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Cambridge Opera Society scraps Handel production over ‘parallels’ to Middle East crisis

The opera group was forced to halt its rehearsals due to the ‘unfortunate escalation’ of the events


Cambridge University’s Opera Society has cancelled its performance of Handel’s Saul over “striking” parallels with the events unfolding between Israel and Hammas.

The 18th-century piece was due to be performed at Emmanuel College’s chapel this week. Tickets to see students from the university’s Centre for Music Performance in Saul were released nearly two weeks ago (14th October), before refunds were issued on the 21st when it was cancelled.

Director Max Mason said: “We came to the unanimous conclusion that our production was not in the place to fully confront issues that have striking synchronicity with the ongoing Middle East conflict.”

In one part of the tale, David kills Goliath from the Philistines – the people who settled in modern-day Israel and the Gaza strip 3,000 years ago.

Beth Norman, the society’s president, said that the decision was reached “due to the current sensitive political situation and unfortunate escalation of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and Israel.”

Mason added: “Whilst it may seem like Cambridge is a world away from these issues, there are people who live in our colleges and our households who are facing unimaginable difficulties as they watch the situation unfold.

“We began rehearsals before news of Gaza emerged, but, now with surmounting understanding of the full situation, we realise we cannot continue.”

The move has been met with backlash by some academics, with Robert Tombs, professor emeritus of French history at Cambridge, criticising it as “barmy”: “Their announcement is rather obscure as concerns reasoning, but it seems barmy, and very sad.

“Cancelling an 18th century work based on the Bible seems a rather extreme example of cancel culture, to put it mildly.”

Tombs is the editor of History Reclaimed – an “anti-woke scholarly campaign” that opposes what its writers believe to be the censorship of historical texts.

A leading English composer, according to The Telegraph, has also expressed “puzzlement” at the cancellation.

The society has faced an unprecedented level of public scrutiny this week, with members asked by “higher-ups” to avoid commenting on the backlash to curb its escalation. Some have expressed concern at the targeted edge of media responses.

The committee’s disquiet comes as Jewish students at the University of Oxford have been left “increasingly fearful of the campus environment”, with 49 anti-Semitic incidents reported in the first 17 days of the Israel-Hamas conflict.