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American Soprano Refuses to Perform Due to Blackface Controversy
By: Bryan Zou
American Soprano Angel Blue refuses to perform at the Italian opera “La Traviata” due to their use of blackface.
Blackface refers to when a non-black/white actor uses black makeup that usually perpetuates racial black stereotypes. It started in the 1830’s, with the first minstrel (blackface) shows. White performers used burned cork or shoe polish to paint their faces black. They also wore tattered clothing and acted in a way that represented enslaved black people living on plantations as lazy, ignorant, superstitious, hypersexual, and prone to thievery and cowardice.
The most popular black character at the time, “Jim Crow”, was made by the “Father of Minstrelsy” Thomas Dartmouth Rice. From then, minstrelsy made its impact on the entertainment industry, with many songs, costumes, and makeup imitating the racial stereotypes in the minstrel shows.
Angel Blue was set to join the Arena di Verona cast in Italy, starting July 22. She pulled out of the show after finding out the theater “made the decision to utilize blackface makeup.” Being a black person, she felt that blackface was “offensive, humiliating, and outright racist.” In the same post, Blue also said, “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. … I was so looking forward to making my house debut at Arena di Verona singing one of my favorite operas, but I cannot in good conscience associate myself with an institution which continues this practice.”
The “Aida” opera is currently playing at the Arena and is scheduled for July, August, and September. Arena’s version of “Aida” is based on a 2002 staging of it by Italian director Franco Zeffirelli.
On the other hand, Arena di Verona said “Angel Blue knowingly committed herself to sing at the Arena. We have no reason nor intent whatsoever to offend and disturb anyone’s sensibility. We reach with deep emotions people from different countries from different religious contexts, but for us all people are equal.” They invited Blue to meet with Arena officials to talk it out “in effort to understand others’ point of view, in respect of consciously assumed artistic obligations.” Arena wants the conversation to take place in-person rather than online, because “the digital world does not create the same empathy that only direct contact can bring about: just as in Theater.”