Thursday, November 12, 2015

Opera and Race

Grand opera was actually one of the first places to cross racial barriers. From the Washington Post:
ALYSON CAMBRIDGE: In “Otello,” skin tone] is integral to the plot line and people sing about it throughout the course of the opera, and I think it is different than say, casting a show like “Porgy and Bess” and having it be all white singers in blackface. That I think is an issue, because you have a plethora of singers to choose from to sing that role. Otello is a specific voice type. There may or may not be a person of color to sing that role; regardless, it’s key to the story line, and there is reference made to it in the libretto. So I feel like it’s a costume in some ways.

Now I’m doing my very first Madame Butterfly, and I had the discussion the first day, my first costume and makeup fitting, OK, are we going to put me in geisha makeup? Are we going to lighten my skin? Obviously there have been many non-Japanese people to sing the role of Madame Butterfly. But also, it’s a part of the story line. It’s on and an talking about, I am a geisha. Geishas wore makeup. Whether I am black, white, green, purple, there will be a certain amount of makeup, because that is a geisha. That’s where I drew the parallel with “Otello.” I had to think about it just because I was in it with “Madame Butterfly,” and I [thought], I don’t really see it that way. I’d be curious to ask a Japanese person, “Are you offended when you see somebody who is not Japanese made up to look like a different ethnicity to suit that show?” But if you’re asking me, who is a person of color, am I personally offended by somebody having makeup to make them look darker for the sake of the opera, I personally am not. I don’t know if I’m in the minority in that. (Read more.)

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