American soprano pulls out of Italian opera over theater’s use of blackface: “outright racist”

Soprano Angel Blue says she will not perform at an opera in Italy this month because blackface was used in a different work staging the same stage this summer.

The American singer posted a note on her AngelJoyBlue Instagram page saying that she will be kicked out of “La Travita” at the Arena in Verona this month as the theater recently held another Giuseppe Verdi opera, “Aida”, which featured blackface. I was an artist.

He decried such use of “archaic” theatrical practices as “offensive, abusive, and outright racist”.

Angel Blue, however, was listed on the Arena’s website on Saturday, July 22 and 30 as singing the role of Violet in “La Travita”.

The theater said it was hoping that Blue, who is Black, would accept an invitation to meet with Arena officials in a “dialogue” on the issue. Arena said in a statement on Friday that it “has no reason or intention to hurt and upset anyone’s sensibility.”

soprano angel blue
Angel Blue performs during a rehearsal for “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” at the Metropolitan Opera on September 24, 2021 in New York.

Jason Decro / AP

For decades, American civil rights organizations have publicly condemned blackface—in which white actors darken their faces—dehumanizing blacks by projecting and reinforcing racial stereotypes.

This summer the Arena has extended repertoire of “Aida,” based on the 2002 staged opera classic by Italian director Franco Zeffirelli, who died in 2019. This staging uses blackface.

“Dear Friends, Family and Opera Lovers,” began the soprano’s Instagram post. “I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that I will not be singing La Travita at the Arena di Verona this summer as planned.”

Referring to Arena’s decision to use blackface makeup in “Aida”, the singer wrote: “Let me be completely clear: the use of blackface in any circumstance, artistic or otherwise, is based on a deep sense of archaic theatrical traditions. It’s a misguided practice that doesn’t make sense. Place in modern society. It’s offensive, degrading and outright racist.”

She wrote that she “cannot in good conscience associate herself with an institution that continues this practice.”

The theater’s statement stated that “Angel Blue intentionally committed himself to sing in the Arena” even though the “features” of the 2002 Zeffirelli’s staging were “famous”.

Nevertheless, the theater insisted on its hope that its protest would eventually improve understanding between cultures as well as educate Italian audiences.

“Each country has different roots, and their cultural and social structures developed along different historical and cultural paths,” the Verona Foundation’s Arena statement said. “Common conviction is often reached only after years of negotiation and mutual understanding.”

Arena’s narration emphasized dialogue, “with respect to deliberate artistic obligations, in an effort to understand the point of view of others.”

“The contradictions, judgments, labeling, lack of dialogue only feed a culture of contradictions, which we outright reject,” the statement said, appealing for collaboration “to avoid division.”

This is not the first time that the use of blackface makeup for the “Aida” staging in Verona has sparked opposition from the soprano. In 2019, opera singer Tamara Wilson, who is blonde, protested at the Arena to darken her face to sing the title character of an Ethiopian woman in the opera.

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