US soprano withdraws from Italian opera over use of blackface in theater: ‘Outright racist’


Soprano Angel Blue says she will not be performing in an opera in Italy this month because blackface was used in the staging of another work on the same stage this summer.

The US singer posted on her angeljoyblue Instagram page that she will say goodbye to ‘La Traviata’ at the Verona Arena this month as the theater recently staged another Giuseppe Verdi opera, ‘Aida’, the performers had in blackface.

She called such use of “archaic” theatrical practices “insulting, demeaning and downright racist”.

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

The theater said it hoped Blue, who is black, would accept an invitation to meet with arena officials for a “dialogue” on the subject. The arena said in a statement on Friday it had “no reason or intention to offend or offend anyone’s sensibility.”

Soprano Angel Blue
Angel Blue performs during a rehearsal of Fire Shut Up in My Bones at the Metropolitan Opera on September 24, 2021 in New York.

Jason DeCrow/AP

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

The arena has hosted performances of “Aida” this summer, based on a staging of the 2002 classic opera by Italian director Franco Zeffirelli, who died in 2019. This production uses blackface.

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

Regarding Arena’s decision to use blackface makeup in “Aida,” the singer wrote, “Let me be absolutely clear: The use of blackface in any circumstance, artistic or otherwise, is a deeply misguided practice that based on archaic theatrical traditions that have no place in modern society. It’s offensive, demeaning and downright racist.”

She wrote that she “could not in good conscience join any institution that continues this practice.”

The theater’s statement said, “Angel Blue has knowingly undertaken to sing in the arena,” even though the “characteristics” of the 2002 Zeffirelli production were “well known.”

Still, the theater stressed its hope that their protest would ultimately increase understanding between cultures and enlighten Italian audiences.

“Each country has different roots and its cultural and social structures have developed along different historical and cultural paths,” reads the declaration of the Verona Arena Foundation. “Common beliefs were often reached only after years of dialogue and mutual understanding.”

The Arena statement emphasized dialogue “in an effort to understand the point of view of others in relation to artistic commitments consciously made”.

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

It’s not the first time that the use of blackface makeup for a production of “Aida” in Verona has sparked protests from a soprano. In 2019, white opera singer Tamara Wilson protested against blacking out her face to sing the title character of an Ethiopian in the Opera in the Arena.

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