Title

Black Opera at the Metropolitan Opera House

Lead Author Major

Music History

Lead Author Status

Senior

Format

Oral Presentation

Faculty Mentor Name

Sarah Waltz

Faculty Mentor Department

Music History

Abstract/Artist Statement

The Metropolitan Opera House in New York has existed since 1880, but until September 2021 had never programmed a black-composed opera (Terence Blanchard/Charles Blow, Fire Shut Up in My Bones). Although black opera was composed in those 141 years, for example by William Grant Still and Anthony Davis, the Met declined to perform them in favor of European works, creating a canon that systematically excluded black composers, performers, and artists.

Despite opera’s European façade, black composers and musicians have long been associated with the genre. The recently-founded Black Opera Research Network has identified hundreds of black-composed operas in America; the contributions of singers such as Marian Anderson (first black singer at the Met, 1955), Shirley Verrett, Leontyne Price et al. have, until recently, failed to make significant inroads in the whiteness of opera casts. Black singers were typically relegated to stereotyped roles (Ethiopians in Aida, the all-black cast of Porgy and Bess), and even black-identified lead roles like Otello were performed by skin-darkened white performers through 2015.

This paper will examine the road that black opera and particularly Fire Shut Up in My Bones has taken. The Met is America’s largest and most influential opera company, but has performed almost exclusively European operas. Smaller opera companies (Long Beach, St. Louis, Houston) have been premiering black operas and giving them the success they need to ensure national success. Historically black operas, such as Davis’s 1985 X: The Life and Time of Malcolm X, had received few performances as critics tore apart numerous facets to justify denial of their artistic value and cultural significance while ignoring popularity with black audiences; incidentally X will be revived at the Met in 2022. Opera is slowly emerging from its obsession with European perspectives in order to continue telling universal stories of human experience.

Location

Yosemite Learning Lab, William Knox Holt Memorial Library and Learning Center

Start Date

30-4-2022 11:40 AM

End Date

30-4-2022 11:59 AM

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Apr 30th, 11:40 AM Apr 30th, 11:59 AM

Black Opera at the Metropolitan Opera House

Yosemite Learning Lab, William Knox Holt Memorial Library and Learning Center

The Metropolitan Opera House in New York has existed since 1880, but until September 2021 had never programmed a black-composed opera (Terence Blanchard/Charles Blow, Fire Shut Up in My Bones). Although black opera was composed in those 141 years, for example by William Grant Still and Anthony Davis, the Met declined to perform them in favor of European works, creating a canon that systematically excluded black composers, performers, and artists.

Despite opera’s European façade, black composers and musicians have long been associated with the genre. The recently-founded Black Opera Research Network has identified hundreds of black-composed operas in America; the contributions of singers such as Marian Anderson (first black singer at the Met, 1955), Shirley Verrett, Leontyne Price et al. have, until recently, failed to make significant inroads in the whiteness of opera casts. Black singers were typically relegated to stereotyped roles (Ethiopians in Aida, the all-black cast of Porgy and Bess), and even black-identified lead roles like Otello were performed by skin-darkened white performers through 2015.

This paper will examine the road that black opera and particularly Fire Shut Up in My Bones has taken. The Met is America’s largest and most influential opera company, but has performed almost exclusively European operas. Smaller opera companies (Long Beach, St. Louis, Houston) have been premiering black operas and giving them the success they need to ensure national success. Historically black operas, such as Davis’s 1985 X: The Life and Time of Malcolm X, had received few performances as critics tore apart numerous facets to justify denial of their artistic value and cultural significance while ignoring popularity with black audiences; incidentally X will be revived at the Met in 2022. Opera is slowly emerging from its obsession with European perspectives in order to continue telling universal stories of human experience.