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Blackness in Opera

Naomi Andre

Publication Year: 2012

Blackness in Opera critically examines the intersections of race and music in the multifaceted genre of opera. A diverse cross-section of scholars places well-known operas (Porgy and Bess, Aida, Treemonisha) alongside lesser-known works such as Frederick Delius's Koanga, William Grant Still's Blue Steel, and Clarence Cameron White's Ouanga! to reveal a new historical context for re-imagining race and blackness in opera. The volume brings a wide-ranging, theoretically informed, interdisciplinary approach to questions about how blackness has been represented in these operas, issues surrounding characterization of blacks, interpretation of racialized roles by blacks and whites, controversies over race in the theatre and the use of blackface, and extensions of blackness along the spectrum from grand opera to musical theatre and film. In addition to essays by scholars, the book also features reflections by renowned American tenor George Shirley._x000B__x000B_Contributors are Naomi Andre, Melinda Boyd, Gwynne Kuhner Brown, Karen M. Bryan, Melissa J. de Graaf, Christopher R. Gauthier, Jennifer McFarlane-Harris, Gayle Murchison, Guthrie P. Ramsey Jr., Eric Saylor, Sarah Schmalenberger, Ann Sears, George Shirley, and Jonathan O. Wipplinger.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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pp. vii-viii

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Foreword: Singing in the Dark

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pp. ix-x

The present collection of essays attempts to identify and theorize the various ways in which the idea of blackness has worked as a practice—as a complex of representational strategies in the genre of opera. Taken as a single body of work, they do not present a unified theoretical voice, but like the practice of ...

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pp. xi-xii

When we decided to undertake the editing duties for this collection, it is fair to say that we did so with a combination of excitement and trepidation. Excitement, because we had all conducted research related to opera and blackness, and agreed that this was an area of compelling scholarly possibilities that ...

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Introduction: Representing Blackness on the Operatic Stage

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pp. 1-9

Despite notable scholarly contributions over the past few decades, the issue of race still presents significant hurdles for many musicologists. This may be due in part to issues raised by the theoretical approach Toni Morrison advanced in Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992) ...

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1. From Otello to Porgy: Blackness, Masculinity, and Morality in Opera

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pp. 11-31

One of the most reliably predictable figures in the grand opera tradition is the male protagonist: the heroic tenor. Regardless of whether the final curtain finds him dying for his beliefs or saving the heroine from a fate worse than death, the lead tenor has traditionally set the standard for heroism and ...

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2. Hearing the Other in The Masque of Blackness

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pp. 32-54

On January 6, 1605, Queen Anne presented her husband, King James I of England (r. 1603–25), with ἀ e Masque of Blackness, a court entertainment of unusual scale and spectacle.1 She had commissioned dramatist Ben Jonson and designer Inigo Jones to collaborate on the project, and Alfonso Ferrabosco ...

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3. Nationalism, Racial Difference, and "Egyptian" Meaning in Verdi's Aida

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pp. 55-77

In a July 16, 1870, letter to Giuseppe Piroli, a good friend in Rome, Giuseppe Verdi writes, “I am busy. Guess! . . . Writing an opera for Cairo!!! Oof. I shall not go to stage it because I would be afraid of being mummified. . . . If anyone had told me two years ago, You will write for Cairo, I would have ...

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4. Race, "Realism," and Fate in Frederick Delius's Koanga

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pp. 78-100

On May 30, 1899, London concertgoers had the opportunity to witness Frederick Delius’s professional compositional debut. The performance, held at St. James Hall in Piccadilly, was notable for being entirely dedicated to his own works, a rare event for English composers of the day.1 The first half of the concert ...

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5. Political Currents and Black Culture in Scott Joplin's Treemonisha

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pp. 101-115

The life journey of Scott Joplin (1868–1917) has become an iconic part of black history, for it is representative of many African Americans of the post– Civil War generation. Freed from oppressive fears of slavery and hoping for a bright new future, African Americans, including Joplin, pursued education ambitiously ...

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6. Clarence Cameron White's Ouanga! in the World of the Harlem Renaissance

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pp. 116-140

American literature, music, and popular culture of the 1920s are replete with works reflecting the U.S. fascination with the nation of Haiti. In this spirit, Clarence Cameron White (1880–1960), violinist and composer, and John Frederick Matheus (1887–1983), writer and literary scholar, produced the opera ...

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7. New Paradigms in William Grant Still's Blue Steel

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pp. 141-163

“My love has always been opera—the theater. This love of operatic music, stimulated in my early youth by listening to operatic records, was the thing that first aroused the desire to compose. All my other work has been a means to this end.”1 So wrote William Grant Still in 1949. By this time he had ...

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8. Performers in Catfish Row: Porgy and Bess as Collaboration

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pp. 164-186

In the decades-long debate over Porgy and Bess, those offended by its depiction of African Americans have occasionally characterized the opera as a crime against the race. Some have called the work itself harmful, such as playwright Lorraine Hansberry, who noted that African Americans have “had ...

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9. Searching for "Authenticity" in Paul Bowles's Denmark Vesey

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pp. 187-211

In January 1938, Juanita Hall conducted the Negro Melody Singers in an unstaged performance of the first act of Denmark Vesey for the New York Composers’ Forum. The performance, featuring music by Paul Bowles set to a libretto by Charles Henri Ford, provoked thoughtful and pointed questions ...

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10. The Politics of Color in Oscar Hammerstein's Carmen Jones

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pp. 212-235

I first met “Miss Jones” (Carmen Jones, that is), a few years ago when I was searching for a suitable video of Bizet’s Carmen for my opera history class, and it immediately struck me as a work that begged to be examined through the lens of feminist and cultural theory. Susan McClary, Catherine Clément, and ...

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11, Performing Race in Ernst Krenek's Jonny spielt auf

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pp. 236-259

Though by far his most well-known work, Ernst Krenek had an ambiguous relationship toward his fourth opera, Jonny spielt auf, or “Jonny Strikes Up” (1927). This work is an ambitious combination of European modernism, American popular music, and what Krenek took to be jazz. Its plot pits a central ...

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12. Il Rodolfo Nero, or The Masque of Blackness

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pp. 260-275

In the fall of 1960, I made my European operatic debut at the Teatro Nuovo in Milan, Italy, singing the role of Rodolfo in Giacomo Puccini’s perennial favorite, La Bohème. One of the headlines in the news the following day proclaimed, “Il Rodolfo nero ha superato l’esame!” In translation: “The black ...


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pp. 275-278


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pp. 279-289

Production Notes

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p. 290-290

E-ISBN-13: 9780252093890
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252036781

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Opera ǂx Social aspects ǂx History.
  • Opera.
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