Historians and composers are furious after Cambridge University’s opera society decided to cancel Handel’s Saul over the ‘striking parallels’ it has with ongoing crisis in the Middle East.
Students said that ‘due to the current sensitive political situation and unfortunate escalation of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and Israel’ the 18th century concert piece will no longer be performed at Emmanuel College this week.
The opera, composed by George Frideric Handel in 1738, documents the relationship between Saul, the first King of Israel, and his successor David.
In one section of the classic tale, David kills Goliath from the Philistines – the people who lived in the modern day Gaza strip 3,000 years ago and inspired the name Palestine.
Opera-goers, however, have slammed the decision to axe the performance, set to run between October 26 and October 27, calling it ‘barmy’ and a ‘case of cancel culture’.
Cambridge University’s opera society has decided to cancel Handel’s Saul over the ‘striking parallels’ it has with ongoing crisis in the Middle East
Cancelling the opera, president of the Cambridge University Opera Society Beth Norman said the decision was made due to the ‘unfortunate escalation of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and Israel
Smoke rises over Gaza City yesterday following an Israeli airstrike as the war continues
Cancelling the opera, president of the Cambridge University Opera Society Beth Norman said: ‘It is with heavy heart that CUOS are announcing that due to the current sensitive political situation and unfortunate escalation of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and Israel, we have decided that the production of Handel’s Saul will not go ahead.’
Director of the show, Max Mason, added: ‘Given the parallels of this conflict, the production team made the difficult decision to cancel Saul.
‘We came to the unanimous conclusion that our production was not in the place to fully confront the issues that have striking synchronicity wit h the ongoing Middle East conflict.
‘We began rehersals before news of Gaza emerged, but, now surmounting understanding of the full situation, we realise we cannot continue.’
Neither statement given by the opera’s leaders mentioned Hamas – the proscribed terrorist organisation that launched an attack on Israel on October 7.
Criticising the decision Robert Tombs, professor emeritus of French history at Cambridge, told the Telegraph: ‘Cancelling an 18th century work based on the Bible seems a rather extreme example of cancel culture, to put it mildly.’
He added that the decision was ‘very sad’ but also ‘barmy’.
Professor David Albulafia, a historian at Gonville and Caius college, added that the Philistines were more likely to have been Mycenaean Greeks rather than modern Palestinians.
Max Mason, director of the opera, added that ‘given the parallels to this conflict, the production made the difficult decision to cancel Saul’
It comes as a Cambridge Student Union debate calling for solidarity with Palestine was prematurely stopped over concerns its proposer risked ‘inciting violence’
The President of Cambridge Student Union Fergus Kirman said he was ‘shocked and astonished’ at a motion tabled last night blaming the war between Israel and Hamas on ‘decades of violent oppression of the Palestinian people by the Israeli state
He told the paper he thought the opera were ‘being over-cautious’ while an unnamed English composer was said to have expressed ‘puzzlement’ at the decision.
It comes as a Cambridge Student Union debate calling for solidarity with Palestine was prematurely stopped by chair of the debate Benjamin Knight over concerns its proposer risked ‘inciting violence’.
The Students Union President, Fergus Kirman last night said he was ‘astonished and appalled’ by the motion and has completely edited the wording, following a mammoth backlash from Jewish students.
The motion, heard on Monday, blamed the war between Israel and Hamas on ‘decades of violent oppression of the Palestinian people by the Israeli state’.
It added: ‘The Student Union resolves itself […] to condemn the British government’s support for the Israeli state and the distortions of the mainstream media in Britain in its coverage of this conflict.’
The motion concluded: ‘Only a mass uprising on both sides of the green line and across the Middle East can free the Palestinian people.’
When asked to define a ‘mass uprising’ by a student who attended the debate, proposer of the motion, Anais Austen Stanley said: ‘think back to the First Intifada’.
A statement published yesterday by the Union of Jewish students urged Cambridge Students Union to dismiss the motion and issue a public apology to Jewish students at Cambridge.