A performance of a new opera by Billy Elliot creator Lee Hall (pictured) has been canceled because of objections to gay references.
The opera, Beached, was commissioned by Opera North and was to premiere July 15 in Bridlington, England. However, administrators of a primary school involved in the production said the 300 students scheduled to participate would not do so unless the gay content was toned down. The main character of the opera, which depicts a day at the beach, is gay and is the subject of homophobic taunting.
Hall, the librettist, writes in a column for London’s Guardian that he “agreed to tone down the violence of the language in this scene, but not the character’s straightforward defence of his sexuality. Word came back from Opera North that, unless I removed the lines ‘I’m queer’ and ‘I prefer a lad to a lass’, the whole project was in jeopardy. (It was by now far too late to replace 300 schoolchildren.)” Hall adds that “the request seemed to come from an entirely different era.”
Hall says he offered to negotiate with the school and organize diversity workshops, and he tried to persuade Opera North to open a dialogue with the children’s parents, but the company decided to cancel the production and replace it with another. Opera North issued a statement saying it “respects Lee’s rights as an author” but “can appreciate the viewpoint of the school.”
Hall wrote the screenplay for the 2000 film Billy Elliot, about a working-class boy who wants to be a ballet dancer, for which he was nominated for an Oscar and a BAFTA award. He won a Tony Award for writing the book for the 2008 Broadway musical version, and he collaborated with Elton John on the songs for it, with the team receiving a Tony nomination.