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An African American Soprano refused to attend an Italian Festival that used Blackface before
By: Ruyi Wang
This Thursday, American soprano, Angel Blue announced on social media that she refused to attend her debut in Verdi’s “La Traviata” at the Arena di Verona in Italy after discovering that the earlier production at that Italian Festival named “Aida” had featured performers in blackface. She found it very offensive when she saw a Russian soprano Anna Netrebko posted photos of her wearing dark makeup to play the role of an Ethiopian princess on Instagram.
Black face is dark makeup worn to mimic the appearance of a Black person in a play and especially to mock or ridicule Black people.
Blue posted on Instagram that she could not in “good conscience” work with an institution that allows the practice since it has mostly ended in the U.S., where it is considered racist and dehumanizing.
She wrote on Instagram saying, “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.”
In recent years, several eminent politicians and entertainers, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, received criticism for wearing blackface in the past. The tradition has a long, convoluted history in the western theater, extending from the medieval era to Shakespeare and to American musician shows.
The Metropolitan Opera’s 2015 “Otello” was the company’s FIRST production of the music show that did not use blackface makeup. In some regions of Europe and Russia, unfortunately, blackface was tolerated. That was also the reason why the Russian singer was fine with getting blackface makeup and mocking the black people in the previous production. A 2019 Post opinion piece called it a “global problem" since it is a serious act of racism and offense.
In the response to Blue’s cancellation, the Arena di Verona further defended the decision and asked why Blue hadn’t withdrawn her performance affirmation earlier. ("Aida” premiered on June 18.) The response also said that company officials still desired to talk with Blue to discuss this issue further, stating, “We have no reason nor intent whatsoever to offend and disturb anyone’s sensibility.”
Many from the opera world praised Blue’s decision and sent comments of approval on social media. Another African American opera singer Ryan Speedo Green appreciated Blue “for standing up for us” in a comment on Instagram. “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 wrote.
As time passes, people's opinions on things can change too. Therefore, there is no reason to continue the old "traditions" that are meant to mock and make certain people feel very uncomfortable.