American soprano withdraws from Italian festival that used blackface
By: Sophie Fu
On Thursday, soprano Angel Blue posted an Instagram stating that she would not be performing Verdi’s “La Traviata” at the Italian festival Arena di Verona anymore due to their previous decision to feature performers in blackface. As an African-American, she not only believes that the action disrespects her race and is an outdated practice commonly viewed in the US as dehumanizing and racist. She came to know of the incident after seeing a post by fellow soprano Anna Netrebko which showed her in blackface to play a role at the Italian festival.
Blackface has long been a controversial and criticized practice internationally. Famous public figures like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, Jimmy Fallon, and Jason Aldean have been chastised for participating in the past. In theater, the practice dates back to the times of Shakespeare and some even consider it a traditional theatrical practice, although most object to continuing it in modern times.
Singer Angel Blue has been on her path to fame in recent years, even becoming the first black woman ever to play the role of Violetta in “La Traviata” in 2019. She has been called an “operatic sensation,” not to mention won a Grammy award.
In her post, she wrote, “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. It is offensive, humiliating, and outright racist. Full stop. I was 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.”
Blue’s post got responses from the festival Arena di Verona and fellow singers who supported her. The Arena di Verona responded by justifying the decision and asking the singer why she had not withdrawn earlier because the show “Aida” premiered on June 18. The company did not wish to lose Blue and suggested communicating with the singer while keeping her performance “La Traviata” on the website. The Arena di Verona said, “We have no reason nor intent whatsoever to offend and disturb anyone’s sensibility.” Meanwhile, many people online showed approval of Blue. Another black singer Ryan Speedo Green said, “This practice needs to stop, and all the artists/administrations who support it should be put on blast so their support of racist practice can be brought to light.” He also thanked Blue for standing up for their race.
As for the other singer involved in this incident, Anna Netrebko has brought the spotlight to herself at a very wrong time. She continued support for Vladimir Putin even after the war in Ukraine started and received backlash. She canceled various performances, including some at the Metropolitan Opera in March, because they required her to renounce her support for Putin. Furthermore, she has always supported continuing blackface, which she considers a traditional theatre technique. Naturally, her recent posts wearing blackface drew over 1000 criticizing comments. Even in a 2018 “Aida” production, she insisted on blackface makeup and went to a tanning salon after the company refused.