American Opera Singer Stands Against Blackface
By: Gloria Gao
This past Thursday, Grammy-winning American soprano singer Angel Blue withdrew from Verdi’s “La Traviata” festival, which is held at the Arena di Verona in Italy. Blue was compelled to leave the Italian festival after a fellow soprano, Anna Netrebko, performed in questionably dark makeup. Anna Netrebko, who is a White Russian, played a Black Ethiopian princess in the production of “Aida” at Verdi’s festival.
Blackface is when non-Black people use makeup and other tools to give them exaggerated Black features. This problematic practice has been a prominent part of theatrical history since the medieval period. Blackface appeared in America during the nineteenth century on various minstrel shows where white actors presented as dehumanizing caricatures of plantation slaves. David Leonard, an expert on race studies, says “From lynchings to mass incarceration, whites have utilized blackface...as part of its moral and legal justification for violence [against black people]”.
However, Anna Netrebko defends her positive stance on blackface by stating that it is an integral part of theatrical history. But it’s clear that blackface is one of the many disgusting stains on the past that should definitely not be celebrated or practiced. The “La Traviata” festival showcasing a racist caricature is a sign that society still has a long way to go.
Angel Blue released a post on her Instagram to announce their departure from the festival. In the post, Blue responds to Netrebko’s actions by saying, “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. It is offensive, humiliating, and outright racist.”
Blackface is not acceptable in any situation whatsoever. This racist tradition is rooted in dehumanizing strategies designed by white people in order to enforce an oppressive narrative. To allow blackface is to allow injustice. Angel Blue showed the world what to do when faced with a controversial situation. She made the right choice, and that reflects in her righteous character.