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Soprano Angel Blue withdraws from Italy opera over blackface controversy

The singer said she will not be making her house debut at Arena di Verona after learning the theater is using blackface makeup in staging a different opera performance.
Angel Blue
Angel Blue performs during a rehearsal of "Fire Shut Up in My Bones" at the Metropolitan Opera in New York on Sept. 24, 2021.Jason DeCrow / AP file

American soprano Angel Blue said she will not be performing in an upcoming opera in Italy following a controversy over the use of blackface.

Blue was set to join the cast of "La Traviata" starting July 22 at Arena di Verona, but the singer pulled out of the show after finding out the theater "made the decision to utilize blackface makeup" in the staging of a different opera performance this summer, she said in an Instagram post Thursday.

"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," her post reads.

"I was so looking forward to making my house debut at Arena di Verona singing one of my favorite operas, but I cannot in good conscience associate myself with an institution which continues this practice," Blue added.

The Arena has been putting on performances of "Aida" based on a 2002 staging of the opera classic by Italian director Franco Zeffirelli, who died in 2019. That staging uses blackface. Showings are scheduled in July, August and September, according to the venue's website.

In a lengthy statement to NBC News, the Arena di Verona said “Angel Blue knowingly committed herself to sing at the Arena” even though the “characteristics” of the 2002 Zeffirelli staging were “well known.”

"We have no reason nor intent whatsoever to offend and disturb anyone’s sensibility. We reach with deep emotions people from different countries, from different religious contexts, but for us all people are equal," the Arena of Verona Foundation said in the statement.

The Arena of Verona Foundation also invited Blue, who is Black, to meet with Arena officials and have a dialogue over the issue “in effort to understand others’ point of view, in respect of consciously assumed artistic obligations.”

The foundation also said that these conversations should occur in person rather than online.

"Angel, we and the audience of the Arena di Verona look forward to meeting you: it will be the opportunity for dialoguing in a constructive and concrete way, beginning with your reflections," the statement read. "The digital world does not create the same empathy that only direct contact can bring about: just as in Theater."

A spokesperson for the theater previously told OperaWire it could not change the production due to the company's "philological approach."

"As long as we don’t have a new production, we follow that philological approach. We must respect the historical truth,” the spokesperson said.

This is not the first time the use of blackface makeup for a staging of “Aida” in the same theater has sparked outcry from a soprano.

In 2019, opera singer Tamara Wilson, who is white, protested against darkening her face to sing the title character of an Ethiopian woman in the opera at the Arena.