Flying the flag at WNO

27 August 2021

In 1977, inspired by Judy Garland’s Over the Rainbow, Gilbert Baker devised the Pride flag. Over the years the flag has evolved to represent more sections of the community. Each colour has symbolism, which we can also see reflected in the arts. As Welsh National Opera unites to join the Pride Cymru 2021 celebrations, we take a closer look at the rainbow flag to see what the colours represent and how they feature in the world of opera and theatre.

Pinkis for sex and there’s plenty of that in opera! Fearless, dishonest, and wily, Don Giovanni has a prolific love life - in Act 1 Leporello tells Donna Elvira that Don Giovanni is not worthy of her. His conquests include 640 women in Italy, 231 in Germany, 100 in France, 91 in Turkey, and 1,003 in Spain. So, the answer to the long-debated question - do we need to sex up opera? Not while we have characters like Don Giovanni...

Redreflects life and the leading lady in Bizet’s greatest opera has this by the bucket load. Carmen lives life to the full, even though it ultimately leads to her downfall. In theatre generally, the colour also suggests rage, passion, anger, desire and strength which all lead us back to our fiery heroine.

Orange signifies healing and Wagner’s Parsifal has been described as a study in illness, pain and healing. A holy spear is the one thing that can heal the King’s wound and only a ‘pure fool’ can retain the spear.

Yellow is for sunlight and Sarastro from Mozart’s The Magic Flute perfectly encapsulates this as the High Priest of the Sun.

Green is the colour of nature which can only lead us to the forest and The Cunning Little Vixen. Maria Bjørnson’s set for David Pountney’s much-loved production creates a grassy backdrop for the action as a young vixen makes her way in the world.

Turquoise is for art and Wagner considered his Ring Cycle as ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ (a total artwork) in which poetry, drama, music, and staging unite. Composed over 26 years, the 15-hour operatic tetralogy was intended not only as entertainment but as a means to realise, through art, the utopian aspirations that had been crushed in the revolutions of 1848.

Indigo denotes harmony and Philip Glass’s epic meditation on Mohandas K Gandhi’s early years in South Africa, Satyagraha, traces the progress of ‘the great soul’s’ concept of non-violent protest as a positive force for change and harmony.

A crowd are cheering, arms raised.

Violet represents spirit and we see plenty in La traviata’s leading lady Violetta, whose name comes from the Italian for purple. A courtesan who falls in love and gives up her old life, then sacrifices her happiness for the honour of her lover. Her feelings endure though and they are eventually brought together for one final reunion.

White, pink and pale blue were added to the flag to represent the transgender community. We are seeing a growing number of transgender singers in the operatic world and Laura Kaminsky’s opera As One, which premiered in 2014, tells the story of a transgender individual from childhood to adulthood. As One is due to make its UK premiere later in 2021.

Last but not least, Black and brown feature for people of colour and those lost to AIDS, which reminds us of the musical Rent, loosely based on Puccini’s La bohème. In the original opera, a group of struggling artists play out a tragic love story against the backdrop of bohemian Paris, whereas Jonathan Larson’s updated version transports us to Lower Manhattan, New York, where diverse artists and performers are creating a life under the shadow of HIV/AIDS.

The rainbow flag represents a wide and diverse group of people, and opera is exactly the same: there’s something for everyone, so many stories to tell in so many different ways and a wide variety of people to interpret them.

Happy Pride from everyone at WNO.