Black U.S. Opera Singer Quits Italian Production In Protest Over 'Archaic' Use Of Blackface By Performers
Angel Blue–who is a Black opera singer from the United States–canceled her scheduled performances in the summer opera festival at a famed Italian arena to protest the venue's use of blackface.
The racist act of blackface–in which White performers don Black makeup and exaggerated lips to caricature people of color–has long been denounced by civil rights organizations for its history of mocking and dehumanizing Black people and for perpetuating racist stereotypes.
Blue, who is a native of Los Angeles, California announced on social media she would be bowing out of Arena di Verona's production of La Traviata this month due to the theater's previous mounting of Giuseppe Verdi's opera Aida this summer.
The production of the opera classic—set in ancient Egypt—put White performers in blackface which Blue called "offensive, humiliating and outright racist."
\u201cAngel Blue \u2066@AngelJoyblue\u2069 has cancelled her upcoming Verona \u2066@arenadiverona\u2069 debut in protest at the use of blackface by Anna Netrebko there in Aida this month.\u201d— Opera magazine (@Opera magazine) 1657815219
“I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that I will not be singing La Traviata at Arena di Verona this summer as planned,” wrote the soprano in her now-deleted Instagram post.
The Arena used late Italian director Franco Zeffirelli's 2002 staging of Aida which used blackface to tell the story of an Egyptian military commander struggling between his love for the titular character–an enslaved Ethiopian princess–and his loyalty to the King of Egypt.
The Arena faced backlash after famed Russian soprano Anna Netrebko—who played the role of Ethiopian princess Aida in that production—shared photos of herself in blackface.
In response to the criticism, the Arena defended their makeup decision by claiming their performance was historical and “made when these sensitive topics were not such an issue.”
But Blue strongly disagreed and made her objections to the Arena for using Zeffirelli's controversial staging 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.
\u201c@operamagazine @AngelJoyblue @arenadiverona Absolutely right! It is racist and abhorrent and has no place in our industry. This isn\u2019t the 19th Century, the slave trade was abolished years ago although sadly modern slavery still exists, but the practice of using blackface makeup is outdated, despicable and offensive.\u201d— Opera magazine (@Opera magazine) 1657815219
\u201c@operamagazine @AngelJoyblue @arenadiverona Tell it, Angel!\u201d— Opera magazine (@Opera magazine) 1657815219
Despite previously looking forward to her house debut at the Roman amphitheater in Piazza Bra in Verona, Blue said she could not "in good conscience associate myself with an institution which continues this practice."
\u201cI'm so impressed by Angel Blue's courage in doing this. I'm sure it didn't feel like she had much of a choice and I'm sad she had to give up this opportunity this way, but it does give me hope to see action that demands change from people these companies have to listen to.\u201d— Jess (@Jess) 1657810846
She thanked everyone for their understanding and to those who have "shown support and sensitivity to me and my fellow artists of color."
In response to her announcement, the Arena issued a statement on Friday expressing they had “no reason nor intent whatsoever to offend and disturb anyone’s sensibility.”
They added Blue "knowingly committed herself to sing at the Arena” even though the “characteristics” of Zeffirelli's staging were “well known.”
The theater said they hoped Blue would accept an invitation to meet with Arena officials to engage in a “constructive dialogue” over the issue.
\u201cVerona theatre invites Angel Blue to take part in \u2018constructive dialogue\u2019 after she denounces \u2018offensive, humiliating\u2019 costume decisions https://t.co/vjCuexSjti\u201d— The Telegraph (@The Telegraph) 1658099948
The statement from the Arena of Verona Foundation said:
“Every country has different roots, and their cultural and social structures developed along different historical and cultural paths."
“Common convictions have often been reached only after years of dialogue and mutual understanding.”
The Arena claimed a meaningful discussion would inspire an effort in mutual understanding "in respect of consciously assumed artistic obligations.”
"Angel, we and the audience of the Arena di Verona look forward to meeting you: it will be the opportunity for dialoguing in a constructive and concrete way, beginning with your reflections."
“The digital world does not create the same empathy that only direct contact can bring about: just as in Theater."
“Contraposition, judgments, labeling, lack of dialogue only feed the culture of contrasts, which we totally reject."
The Arena further stated they "also appeal to everyone to work together to avoid divisions.”
One Twitter user thought the Arena's statement was even more offensive.
\u201cso apparently the Arena di Verona is now BLAMING ANGEL BLUE for all this and telling HER to reflect on the situation.\n\n\u2728what is wrong with people\u2728\u201d— Savannah Dillard (@Savannah Dillard) 1657917507
Described as “the next Leontyne Price” by legendary opera star Plácido Domingo, Blue has won a Grammy for Best Opera Recording for the Metropolitan Opera production of Porgy and Bess at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards.
As of Saturday, the Arena's schedule still listed Blue in the singing role of Violet Valéry in La Traviata on July 22 and 30.