A Black American opera star is canceling scheduled performances at one of Italy’s most famed venues over its use of blackface in a separate production.
Angel Blue, the soprano who in 2021 won the Grammy for best opera recording, said over the weekend that she won’t perform at Italy’s Arena di Verona, a venue that dates back to the Roman empire in the first century A.D., because the arena plans to host a production of the opera “Aida” later this year.
Aida is a classic opera set entirely on the African continent. The title character is an Ethiopian princess stuck in a triangle between the Egyptian ruler and his army, a soldier in that army who falls in love with her and another woman for whom that soldier is an unrequited love. The problem is that the iteration of the opera set for Verona later this summer features a Russian soprano named Anna Netrebko in the title role, and Nebrebko likes to get a little too into character.
Netrebko has been an outspoken proponent for wearing blackface, and has expressed beliefs that it helps maintain theatrical tradition. For a 2018 production of “Aida” at the Metropolitan Opera, she resorted to a tanning salon after the company balked at her desire to use dark makeup. The recent photos Netrebko posted to Instagram, which show her with long black braids and makeup covering her face, chest and arms, received more than 1,000 comments, many calling her out.
Blue isn’t involved in the Aida performance but for obvious reasons objects to Netrebko’s use of Blackface, and by extension to Arena di Verona’s decison to allow her to proceed. Blackface—the practice of non-Black people using face paint, makeup and even shoe polish to darken their skin while portraying Black people—has historically been used as a means to insult and degrade. In Hollywood’s early days, white actors were routinely hired to play Black people as opposed to actual Black actors, and often the characters were relegated to stereotypical tropes.
Blue’s performance of La Traviata, an opera about a woman in 19th century Paris, was slated for July 22. But she said in a now-deleted Instagram post that she doesn’t want to perform anywhere blackface is considered acceptable.
“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,” she wrote.