American Soprano Withdraws from Italian Festival
By: Violet Yan
American soprano Angel Blue announced she will no longer be performing in Verdi’s “La Traviata” at the Arena di Verona in Italy after hearing that the festival’s production of “Aida” had actors in blackface. The Grammy-winning singer made her decision after seeing Instagram photographs of Russian soprano Anna Netrebko performing the main role of an Ethiopian princess while donning dark makeup.
Blue, a Black woman, wrote on Instagram that she could not, "in good conscience," be associated with a company that still engages in the practice, which has largely been banned in the United States because it is widely regarded as being racist. “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 well-known politicians and celebrities have faced criticism in recent years for wearing blackface, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, Jimmy Fallon, and Jason Aldean. From before Shakespeare's time through American minstrel shows, the technique has a long and difficult history in theater. The 2015 production of "Otello" at the Metropolitan Opera was the company's first to stage the show without using skin-darkening cosmetics. However, blackface has persisted in several regions of Europe and Russia. It was referred to as a "global problem" in a 2019 Washington Post opinion piece.
For Netrebko, who is attempting to repair her reputation after criticism for her long-standing backing of Vladimir Putin following the invasion of Ukraine, the Arena di Verona incident comes at an inconvenient time. After declining the Metropolitan Opera's request that she abandon her support for Putin in March, Netrebko postponed appearances there and elsewhere in Europe and the United States.
This week's "Aida" performance, a representative from Arena di Verona informed OperaWire, is a revival of the theater's Franco Zeffirelli-directed production from 2002, which was "created when these sensitive subjects were not such an issue." The representative continued, "Changing historical productions is really difficult." Other singers in the cast also wore dark makeup.
Many opera fans expressed their support for Blue's choice and applauded it on social media. Black opera singer Ryan Speedo Green commended Blue in a comment for "standing up for us." “This practice needs to stop and all the administrations that support it should be put on blast so their support of racist practice can be brought to light,” he wrote.
Blue's resignation comes as the singer, who has been called an "operatic sensation," is receiving more and more international praise. She played Violetta in a fully staged production of Verdi's "La Traviata" in 2019 at Italy's Teatro alla Scala, being the first Black woman to do so. She debuted at the Paris Opera earlier this summer in "Faust" by Charles Gounod.
Link: Washington Post