American soprano, offended by Blackface, withdraws from Italian opera

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By Frances De’Milio,
The Associated Press

Soprano Angel Blue said she will not be performing at an opera in Italy this month because Blackface was used in the staging of a different work this summer on the same stage.

The American singer posted a note on her angeljoyblue Instagram page saying she will be pulling out of ‘La Traviata’ at Verona Arena this month because the theater recently staged another Giuseppe Verdi opera, ‘Aida’ , which had performers in Blackface.

She castigated such use of “archaic” theatrical practices as “offensive, humiliating and downright racist”.

Angel Blue, however, was still listed on July 16 on the Arena website as singing the role of Violetta in “La Traviata” on July 22 and 30.

The theater said it hoped Blue, who is black, would accept an invitation to meet with Arena officials in a “dialogue” on the matter. Arena, in a July 15 statement, said it had “no reason or intention to offend or disturb the sensibilities of anyone.”

For decades, American civil rights organizations have publicly condemned blackface — in which white performers blacken their faces — as dehumanizing black people by introducing and reinforcing racial stereotypes.

This summer, the Arena staged performances of “Aida” based on a 2002 staging of the opera classic by Italian director Franco Zeffirelli, who died in 2019, which featured Blackface.

“Dear friends, family and opera lovers,” the soprano’s Instagram post began. “I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that I will not sing La Traviata at the Verona Arena this summer as planned.”

Referring to Arena’s decision to use Blackface makeup in “Aida,” the singer wrote, “Let’s be perfectly clear: the use of Blackface in any circumstances, artistic or otherwise, is a deeply flawed practice based on archaic theatrical traditions that have no place in modern society. It’s offensive, humiliating and downright racist.

She wrote that she could not “in good conscience associate myself with an institution that perpetuates this practice”.

The theater’s statement read “Angel Blue has knowingly committed to performing at the Arena” even though the “characteristics” of Zeffirelli’s 2002 staging were “well known”.

Still, the theater stressed its hope that its protest would ultimately improve understanding between cultures and educate Italian audiences.

“Each country has different roots and their cultural and social structures have developed along different historical and cultural paths,” the statement from the Arena of Verona Foundation reads. “Common convictions have often only been reached after years of dialogue and mutual understanding.”

Arena’s statement emphasized dialogue, “in an effort to understand the point of view of others, in fulfillment of consciously assumed artistic obligations”.

“Contraposition, judgments, labelling, lack of dialogue only fuel the culture of contrasts, which we totally reject,” the statement said, calling for cooperation “to avoid divisions.”

It is not the first time that the use of blackface make-up for a staging of “Aida” in Verona has sparked protest from a soprano. In 2019, opera singer Tamara Wilson, who is white, protested the darkening of her face to sing the lead character of an Ethiopian woman in the opera at the Arena.

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