Opera event: ‘People of color are encouraged to attend’

Opera event: ‘People of color are encouraged to attend’


norman lebrecht

June 14, 2018

From Seattle Opera:

SEATTLE—Everyone is welcome to join the conversation at Breaking Glass: Hyperlinking Opera & Issues. This free public forum opens a door to frank discussion about race and diversity in opera. Topics will include how art is produced in an increasingly diversified America, and who has the right to tell whose story; the role of art in stimulating public discussion about racism and discrimination; and what roles social justice plays within the artistic mission of an opera company. All are welcome; and People of Color are encouraged to attend.

“At Seattle Opera, we have spent a lot of time thinking about who we want to be as a company,” said Barbara Lynne Jamison Director of Programs and Partnerships. “We love this art form; it can be powerful, transcendent, and life-affirming. As a historically White organization, Seattle Opera is committed to taking ownership of opera’s Eurocentric, and at times, racist past. We will continue to learn from marginalized voices and bring them into the center of discussions in order to build a more equitable future.”

A collaboration between Seattle Opera and the Glimmerglass Festival (a nonprofit opera festival based in Cooperstown, New York), this forum happens at a time when Seattle Opera has been highly visible for its work to increase equity, which has included nuanced, and at times, charged conversations with communities of color who have helped to hold the company accountable. Since summer 2017, Seattle Opera has used several forums and events to engage in dialogue with members of the Asian Pacific Islander community during Madame Butterfly, and the Black community during Aida.  

As an equity change-leader in the opera industry, Seattle Opera was excited to be able to partner with Glimmerglass, a company that has been innovative with its storytelling and dismantling of the Eurocentric status quo. Breaking Glass originated with the desire to examine how music and art can respond to societal inequities, and as a means to provoke thoughtful discourse. Other tour sites of this forum include: Atlanta, New Orleans, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Cooperstown, Washington DC, and New York City.

The forum will include excerpts from new operas written for Glimmerglass, as well as opportunity for audience questions and input. LibrettistsTazewell Thompson and Paige Hernandez will talk about the substantive social content in their new operas Blue, which depicts an African American family after their son is shot by a police officer, and Stomping Grounds, a “hip-hopera.” Matthew Morrison from the Clive Davis Institute of New York University, Tisch School of the Arts will moderate the discussion.

The development of Stomping GroundsBlue, and Breaking Glass: Hyper-linking Opera & Issues has been funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Opera America Innovation Grant and Repertoire Development Grant.

This event will be livestreamed. For more information, and to RSVP for this free event, go to: seattleopera.org/breakingglass.


  • John Borstlap says:

    “We love this art form; it can be powerful, transcendent, and life-affirming. As a historically White organization, Seattle Opera is committed to taking ownership of opera’s Eurocentric, and at times, racist past. We will continue to learn from marginalized voices and bring them into the center of discussions in order to build a more equitable future.”

    Ironically, the good intentions of the staff labelling their art form as a ‘white organisation’, is racist in itself. One can also claim that taxation is a ‘white institution’, or the railroad system. Breaking-down racist prejudices by chest beating does not seem to be very reasonable. It may work, however, by replacing the regular opera repertoire by new productions by contemporary composers and librettists treating contemporary race issues, but if this has to be opera, it should meet the artistic standards as created by the ‘historically white art form’ and we know how easily nonsense can be excused by politically-correct flag waving.

    • Bruce says:

      The word “historically” in this context means “this is what we have been in the past, and we are trying to change it for the future.”

      For example: the Vienna Philharmonic is a historically male ensemble that has begun to admit women.

      • John Borstlap says:

        And the VPO surely does not need to do that. But for the music making it does not make a difference whether the orchestra is all-male or not. The VPO had been set-up in a time when distinctions between the genders was still deemed to be very important.

    • buxtehude says:

      Talk about patronizing. Where would music be today if these “marginalized voices” had waited around for these ef’ers in Seattle to “take ownership” of one thing and another and make straight the way.

      Instead they invented the blues, and afterwards jazz (whatever exactly that is).

  • Mike Schachter says:

    One would think this is parody but unfortunately it isn’t. Perhaps just say that people are encouraged to attend, that covers most options. And if anyone prefers a rock concert or baseball that is their choice.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Ugh I hate ridiculous American political correctness. You couldn’t get anyone whiter than me and last time I looked white is a colour therefore we are all persons of colour. I worked in Ohio in the ’70’s when inner city black children were extremely proud. Now everyone has gone mimsy!

    Until Americans admit that all men are equal there will always be racism.

  • Caravaggio says:

    This would be sad if it weren’t insulting. If I were a person “of color” this initiative would stop me on my tracks from setting foot on their grounds. I actually feel sorry for these postmodernist arts administrators. They live in a bubble of denial and illusion and believe that pushing the envelope of identity politics is the resolution to the diversity problem as they understand it. But, ask yourselves, how many of these persons of color can afford to live in the nice, verdant neighborhoods where surely the top administrative class of Seattle Opera reside? Etc. And I haven’t even mentioned the state of the artform which no hip hop anything will begin to redeem.

  • Adrienne says:

    “Blue, which depicts an African American family after their son is shot by a police officer”

    Nothing intrinsically wrong with that as a basis for an opera but, unless you get the music right, it will go nowhere. It’s not enough just to shout “white racism” and expect people to turn up to enjoy the “thoughtful discourse”. Unfortunately, I think that’s precisely what they do expect.

    Most people know when they are being patronised.

  • anmarie says:

    Einstein said, “The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.”

  • Sharon says:

    India and China as well as other Asian countries have used opera i.e. performed sung stories, for centuries. Song has also used traditionally and extensively to tell stories in Africa.

    What I am saying is that many societies of color have some form of opera and have had it traditionally.

    Would translating some of this art into English and arranging the music with some Western instruments, ie fusion, be politically incorrect?

    • Caravaggio says:

      No, not politically incorrect but watered-down ambient muzak. In other words, European opera as we know it is its own art and worthy of respect and, really, should be left alone. The other forms you mentioned are not opera with a capital O, not remotely close.

      • V.Lind says:

        I think makers and consumers (to use that ghastly contemporaneity term) of Chinese opera would take exception. I have attended Chinese opera both in China and in the west,and in every significant way it is opera as I understand it– staged, costumed, theatrical, having narratives and themes, etc. The difference is the musical idiom, from different instruments to different voice structures to vastly different compositional styles. But it does not make it any less that western opera.

        I am not aware of similar traditions in Africa; their song cultures are of a totally divergent sort as far as I know. But anyone who has ever watched political or other events from Africa will ave been aware of a community of music that seems almost spontaneous in the face of external activities: from protests to things like the welcome of a free Mandela to sporting events to public funerals. Superficially — and I am the first to admit that that is the extent of my knowledge — it seems more grassroots than the formal operatic styles of Europe and China. But it has structure and wide participation.

        India has a formal musical tradition, but to what extent it embraces a comparable music theatre I do not know.

  • anon says:

    “People of color are encouraged to attend” means:

    “Now that white audience members are dying off and their grand kids are not interested, we thought we’d open our doors to blacks and hispanics.”

  • Bruce says:

    If Slipped Disc had simply published an analysis of what % of Seattle Opera’s subscription base is white, and not mentioned any attempts at reaching out to others, how many here would be lambasting them for snobbishness and exclusion? (Of course there are those who will say “nobody, because we wouldn’t care, because race is imaginary and racism is only a figment of the liberal imagination.”)

    Damned if you try, damned if you don’t.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The difficulty with the subject ‘race / classical music’ is that the notions of race and culture are often confused. In the race culture wars, classical music is seen as ‘white culture’, while white jazz musicians – as far as I know – are not criticized for ‘cultural appropriation’ of something they should not ‘be allowed to own’ because originally it was a ‘black music’. If there are not many people of colour who attend the local opera, that is not because they are ‘black’, but because they are not enough informed / educated and that is probably the result of group discrimination where they have less accessibility to cutural institutions. But also possibly because they see opera as ‘white culture’ and don’t want to enjoy its works. So, it seems to be better to fight discrimination and exclusion first and foremost, instead of inviting people with a probable resentment to attend ‘white culture’.