Naomi André | Engaging Opera as Popular Culture and Social Justice
OPEN TO THE PUBLIC | Music Mondays presents a lecture by Naomi André, author of Black Opera: History, Power, Engagement.
In this talk, I outline some of the larger frameworks from my book Black Opera: History, Power, Engagement (2018) and take them further to include a quick mention of Beyoncé's Homecoming (2018), and three operas on Black topics that debuted the summer of 2019 (Terence Blanchard and Kasi Lemmons, Fire Shut Up in My Bones, Opera Theater of St. Louis; Anthony Davis and Richard Wesley, The Central Park Five, Long Beach Opera; and Jeanine Tesori and Tazewell Thompson, Blue, Glimmerglass Festival). I quickly contextualize Fire Shut Up in My Bones and The Central Park Five and then spend the most time with Blue. I have been fortunate to see all three operas and got to know Tesori and Thompson through several panels in the Breaking Glass series (run by Glimmerglass Opera Festival). From the legacy of minstrelsy and the frequent negative portrayal of Blackness in opera, this talk outlines a shadow history and explores how opera can be relevant for today and a space of liberation.
Naomi André is Professor in Women’s Studies, the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, and the Residential College Arts and Ideas in the Humanities program at the University of Michigan. She received her BA in music from Barnard College and MA and PhD in musicology from Harvard University. Her research focuses on opera and issues surrounding gender, voice, and race. Her publications include topics on Italian opera, Schoenberg, women composers, and teaching opera in prisons. Her books, Voicing Gender: Castrati, Travesti, and the Second Woman in Early Nineteenth-Century Italian Opera (2006) and Blackness in Opera (2012, edited collection) focus on opera from the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries and explore constructions of gender, race and identity. She recently published Black Opera: History, Power, Engagement with University of Illinois Press, a monograph on staging race and history in opera today in the United States and South Africa (more information available here). She has served on the Graduate Alumni Council for Harvard University’s Graduate School of Art and Sciences, the Executive Committee for the Criminal Justice Program at the American Friends Service Committee (Ann Arbor, MI), and has served as an evaluator for the Fulbright Senior Specialist Program.
In 2019, Naomi was named the inaugural Scholar in Residence at the Seattle Opera. In her role, she advises Seattle Opera staff and leadership on matters of race and gender in opera; consults in artistic planning as it relates to representation of race and gender; and participates in company panel discussions, podcast recordings, and contributes essays to opera programs.
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