An Italian amphitheater has spoken out after a black face controversy surrounding an upcoming opera production there caused a celebrated black singer to stop performing.
Angel Blue, a Grammy Award-winning soprano singer, announced this week that she would no longer participate in performances of “La Traviata” scheduled for later this month, as she said Arena di Verona had recently used “blackface makeup.” in a separate production on site.
“Let me be perfectly clear: using blackface under any circumstances, artistic or otherwise, is a deeply misguided practice based on archaic theatrical traditions that have no place in modern society,” Blue said of a performance of “ Aida” in part of a statement she shared Thursday through her Instagram account. “It’s insulting, humiliating and downright racist.”
Blue said she “cannot in good conscience associate herself with an institution that perpetuates this practice.”
Arena di Verona responded to Blue’s statement on Friday by seeking a “dialogue” with the singer.
Citing an “agreement” that the opera house said was reached with Blue nearly a year ago for her to perform in “La Traviata,” Arena di Verona disputes the timing Blue had set up, claiming it was 20 years ago. in “Aida” had premiered and announced last year’s most recent performance. The implication seemed to be that the opera house was curious as to why Blue chose to express outrage now, as if the use of blackface in 2002 was less controversial.
Arena di Verona also did not explicitly acknowledge Blue’s refusal to perform and instead tried to mitigate the apparent damage without actually apologizing.
“Common beliefs are often only reached after years of dialogue and mutual understanding”, Arena di Verona said in its statement:. “We have no reason or intent to offend and interfere with anyone’s sensitivity.”
Arena di Verona also appeared to use her statement to respond to the online response generated by Blue’s statement on Instagram.
“The digital world doesn’t create the same empathy that only direct contact can bring about: just like in Theater,” said Arena di Verona. “Contraposition, judgments, labeling, lack of dialogue only feed the culture of contrasts, which we reject completely, and we also call on everyone to work together to avoid division.”
Anna Netrebko, a white Russian soprano, was cast by Arena di Verona as the title role in ‘Aida’. an opera by Giuseppe Verdi set in Egypt and plays a character who is an Ethiopian princess.
Netrebko, who has played that role before, has a history of championing the use of blackface when performing “Aida,” according to the ClassicFM website.
“I am NOT going to be white AIDA,” Netrebko said on social media in 2019 in response to questions about her performance makeup. “Black Face and Black Body for Ethiopian princes, for Verdi’s greatest opera! YES!”
Performances of “Aida” have long been under fire for their depictions of black people — especially who she portrays.
Tichina Vaughn – a black opera singer – has wondered why blackface makeup is necessary at all.
“If I want to be Klytamnestra (Elektra’s mother), must I become white?” Vaughn asked about the opera “Elektra” during an interview with the Associated Press in 2019.
The opera world is far from the only sector of society that can’t say no to blackface.
Most recently, a white Democratic nominee for state senate in Rhode Island had to apologize this month after a 2009 photo showed him wearing dark makeup in a racist attempt to dress as James Brown in blackface.
Before that, a 2019 blackface scandal that still has resounding effects shook Virginia’s political elites.
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