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Australian opera company skips 'Carmen' because of smoking

Australian opera company skips 'Carmen' because of smoking
An opera company in Australia has sworn off productions of "Carmen" for the next two years, reportedly because the opera's protagonist works in a cigarette factory. (Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times)

The title character of Georges Bizet's "Carmen" is a lusty gypsy girl who works in a cigarette factory in 19th century Spain. Her occupation is proving to be troublesome in 21st century Australia, where an opera company has sworn off the popular piece and caused a media tempest.

Western Australian Opera in Perth has decided not to stage any productions of "Carmen" for the next two years. Local media reports quoted an opera spokeswoman who referred to the company's sponsorship deal with a state government organization that promotes healthy lifestyles.

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The company took to Twitter on Wednesday, saying: "Bizet's opera Carmen is a masterpiece that has not been banished from the stage, but the work is not in the planning mix for 2015 or 2016."

The opera's decision has provoked a range of responses in Australia, including public comments from Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

In a radio interview, Abbott said that the opera's decision was "political correctness gone crazy" and that "if we were running around looking to take offense, or looking to spread some politically correct message just about every opera would be forbidden."

Another politician called the opera's decision embarrassing.

"If that sponsorship arrangement through Healthway led to the cancellation of the opera, that is a serious mistake which smacks of basically arts censorship," said Colin Barnett, premier of Western Australia, in a report from the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

"I think it makes us look foolish and as the premier of Western Australia, I am personally embarrassed about that."

"Carmen," which was first performed in 1875, is one of the most produced operas in the world. Western Australia Opera said that it last staged the piece in 2010.

On its website, Healthway said that it provides funds to sport, arts and racing organizations in Western Australia in return for the promotion of health messages and the introduction of healthy environment policies.

Twitter: @DavidNgLAT 

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