Classical music has historically catered to a “traditional” audience, with most famous symphonies and operas composed by white men. New York’s Metropolitan Opera is set to have one of its most diverse seasons yet, with several operas containing LGBTQ+ representation, a modern take on the Birth of Jesus and some composed by Black and Brown composers.
However, North Carolina classical music station WCPE plans to reject broadcasts of six of the Met’s operas this season over what the station’s management calls “modern, discordant and difficult music.”
WCPE’s general manager, Deborah S. Proctor, sent a letter on August 31 (which didn’t get online traction until now) to listeners asking for input on the appropriateness of the operas she raised concerns about. She said the station only selects works from composers who “have earned the highest standing above all others,” limiting what plays on the airwaves to classical, baroque and early-romantic period music.
The banned operas include: “Florence e el Amazona” (which was cited in the letter as being “outside of the bounds” of WCPE), “Dead Man Walking” (Proctor said the violence depicted was too extreme), “X: the Life and Times of Malcolm” (an English opera that Proctor described as filled with “offensive language plainly audible to everyone”), “Fire Shut up in my Bones” (Proctor claimed the opera is filled with adult themes and offensive language), “El Nino” (Proctor said the opera uses “non-biblical” scenes to depict events from Christian scripture), and The Hours (Proctor cited references to suicide and death as inappropriate for broadcast).
According to reporting from NPR, three of the operas management has deemed too inappropriate were written by Black or Mexican composers. This is also not the first time WCPE refused to air “inappropriate” material — the station refused to broadcast another Met-produced opera by a Black composer containing LGBTQ+ content this past April.
Terence Blanchard — the first Black composer to have his work staged at the Met — composed Champion, an opera about the life of gay boxer Emile Griffith, who won multiple world titles in the 1960s. The Met staged this show in April, and WCPE elected to not broadcast it citing the libretto “contained vulgar language and a theme unsuitable for a general audience.”
Proctor spoke to NPR in an interview where she said the letter was sent to over 10,000 listeners who’ve donated to the station. She said so far, 1,000 responses have come in with around 90 percent agreeing with Proctor’s reasoning.
“If the Met wants to put these out as a ticketed organization with people coming to sit in their venue, for people who choose to be there, that’s one thing,” Proctor argued. “But to broadcast these things to anybody who might happen to tune in, that’s something else entirely.”
Proctor continued to defend her decision to NPR by saying she wanted to make sure the broadcast would be appropriate for children who may decide to tune in. However, she also stated her personal views and opinions do play a major role into the decisions she makes for the station.
“I have a moral decision to make here,” Proctor tearfully told NPR in a phone interview. “What if one child hears this? When I stand before Jesus Christ on Judgement Day, what am I going to say?”
“This is so pathetic,” he wrote on X, formally Twitter. “It really gives away the game with respect to some people’s and institutions’ beliefs as to classical music’s purpose in American society.”
Proctor continues to defend her decision to not air the pieces, criticizing people who are comparing her decision to the ongoing book banning movements happening across the country.
“But I’m not banning these things,” she told NPR. “I’m just saying that on this station that I’ve been granted jurisdiction over — and 90-plus percent of the people who have answered the survey agree with me — it shouldn’t be on this station.”
Saturday Evenings at the Opera are set to begin on December 9 for the 2023-2024 season and wrap up next June.