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American soprano Angel Blue cancels her opera debut due to use of blackface

By: Vivian She

On Thursday, American soprano Angel Blue announced that she will withdraw from her debut in Verdi’s “La Traviata” at the Arena di Verona in Italy after she found out that an earlier production of “Aida” by the same company had performers that used blackface.

“Let me be perfectly clear: the use of blackface under any circumstances, artistic or otherwise, is a deeply misguided practice based on archaic theatrical traditions which have no place in modern society,” she wrote on Instagram. “It is offensive, humiliating, and outright racist. Full stop.”

Blue, who is Black, made her decision after seeing photos of Russian soprano Anna Netrebko wearing blackface in the Arena di Verona’s summer production of “Aida.” Netrebko has been an advocate for blackface, believing that it helps maintain theatrical tradition. The controversy provoked by this incident comes at an inconvenient moment for Netrebko, as she is trying to rebuild her reputation after her support for Vladimir Putin drew criticism after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Netrebko canceled multiple performances in Europe and the United States because she refused to renounce her support of Putin.

In the U.S., wearing blackface is seen as racist and dehumanizing, and the practice has been largely discontinued. However, the practice endures in parts of Europe and Russia.

A spokesperson from Arena di Verona said that the performance of “Aida” was meant to be a restaging of a 2002 production, when “when these sensitive topics were not such an issue.” The company added that “it is very hard to change” historical productions.

In response to Blue’s cancellation, the company issued a statement defending its decision and questioning why Blue hadn’t withdrawn earlier, as “Aida” had premiered on June 18. Company officials stated that they hoped to discuss the issue further with Blue, saying that “We have no reason nor intent whatsoever to offend and disturb anyone’s sensibility.”

Blue’s decision was applauded by many in the opera world. Ryan Speedo Green, who is also Black, said on social media that “This practice [blackface] needs to stop and all the artist/administrations who support it should be put on blast so their support of racist practice can be brought to light.”

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