Australia yesterday.
Perhaps OA thought the fierce social media storm would be over once the alleged gay-hater sings. Perhaps the company is as naive as many of the canon’s characters.
If the company was smart, it would install Australian performers to replace Iveri in productions of Otello in Sydney and Tosca in Melbourne. Rather than booing, audiences will acclaim performances of triumphant redemption.
But the company has shown itself to be anything but smart over the past week. Indeed, for all the media and marketing specialists housed at Australia’s most well-feathered arts nest, it’s astonishing how it could make such a hash of it.
This presents as a case of poor due diligence and inept crisis management. Given the amount of government money poured into the national opera company, they’re failures that deserve significant scrutiny. Questions must be answered.
Iveri’s nasty Facebook screed — which doesn’t bear repeating — has been online for over a year. She has been publicly denounced for as long.
Was OA not aware of the controversy already surrounding the singer? Or did it just not care?
Reports emerged on Friday in Australia linking Iveri, ensconced in rehearsals for Otello, to the comments. Patrons took to OA’s own Facebook page to condemn her hiring. OA said nothing.
Did it seek to question Iveri then? Why didn’t it respond to the mounting criticism?
By Saturday, a European opera house dropped Iveri from a production. Iveri issued a new statement — she was sorry, she said, but the vile post was actually written by her husband. OA made its first comments on the issue:
“Opera Australia has become aware in the past 24 hours, of the media and social media coverage of comments reported to have been made by soprano Tamar Iveri. The company has made the singer aware of the response from the Australian media and people via social media.
“Tamar Iveri has sought to clarify her views on this important issue, and has issued an apology and explanation on her own Facebook page …
“Rehearsals and performances at Opera Australia are continuing as planned.”
As if that was ever going to be the end of the matter.
Did OA satisfy itself then that Iveri, as unlikely as it seemed, was not responsible for the comments? Why didn’t it condemn the sentiment, regardless of who wrote it? Why didn’t it reach out to the many gay members of its community — its own staff and performers, and the audience that pays hundreds of dollars for a single ticket — to apologise?
Nobody bought the hubby excuse. And if they did, her choice in men seemed damning enough. Benefactors of the company became nervous. A commercial fallout loomed. Finally, OA moved:
“Opera Australia has agreed with Tamar Iveri, to immediately release her from her contract with the company.
“Ms Iveri and her husband have both made public statements in the last 48 hours with regards to comments attributed to Ms Iveri. She has unreservedly apologised for those comments and views.
“Opera Australia believes the views as stated to be unconscionable.”
More unconscionable as waiting so long to say so. But not by all that much.
What if Iveri didn’t agree to stand down? Would she have been fired? Does the company accept its performers — like sports stars and other prominent figures — have a responsibility to reflect standards of decency?
As one understandably anonymous company insider told Crikey yesterday before the axe came down:
“OA management’s baffling silence and non-position on the matter is making things very difficult for the vast majority of employees who do not share these views and want her gone. Reactions are ranging from upset and disappointment to deep distress and no current employee feels safe to speak out against management’s stance for fear of losing their jobs.”
What does OA say to its staff now? Does it accept responsibility for the distress first its silence and then its non-action had on the opera community and audience?
OA artistic director Lyndon Terracini probably shouldn’t have cast Iveri in the first place. He certainly should have sought explanations before he did. If he was satisfied with her version of events, he still had to condemn the comments. His staff of spinners should have told him to act sooner and more decisively. They shouldn’t have jobs at the organisation if they didn’t.
Crisis management 101 is to get in front of the story — OA lagged damagingly behind. It invites scrutiny the heavily subsidised company simply can’t afford.
The failures are many. Questions still need answering. Lyndon, our stage is yours …