The Paradox

5 October 2021

Welsh National Opera marked the beginning of Black History Month with the release of The Paradox – the latest instalment in the Rearrange series which takes extracts from opera and transposes them into contemporary settings.

Director Rebbecca Hemmings chose the iconic ‘Nessun Dorma’ from Puccini’s Turandot and created a video to highlight racial injustices unseen by many. In the piece an opera singer travels to work daily whilst contemplating the juxtaposition of his professional life and the emotional weight he carries as a black man navigating racial disparities in the UK.

Rebbecca approached the video’s direction by originally reworking the narrative of the opera. In Rebbecca’s version of Turandot, Calaf gives Turandot the task of saying his name. Turandot cannot say this name because to acknowledge its existence, is to give up privileges and rewards that she has enjoyed for years. The name is: Equity. Calaf knows this and it is with this knowledge, confidence, and emotional power that he declares: ‘Vincerò! Vincerò!’ – I will win, I will win!

In Rebbecca’s new interpretation of the aria, the main aim was to re-imagine a world where the elimination of racial injustice can be realised. She explains ‘When I looked at the characters and their relationship as reflecting systemic racism and the racially marginalised, ‘Nessun Dorma’ became totally relevant to today.’

The plan was to alter the lyrics, so the message had more clarity but unfortunately that was not possible. However, we hope that through the video the audience sees the power dynamic between the desire for and reluctance to change. In addition, it is hoped people who do not normally see the injustices, become aware and empathise with racially marginalised people who manage daily microaggressions and overt discrimination.

This project was realised during the pandemic, and there were huge challenges, but Covid has also brought to the fore just how important it is to keep the voices of racially marginalised people in the mainstream.