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A chorus of hate that poorly governed Opera Australia let sing

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 …

Read Ben Neutze’s report on the spin doctors’ view and former OA financial patron Philip Murphy’s opinion. Featured image: Tamar Iveri in Opera Australia’s 2013 production of A Masked Ball.

18 responses to “A chorus of hate that poorly governed Opera Australia let sing

  1. This has been a terrible ordeal for the company; but this isn’t the first instance of poor management. What about the firing of Richard Mills from the Ring? What about last year’s attack on the full time ensemble? This year lost their job security and much of their livelihoods. When will it be the chorus’ turn to lose their job security?


    Why, if an opera company must do music theatre, isn’t it unamplified?!?!?

  2. So media storms erupt on a Friday night, and the singer is gone on Monday morning.

    In what world is that “slow to react?” There must’ve been some sort of due process to follow – the soprano was given an opportunity to defend herself and make a statement, which she did, and was unsatisfactory; then action was taken.

    In the world of twitter, only keyboard warriors demand instant and unmeditated reprisal; if they don’t get what they want instantaneously, they will retweet until they do. It’s as much of a mob mentality as any other mob, and I’m glad the Australian Opera seemed to follow at least some due process in seeking a statement from the soprano, and properly considering options. It was not much more than 48 hours from scandal breaking to (correct) resolution; things don’t happen instantly, there need to be conversations with agents etc etc.

    What was also sad was seeing people on Facebook and Twitter with old grudges against the opera company coming out of the woodwork with any excuse they could find to sink a boot in; completely irrelevant issues to the Georgian statements.

  3. Perfectly understandable if you look at it from a money view; OA are only going to act once the dollar signs start to fade. Bugger the audience, the performers, the employees.

  4. Some of Australia’s politicians are a lot more homophobic than Georgian performer Tamar Iveri, where is the balance?

  5. Another chance for everyone in the Yarts in the eastern suburbs of Sydney to demonstrate how wonderfully politically correct they all are. I don’t support her views but the idea that she gets run out of town by the media is sickening. I would much prefer her to be exposed to criticism during her stay in Australia than shuffled off because we don’t tolerate such talk. Give the power of censorship to the media and they will abuse it.

    1. Really Chris Williams? She spouts offensive views, but we should still employ her. She wasn’t run out of town by the media. She was removed by the actions of thousands of people who find those views abhorrent and that offering our tax dollars to a lying (let’s not forget that part, she lied) bigot is not on. How is this abusing the power of censorship? This is the third time she has been found out and had her work withdrawn.
      Perhaps you also agree that Uruguay’s Luis Suarez doesn’t deserve sanction for his actions in the match against Italy, even though he’s been penalized for the same infraction twice before, because it’s “censorship” and he should be freely allowed to play on and just cop some booing from the crowd.
      What an asinine belief. If you do not stand up to bigots and their less than intelligent beliefs, they become accepted and respected. Iveri has no respect and deserves none in return.

    2. Why should we tolerate intolerance? Why did she have to give her views on homosexuality and use words as “fecal masses”? Why should she come to sing in the” West” she despised? If she likes so much the georgian mind let her stay where she belongs…

    3. Well if she was run out of town by social media, then that only reflects what people think of her. What’s wrong with that?

  6. The lady in question ,if you read her response and apology explains the situation , it looks like her husband does not like gays , the problem is her work opportunity will suffer because he is a religious prick , she should give him the shove , if she has worked in Opera as long as she said , she would have worked with many LGB’s before and this post on F?/B was ages ago , So what’s the fuss , I know how hard it is to get work in any of the Arts , I wish her luck !

  7. The comments seems to have been in place for last year-Culturally in the west, we tolerate aberrant behaviour of all sorts – but in some cultures there is no such tolerance – if one is brought up in the culture that may be an acceptable view. The issue really is is she an admirable performer – the Australian public is missing out on her voice and 90% would not actually go to a show to her her views or even read social media comments – So what is the fuss?

    1. Sorry to say Desmond you have not checked what happened in Georgia, the Governments reaction there and her part in the controversy, you are entitled to your views and so is the Soprano, but she like all of us are not entitled to broadcast hate against a minority.

    2. She may have been brought up in such a homophobic culture but she has traveled enough to realize georgian attitude is mean crual and coming from the dark ages… She maybe talented but still is a lyrical brainless bimbo with no heart.. I say that as a senior heterosexual French female … And anyway what do you call “aberrant behaviour”? Having girls hidden under a dark cloth? Come on… Pas de liberté pour les ennemis de la liberté.

    3. Your stupid,stupid stupid words:

      “…we tolerate aberrant behaviour of all sorts…”

      are vile. In so many ways. In so many respects. Vile.

      I wish I possessed the vocabulary to be able to frame my utter disgust and revulsion, and to convey my fury, that you deem same-sex attraction “aberrant.”

      Sexual attraction is not a cultural construct.

  8. It’s always easy to blame the spinners, but they do act in an advisory capacity. You may be correct that their advice was to ignore this and let it fester, although that would be odd indeed, but it is often the case that senior management with a limited appreciation for how crisis management works can be very reluctant to move quickly on these things until they’ve become the proverbial runaway train. No-one external to an organisation knows all that is going on internally in a crisis like this either so it is very easy to judge from the outside. And it is the spinners who, regardless of whether their advice was acted upon or ignored, get to clean up the mess.


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