U.S. soprano Angel Blue said she is not going to perform later this month at the Arena di Verona, blaming the Italians for recently resorting to “blackface” during the staging of a performance of “Aida” based on a 2002 production by the late director Franco Zeffirelli
The 38-year-old African American artist criticized the use of such “archaic” theatrical practices, calling them “offensive, humiliating, and outright racist.”
Nevertheless, Ms. Blue remains featured on the Arena’s website as organizers are hoping that they can reach a compromise that would be acceptable to her on the issue. In a statement released last Friday, the Arena clarified that it had “no motive or intention to offend or disturb anyone’s sensibilities.”
For decades, U.S. civil rights organizations have publicly condemned blackface, arguing it dehumanizes black people by ushering in and reinforcing racial stereotypes.
“Dear Friends, Family, and Opera Lovers”, she wrote on her Instagram account, “I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that I will not be singing La Traviata at Arena di Verona this summer as planned (…) Let me be 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.”
“I cannot in good conscience associate myself with an institution which continues this practice,” she concluded peremptorily.
The Arena insists that Ms. Blue had committed to singing although the characteristics of Zeffirelli’s 2002 staging had been “well known to her.” However, organizers point out that there remains hope that “her protest may improve understanding between cultures and educate Italian audiences.”
The Arena statement emphasizes their effort “to understand other people’s point of view, while respecting the artistic obligations one has consciously undertaken. Contradictions, judgments, labeling and lack of dialogue only feed the culture of opposition, which we totally reject,” finally appealing for cooperation “to avoid divisions.”
This is not the first time the use of blackface for a staging of “Aida” has sparked a soprano’s protest. In 2019, opera singer Tamara Wilson, who is white, campaigned against the use of black makeup on her face, which was required in order for her to play the character of an Ethiopian woman.