A Niqāb at the Opera, or, Who is Not Veiled?


On the night of October 3rd, 2014, singers of l’Opéra National de Paris halted their performance of Verdi’s La Traviata at the Bastille Opera House because one of them spotted a female “tourist from a Gulf State” in the front row, wearing a niqāb. They gathered behind the first act curtain to tell the company’s deputy director, Jean-Philippe Thiellay, that they would refuse to go on, unless she was either unveiled or removed.

Thiellay backed the singers, and, citing France’s 2011 burqa ban, under which the veiled woman could be fined €150 for her chosen dress, asked security to confront her. She left promptly with her male companion. Eyewitnesses would have had to assess her body language and gait to know whether she felt humiliated.

It’s both hilarious and pathetic that the precious faculty of irony could so fail a gaggle of French singers — in powdered wigs, pretending to be 19th century Italians — that they would piously feel that a viewer’s clothing was disrupting their fiction. Perhaps it says something about the artistic poverty of the opera class that its elite performers can’t recognize the strange parallels of passion and anachronism mirrored across the footlights that night. The bustier and tophat-wearers gazed out into the front row, and saw a black gown and niqāb reflected back. Continue reading “A Niqāb at the Opera, or, Who is Not Veiled?”