Opera's New Realism: Engaging Harm, Care, and Repair
Part of the Music Studies Distinguished Speakers Series
Thursday, April 6, 2023 at 4:00pm
Online via Zoom
Presented by Naomi André, David G. Frey Distinguished Professor in Music at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Since its beginnings, opera as a genre has explored “real” portrayals. This has been expressed through discourses around verisimilitude, naturalism, verismo, and the depiction of events from history with historical (and sometimes still living) people. In many ways, nineteenth-century opera fulfilled much of the same cultural business that the movies achieved in the twentieth century. Today, the screens have advanced to include TV, computers, and cell phones. Opera in the twenty-first century also continues to evolve as its cultural position caters to wider audiences (not only the wealthy elite) with a broader mission that has engaged social justice to include the movements around Me Too, Queer and Trans lives, and Black Lives Matter.
Coupled with the scholarship of others, my own research into the construction of Black Opera (Black participation in opera through composers, librettists, subjects for plots, singers, and those involved with production behind the scenes) has highlighted the insidiousness of exclusion. Black folks in the United States have been involved with opera since the nineteenth century; the erasure of this participation is painful and has caused harm. An unexpected place to carefully repair this harm is through a recovery of this history and to engage with the present golden age of Black Opera. In this talk I will touch on Blue (2019, Tesori and Thompson), Fire Shut Up in My Bones (2019, Blanchard and Lemmons), Omar (2022 Giddens and Abels), and The Factotum (2023 Liverman and Jackson).
About the Presenter
Dr. Naomi André (David G. Frey Distinguished Professor) received her B.A. in music from Barnard College and M.A. and Ph.D. in musicology from Harvard University. She was previously a professor at the University of Michigan in the Departments of Afroamerican and African Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, and the Residential College.
Dr. André’s 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, including, Voicing Gender: Castrati, Travesti, and the Second Woman in Early Nineteenth-Century Italian Opera (2006) and Blackness in Opera (2012, co-edited collection) focus on opera from the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries and explore constructions of gender, race and identity. African Performance Arts and Political Acts (2021, co-edited collection) focuses on how performance and the arts shape the narratives of cultural history and politics on the African continent. Black Opera: History, Power, Engagement (2018) is a monograph on staging race and history in opera today in the United States and South Africa. 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, Dr. André was named the inaugural Scholar in Residence at the Seattle Opera which has continued to the present. 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. She has continued to work with major and regional opera companies through panels, short residencies, and program essays.
In addition, Dr. André has worked with every major opera company in the United States and many regional opera companies and festivals. This summer she is a scholar-in-residence for the Des Moines Metro Opera. She has written program essays for recordings of Blue (CD, Tesori and Thompson, 2022) and Fire Shut Up in My Bones (DVD Blanchard and Lemmons 2022). On February 4, 2022 she testified before the Committee on the Judiciary as a Witness for House Resolution 301 hearing “Examining the History and Importance of ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ to become a National Hymn” (sponsored by Congressman James E. Clyburn, South Carolina).