Opera theatre in blackface row as singer quits over 'outright racism'

A renowned opera theatre has become embroiled in a blackface row

Published

Angel Blue walked away from a leading role in Verdi’s La Traviata when she found another production had cast a Russian singer to play the role of an Ethiopian character.

Cast in the opera at Verona's ancient venue, she found out that Verdi's princess in Aida was being played by a white singer in blackface.

Ms Blue said the “archaic” use of blackface was “outright racist”, and announced she was pulling out of her planned performances.

She said: “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.

Verona Arena
Verona Arena
Angel Blue
Angel Blue

“I was so looking forward to making my house debut at Arena di Verona singing one of my favourite operas, but I cannot in good conscience associate myself with an institution which continues this practice.”

Her decision comes after Russian soprano Anna Netrebko shared photos of herself in full costume.

Ms Netrebko wore dark-toned make-up on her Instagram account while other cast members were also pictured in blackface.

It is understood the singer will continue her performances.

The interior of the opera venue in Verona
The interior of the opera venue in Verona

The venue says it stages “historical” versions of the opera that are faithful to costume decisions made for a 1913 version, and a 2002 version devised by Italian director Franco Zeffirelli.

In a statement to Opera Wire, a spokesman said: “Everywhere in the world used to have what you call blackface.

"So as long as we have a historical production, it is very hard to change them because it means changing something that was designed that way.”

The theatre has argued that Ms Blue “knowingly committed herself to sing at the Arena” even though she knew the “characteristics” of the planned productions of Aida at the venue.

Ms Blue has been invited to take part in “constructive and concrete dialogue” about the issue.

In the UK, efforts are being made to "decolonise" opera.

The Royal Opera House recently hired an outside expert to tackle imperialism and orientalism in Madame Butterfly, and cast its first black lead in Verdi’s Otello.