Soprano Angel Blue announced she’s pulling out of an opera performance in Italy this month because the venue allowed performers to wear blackface while staging a number of works during the summer.
In an Instagram post, the African-American singer said she’ll no longer feature in the “La Traviata” opera at Verona’s Arena because the facility allowed performers to wear blackface during the staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Aida” opera, The Associated Press reported.
Angel Blue condemned the theater’s decision, writing that “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,” she continued, adding that she could not “in good conscience associate myself with an institution which continues this practice.”
The singer was scheduled to perform at the Arena on July 22 and 30. She was to take up the role of Violetta in the “La Traviata” opera. Her upcoming performance was, however, not taken down from the Arena’s website in the wake of her announcement.
Responding to her decision in a statement, the Arena of Verona Foundation said the singer “knowingly committed herself to sing at the Arena” although the “characteristics” of the blackface opera performance were “well known.”
“Every country has different roots, and their cultural and social structures developed along different historical and cultural paths,″ the statement added. “Common convictions have often been reached only after years of dialogue and mutual understanding.”
The company also re-emphasized the need to have a dialogue, saying that was necessary “to understand others’ point of view, in respect of consciously assumed artistic obligations.”
“Contraposition, judgments, labeling, lack of dialogue only feed the culture of contrasts, which we totally reject,” the Arena also said, adding that cooperation was needed “to avoid divisions.”
This isn’t the first time a soprano has called out the use of blackface during the staging of “Aida” in the city of Verona, The Associated Press reported. Opera singer Tamara Wilson objected to her face being darkened to depict the role of an Ethiopian singer for a performance at the Arena in 2019. Wilson is White.
Blackface grew out of Minstrel shows starting in the 1830s, according to a brief on the subject on BET. The act involved White actors darkening their faces with shoe polish or greasepaint, painting exaggerated red lips with makeup, and acting out stereotypically dumb, foolish, or dangerous Black characters – that is the “happy darky on the plantation” or the “dandified coon”. The larger purpose of these shows was to entertain White slave owners, who were humored by acts mocking slaves and free Blacks during the 19th century.
From the small stage, blackface made its way to the big screen, making it widely popular. Blackface only went out of vogue during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. But by then, it had already caught wind around the world, especially in many Asian and European countries where actors still put on the face to perform.
In the U.S., wearing blackface is almost sacrilege. It is met with great criticism because it is a reminder of the painful past of slavery and segregation.