Tamar Iveri, a Georgian soprano scheduled to star as Desdemona next month in Opera Australia's production of Verdi's Otello and appear in Tosca later this year in Melbourne, is at the center of a firestorm of controversy for a Facebook post where she called gay people "sewage."
The post, framed as a letter to Georgia's president, went up on Iveri's Facebook account last year after a mob of thousands -- led by Orthodox priests -- violently attacked and seriously injured a small group of gay rights demonstrators in the capital, Tbilisi. It was taken down after it caused an outrage in the Georgian media. The controversy resurfaced last week when Australian media unearthed the earlier reports.
Adam Withnall of The Independent writes:
The post, apparently from Iveri, reportedly read: "I was quite proud of the fact how Georgian society spat at the parade... Often, in certain cases, it is necessary to break jaws in order to be appreciated as a nation in the future, and to be taken into account seriously.
"Please, stop vigorous attempts to bring West's 'fecal masses' [or sewage] in the mentality of the people by means of propaganda."
Iveri goes on to compare gay people to putrid fruit that even dogs discard. A translation of the full post is after the jump, via Georgian LGBT group Identoba.
After the controversy re-emerged in Australia, Iveri issued a statement claiming to be "shocked and saddened" that people were calling her a homophobe and blaming the entire incident on her husband.
The singer said she had been writing about the recent protests when her "very religious" husband with "a tough attitude towards gay people" found the text, changed it and posted it under her name.
Iveri said she had been against the gay pride parade taking place because its path took it by an Orthodox Church at the same time as a commemoration for Georgian soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
"For that reason and because Georgia is a country where 90 per cent of the population are deeply religious, conservative Orthodox Christians I wanted to express my sincere doubts that a parade made sense under these circumstances... I was worried that this would provoke people and lead to violence."
A further post has since appeared on Iveri's Facebook page purporting to be from her husband, in which he describes the parade as "a provocation" and defends those who "may not agree with the idea of gay people's demonstration on the streets". He nonetheless insists that his wife "knows that homophobia is unacceptable and alien to me".
Pressure is mounting on Opera Australia to fire Ms. Iveri, but so far the company is resisting. A spokesman told The Australian that the Otello performances, which are scheduled to start on July 5, will "[continue] as planned," and that the company is standing by Iveri:
"Opera Australia has become aware in the past 24 hours, of the media and social media coverage of comments reported to have been made by soprano Tamar Iveri ... Tamar Iveri has sought to clarify her views on this important issue, and has issued an apology and explanation on her own Facebook page."
Nowhere in Opera Australia's statement did they condemn the outrageously vile homophobia contained in Iveri's Facebook posts. As far as I'm concerned, Opera Australia's dismissive response makes them complicit in Iveri's bigotry and represents a tacit endorsement of her violently homophobic rhetoric.
Last September, when New York's Metropolitan Opera kicked off its season with a Russian-language opera starring two outspoken Vladimir Putin supporters -- yet refused to dedicate the opening-night performance to Russia's persecuted LGBT community -- equality advocates interrupted the performance by shouting chants and unfurling rainbow flags.
Here's hoping Opera Australia's upcoming performances of Otello are disrupted in the same way.
An English translation of the homophobic Facebook post that started this whole mess is after the jump.
UPDATE: La Monnaie Opera in Brussels announced that in light of her anti-gay rant, Iveri has been "replaced" and will no longer appear in next year's production of Un Ballo in Maschera.
A Change.org petition asking Australian authorities to revoke Iveri's visa has gathered almost 4,500 signatures.