No-one’s bothered by Netrebko’s blackface

No-one’s bothered by Netrebko’s blackface


norman lebrecht

August 09, 2017

In contrast to Jonas Kaufmann’s Otello at Covent Garden, Anna Netrebko has been dipping into the shoe polish in Salzburg’s Aida.

Some pictures are lighter than others but this screen grab seems true to life:

So why are the usual suspects not howling foul? It is because the director is impeccably Iranian? Because the conductor is irreproachably Verdian? Or because Anna Netrebko gave a performance of such conviction that no-one noticed what colour she was?


  • Nik says:

    There are some colour photographs in the press.
    She seems to have gone for the shade of an Essex spray tan.
    Or, to put it another way, Trump.

  • DESR says:

    No one cares if a white singer blacks up a tad to play an African character if she can sing the part and if a Leontyne Price is not to be had.

    Also: professional offence-takers are all asleep in loungers in Tuscany.

  • Ungeheuer says:

    Because the (supposedly knowledgeable) old, wealthy folks and patrons of Salzburg have fallen for the Anna Netrebko marketing overhype. They are acting like school age girls in front of Justin Bieber. No critical judgement left. She can sing out of tune all she wants and the tweens will applaud and infect social media with all manner of Netrebko promotional dreck.

    • Olassus says:

      Someone’s been reading the FAZ.

      • Meal says:

        Your comment might be misleading in the way that Netrebko’s singing has been negatively criticized in the FAZ, which is definitely not the case; e.g.: “Anna Netrebko verschenkte an uns das reine Glück des Gelingens, und nicht nur wegen des einen Tons.” (transl.: “Anna Netrebko gave us the pure happiness of success, and not just because of this one single note.” Remark: The single note mentioned in the critique of the FAZ is referring to the c3 in „Qui Radamès verrà“) I will listen to the broadcast on Saturday to form my own opinion.

      • Ungeheuer says:

        Good that FAZ picked up on it. But no, I haven’t been reading them. No need to consult them since the hypermarketing of this woman (at the expense of critical suspension) is so obvious to anyone not living in a bubble. Not so obvious to her fans. And we all understand, don’t we, that fandom is a no-no and certainly not for grown-ups

    • Olassus says:

      … das Netrebko-trunkene Salzburg. Der Tempel der Reklame, der vor der Salzburger Festspielaufführung … errichtet worden war, türmte sich höher als die Pyramiden von Gizeh.

      … the Netrebko-drunk Salzburg. The Temple of Advertising erected before the Salzburg Festival performance towered higher than the pyramids of Giza.

      Il exagère. Quand même … .

      • Anon says:

        Yes, but that is unrelated to the quality of her performance, for better or worse.
        It’s pointless to be mad or envious at the ever unwashed classical snobs with top money but only mediocre taste.
        Salzburg is based on them.
        So is to a somewhat less extreme degree the whole classical world.

  • Jon says:

    No-one has taken offence because, as is clear from the colour photos of the production, Anna Netrebko has not been made up in ‘blackface’ for this production.

    The black and white photo has been given a high contrast finish for dramatic effect.

    • Stuart Oxford says:

      Sounds like you know what you’re talking about. What on earth are you doing on here???!!

    • Krystal says:

      I have watched the performance she is definitely “colored” up. She is in face in blackface and in this day and age its not okay.

  • herrera says:

    To be fair, she is just tanface, even unnoticeable under certain lighting, and in any case within her natural tanning spectrum, so not obviously offensive. You wouldn’t know she wasn’t tanned unless you saw photos of her walking with her ever present husband on the streets of Salzburg between performances.

    Anyway, everyone is focussing on all the other glaring problems with the production.

    It seems no one likes Shirin Neshat’s production at all. Not the New York Times, not El Pais, not the local Austrian press…

    It seems no one is enthralled with Muti’s interpretation (too restrained, too precious, not “operatic”)

    I agree with above comment, we can all judge for ourselves during the Saturday night telecast.

    • Olassus says:

      It could be said that Muti is not crazy about this opera (cf. Macbeth, Nabucco, Falstaff, La forza del destino, Otello, even Attila).

      It could also be said that it is not Verdi’s most dramatic work.

      Separately, I wonder if Anna’s husband will end up being the better of the two Radamèses, Meli having poor legato and all that. We will hear, on Aug. 22.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      “… not so obviously offensive.”

      What would be “obviously offensive”?

  • Ben says:

    Please wake me up when she dress like YW.

    • herrera says:

      Who is YW?

      (all these cryptic acronyms, FAZ, YW… I didn’t realize so many teenagers visited this site 😉 )

      • Meal says:

        YW: I assume that Ben is thinking about Yuya Wang. FAZ: Frankfurter Aalgemeine Zeitung, one of the biggest German newspapers. I am sorry that I used such an acronym although I should have been aware that is not known to every reader here. And: Since many, many years I no more a teenager ,.. 😉

  • Agent singer says:

    Because it’s not black-face. It’s not African American history, it’s Italian opera. With their stupid president constantly all over the world media, Americans might forget that there is an entire other world full of people of original cultures who actually don’t give a shit about American history and frustrations. Furthermore the color black is not owned by African Americans. If we want to put it on our faces, we bloody well will!

    • Ungeheuer says:

      “Americans might forget that there is an entire other world full of people of original cultures who actually don’t give a shit about American history and frustrations.”


    • JackySbg says:

      So why is it blackface with Otello (The Moor of Venice) but not with Aida (a Nubian princess enslaved by the Egyptians)? Both examples have much and little to do with African American history. Both Jonas Kaufmann as Otello and Anna Netrebko as Aida sang Italian operas by Verdi.

  • Meaux Feaux says:

    …because it isn’t blackface, you massive, massive, cynical, clickbaiting fraud.

  • Alexander says:

    She is gorgeous …. as far as I could hear people are happy with her Aida … hopefully my fav prodigy will be the next in a year or two 😉

    • Olassus says:

      Thought your favorite prodigy was Studer.

      • Alexander says:

        my favourite prodigy is Elina Stikhina (now she is in Erfurt- you can go there it is up to Aug 27th ) who stole the show at Hollander and will steal a lot of shows soon I think 😉
        as for Cheryl – sometimes I listen to her “Com’e bello” on my home stereo 😉

  • Novagerio says:

    Always this stupidity with theatrical facial painting…Did anybody ever complain about Al Jolson?….I thought not…

    • William Safford says:

      That’s seriously droll irony. Well played.

      Of course, countless numbers of people have complained about the offensive stereotypes of blackface. Al Jolson was just one of many who performed in this incredibly tasteless and nasty racial caricature.

      The good news is that he was one of the last prominent people to do so.

  • Ungeheuer says:

    The far more interesting and prodigal Cheryl Studer also donned blackface in London

    And probably in München as well (audio only)

  • Mister New York says:

    At this point in history, opera would be better off being presented as concert performances and forget all these awful theatre director concept renditions. Just come to the concert hall and listen to the score. At the Met, I have to close my eyes at most of the crappy productions as of late.
    Why bother staging Butterfly, Turandot, Aida, or even The Mikado if you have to be culturally correct.? Just bring on Eve Queller and listen to the music.

  • William Safford says:

    Perhaps this is an England vs. America language issue, but in America there is a big difference between black makeup and “blackface.” The former makes one’s complexion darker. The latter is a specific subset thereof, to create an incredibly offensive caricature of African-Americans.

    If one is interested in learning more about “blackface,” the Wikipedia entry is a place to start.

  • Viktor says:

    The best “soprano” ever! Her impact is amazing! I still want to wash my ears after her Bolena, and I’ve heard her in it like ages years ago.

  • Walter Pissedon says:

    No one is bothered?

    Nonsense. Plenty of us see this as racist minstrelsy and white supremacy. It’s just so entrenched in opera and “classical” (lol) music as to be unremarkable anymore. And that is why opera and classical music generally have so few young fans and can’t figure out how to get them back even with pop culture style marketing (usually 20 years out of date and obviously a product of olds).

    Opera can’t die soon enough.