The PM and other high ranking officials criticise “crazy” decision to cut Carmen.

Many opera lovers, not only in Western Australia but across the country were outraged last week after it emerged that WA Opera had decided to embargo any staging of Bizet’s iconic and much loved opera Carmen over the next two years, as the Opera’s depiction of smoking was at odds with the company’s new sponsor, Healthway.

News of the decision has since travelled well beyond Australia’s borders and has been covered by mainstream media as far afield as Russia, China and the UK. The announcement of the ban has turned into a very public embarrassment for WA Opera’s General Manager, Carolyn Chard, as several high ranking officials have voiced their condemnation of the decision in the media in recent days. The Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett and the Western Australia Health Minister Kim Hames have all spoken out against the ban, branding the decision as “political correctness gone crazy”.

In an interview broadcast on Melbourne’s W3A Radio last week, the PM, who very rarely speaks publically about the arts, summarised his objection to the ban saying “Opera is an exaggeration and if we are running around looking to take offence or looking to spread some politically correct message, just about every opera would be forbidden.” In a second interview, this time with Perth-based radio station 6PR Abbott went further saying “We don’t stop the theater from running ‘Macbeth’ because it promotes killing kings.”

The Western Australia Premier, Colin Barnett called the decision “a serious mistake” and labelled the removal of Carmen for its smoking references as “censorship.”

The WA Health Minister Kim Hames pledged to write to the opera company, assuring them that any decision to programme Carmen would in no way jepodise the sponsorship deal with Healthway, who will be providing $400,000 of funds to the company over the next two years. This may however be moot as Healthway have scrambled to distance themselves from the ban, insisting that the decision to remove the opera from the bill for two years was made by WA Opera independently. Healthway spokeswomen Rosanna Capolingua described Healthway’s board as being “quite surprised” by the bold move, adding “They brought that to us and we said: ‘fine.’ It was their choice and their decision.”

Carolyn Chard declined to be interviewed, although in a response broadcast on Perth’s Radio 6PR earlier this week she said that the decision to not stage Carmen was intended to avoid “controversy”, adding that “Sponsorship is so important to arts companies, and we feel that the timing was really right for us. Carmen is a work that we love, I think everybody loves Carmen, it’s a beautiful opera.”

While the decision the ban the opera has most definitely generated more controversy than it has avoided, the company are still yet to announce their 2015 season. The launch of next year’s program on November 12 will no doubt be highly scrutinised to see if the overwhelming public outcry has been heeded by Chard and the Carmen embargo lifted.