The organizers of the second annual Opera Vista Festival suspected one of their featured operas would draw controversy. But when an anonymous letter threatening the founders of the Nova Arts Project arrived at founding director Amy Hopper's doorstep, she realized the show had potential to ignite a firestorm.
"We received this letter that was all about ignorance and hate, and that's the whole point of this opera -- to confront ignorance and hate. It makes it even more important to tell the story," Hopper said.
The opera is "Edalat Square," one of two works that won Opera Vista's inaugural festival competition in 2007 (think "American Idol" for opera composers). Written by Atlanta-based composer R. Timothy Brady, the opera recounts the true story of Mahmoud Asgari, 17, and Ayaz Marhoni, 16, who were hanged in Iran in 2005 for the crime of lavaat, or sex between two men. Brady was inspired by the story to craft a poetic work that offers an unblinking look at bigotry, but is also prayerful and mystical, said Viswa Subbaraman, artistic director and co-founder of Opera Vista.
I'm on good terms with one of the directors of Opera Vista, so this sort of hits home. I may not be a huge fan of modern opera, but I'm from the "organize a boycott" school of protest, not the "let's stone them for blasphemy" school. Once you allow a heckler's veto, the slippery slope gets steeper.