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American soprano withdraws from festival that used blackface

By: Katherine Wu

Last Saturday, American soprano Angel Blue withdrew from an Italian opera festival. The Grammy-winning singer made the choice after Russian soprano Anna Netrebko posted images of herself applying dark makeup to perform the role of an Ethiopian princess at the festival.

Blue wrote on Instagram that she could not link herself with an institution that promotes the practice, as blackface is widely seen as discriminatory and dehumanizing.

“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. “It is offensive, humiliating, and outright racist. Full stop.”

Several celebrities, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, former Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, Jimmy Fallon, and Jason Aldean have previously been criticized for wearing blackface.

While some shows, such as The Metropolitan Opera's performance of Otello, have abandoned the use of skin-darkening makeup, blackface has persisted in Europe and Russia.

The Arena di Verona festival issued a statement in response to Blue's cancellation, defending its decision. The message stated that corporate executives intended to meet with Blue to discuss the matter further, adding that "We have no cause nor aim whatsoever to insult and disturb anyone's sensibilities."

Many opera fans praised Blue's choice and expressed their support for her. Fellow opera singer Ryan Speedo Green, who is also Black, praised Blue for "standing up for us."

Blue's departure comes amid international acclaim for her performances. She has been hailed as an "operatic phenomenon." In 2019, she became the first Black woman to play Violetta in a fully produced performance of Verdi’s “La Traviata” at Italy’s Teatro alla Scala. She made her Paris Opera debut in Charles Gounod's Faust earlier this summer.

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