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Blackness in Opera$
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Naomi Andre, Karen M. Bryan, and Eric Saylor

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780252036781

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252036781.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM ILLINOIS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.illinois.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Illinois University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in ISO for personal use.date: 28 February 2021

Il Rodolfo Nero, or The Masque of Blackness

Il Rodolfo Nero, or The Masque of Blackness

(p.260) 12 Il Rodolfo Nero, or The Masque of Blackness
Blackness in Opera

George Shirley

University of Illinois Press

In this chapter, the author reflects on the issue of race in opera and its impact on black singers. He first recounts his European operatic debut in Milan in 1960, singing the role of Rodolfo in Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème, and how his performance prompted numerous references to “il Rodolfo nero”(“The black Rodolfo”) in many Italian newspapers. The author reveals how blackness has figured in his theater performances since he entered the singing profession, including those with the Scottish Opera and the Metropolitan Opera. He notes that black singers of opera remain minorities in the profession numerically and racially; they are rarely, if ever, selected to interpret white roles in operas that focus on life in contemporary white society. He concludes by saying that he will not discourage young black singers from following their dreams of singing the great roles, and that the profession must respect what the artist brings vocally, musically, and dramatically as well as the opera-loving public's voracious appetite for great singing.

Keywords:   race, opera, Giacomo Puccini, La Bohème, blackness, black singers, singing, theater, Scottish Opera, Metropolitan Opera

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