Anna Netrebko goes brownface in Met’s Aida

The soprano has posted pictures from the general rehearsal and it looks like the dressing room has got too busy with the slap.

She is not so much Egyptian, or even Ethiopian, in this shade of makeup as downright Nubian.


Any other singer, in any other dark-skin role, and there would be cries of cultural misappropriation.


Hello from Metropolitan opera Aida!

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  • Player says:

    S’matter ‘bro?

  • Alexander says:

    looks a bit like Elizabeth Taylor in “Young Toscanini”

  • Vera Galupe says:

    It’s called stage makeup. If that bothers you then so should the idea of a Russian playing a Nubian. Ridiculous political correctness. Find something more interesting to write about please.

  • anon says:

    Looks more like sprayed on Trump Orange to me.

  • Jim L. says:

    Looks like a very good subtle makeup job- brava!! Netrebko has just the right racially ambiguous bone structure anyway thanks to thousands of years of DNA mixing.

  • anon says:

    Europeans are 2% Neanderthal.

    Africans are 100% homo sapiens.

    I am outraged that a European (Neanderthal) is asked to portray a Nubian (homo sapien).

    No amount of face paint is going to disguise your Neanderthalness!

  • Yes Addison says:

    What you say about “any other singer” has already been disproved. I can’t remember outcries about any soprano who’s been in this 1988 production the Met restages every other season or so. They’ve done it more than 50 times in the last ten years alone, with everyone from Chinese Hui He to Bulgarian Krassimira Stoyanova to African-American Latonia Moore in the title role.

    Performances with Violeta Urmana and Lyudmila Monastyrska were even shown in cinemas worldwide, and those sopranos were made up the same way.

    But the production is on the way out, and it won’t surprise me if the new one does away with the stage makeup. It does seem to be the way the trend is going.

  • Laura Caruso says:

    She always sounds and looks gorgeous.

  • Bruce says:

    “Any other singer, in any other dark-skin role, and there would be cries of cultural misappropriation.”

    Right. Or maybe the world has figured out that stage makeup in an Italian opera is just not a big deal.

  • Martin Atherton says:

    No, Norman – this just reads as if you are trying to provoke cries of cultural appropriation (as I think it’s actually called). Instead, you’ve just provoked a wave of sensible comment.

  • David A. Boxwell says:

    The cover of “SCENES FROM VERDI” (Decca, 1968) sports Dame Gwyneth Jones (as Aida) in very dark slap from the waist up, and her exotic appearance is enhanced by great lashings of tourquoise eye shadow.

    • Novagerio says:

      Thanks for mentioning Dame Gwyneth! Some might even move into the “age-racism”- issue !!
      I recall once when Dame Gwyneth made a VERY delated debut as Minnie in Puccini’s “The Girl from the Golden West”; a rather sarcastic tabloid-critic dubbed her performance “Granny get your gun”…

  • Ms.Melody says:

    Interesting trend: first opera directors got rid of sets and costumes and any relation to the period in which the work was written or the story took place. Result: cheap, ugly looking,
    offensive garbage (not 100%, I am sure there will be defenders, but the majority).
    Now ,it turns out, the singer should not be made up to look like the character in the opera unless he/ she happens to be from the same racial background. I am sure there are white Ethiopians, but Aida has always looked African , at least in classic productions.

    I wonder what cheap garbage will replace this beautiful, opulent production.
    I have already seen white Othello, which makes no sense considering the story.
    So far we have dispensed with sets, costumes, period and now even the background of the characters which has a direct influence on the story. All in the name of PC and budgetary concerns and complete luck of respect for anything the composer and librettist may have had in mind. No wonder opera is going to hell in a basket.
    There is no one to defend these works since they are all in the public domain and it is a free for all. To quote from the current regime..”Sad..”

  • says:

    Sorry to come so late to the PC party, but please someone explain to me why is it wrong for an actor to use all necessary means – from props, to costume, to voice and accent (more theater and film than opera, perhaps) to make-up – in order to create a realistic portrayal of a character? Was I racist against the Polish when I played Stan Kowalski, or prejudicial against the Russians when I played Yeletsky? I had no idea! Or was the wonderful Swiss tenor who player my Irish father in The Silver Tassie a closet racist for attempting Irish-ness? Isn’t the very essence of acting to become someone else, y compris their physical properties? Will it be wrong next to see Rigoletto with a hunchback? Has the world totally lost the plot? And who are the offended? I have never met any of these offended, yet apparently they are everywhere!

    • Ms.Melody says:

      Bless you sir, for sounding the voice of reason in those crazy times.

    • S_Peng says:

      The roles you described are White characters. In essence, Caucasian singers playing characters of their own race, ie Polish, Russians and Irish. Therefore, no cultural appropriation committed. However, a Caucasian singer assuming a role of an African in heavy “blackface” is racist. Are there no Black sopranos worthy of the role of Aida? It’s been the same problem when White actors assume “Yellowface” in G&S, The Mikado. It’s not acceptable, particularly when very few roles are written for minority characters, ie Asians and Blacks. To have those characters played by Caucasian performers in heavy makeup is an insult.

      • Robert Groen says:

        S PENG, I strongly advise you to get a life. Are you aware of how many productions (professional and amateur) of Otello, Aida and The Mikado are staged in the world every year? There just aren’t enough black (sorry: coloured) tenors around, Would it help you (and the rest of the PC Zealots ‘R’ Us community) if ‘Caucasian’ singers assuming the role did NOT blacken up? Or should white tenors stay away from Otello altogether? Aida has always fared better. Great black (oops!) sopranos never really outnumbered ‘Caucasian’ ones, but there were (and are) enough of them to make an impact. Leontyne Price, Grace Bumbry, Shirley Verrett spring to mind. Still, as with Otello, not enough of them to man (sorry: woman) the role in all Aida productions worldwide. Look, I’ll make a deal with you. If you promise to stop banging on about perceived racism, I’ll happily continue to see nothing wrong with Simon Estes singing the Hollaender, Willard White (sic) being Bluebeard or Shirley Verrett going bonkers as Lady Macbeth. Satisfied?

      • Player says:

        Is this special pleading for jobbing singers who need a boost…

        In Turandot, would our friend Peng sing Ping, Pong or Pang?

        • S_Peng says:

          Not surprised by the name calling and taunting in this era of Trump. I recall the same when I first immigrated to the US over 50 years ago. Sadly, nothing has changed, if not worse.

          • Robert Groen says:

            Peng, please….no-one is calling you names and we’re not all Trumpites either. It’s just that some of us are concerned at the unstoppable advance of political correctness, the creed that feeds on anger, offence and fear. A creed that attempts (and not without success) to criminalize activities, behaviour and opinions that not so long ago, were considered normal and acceptable, Real racism, of the kind that flourished in your country at the time that you chose to go and live there, is rightly condemned by all. My argument is that a white man/woman blackening his/her face to play a certain part in a theatrical entertainment does in no way demean, insult or in any other way damage coloured people. Conversely, I have no problem with coloured artists portraying white people (or any other people) although I did think it was maybe a step too far for the Metropolitan Opera, in the 1989 production of Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen, to pair the very black Jessye Norman with the very white Gary Lakes as Sieglinde and Siegmund, the incestuous pair of siblings in Die Walkure. What Hunding must have thought as he was uttering the words “Wie gleicht er dem Weibe…” is anyone’s guess. I, for one, couldn’t see the resemblance. But the singing was glorious!
            So, Peng, lighten up a bit and I’ll be looking forward to further comments from you….about music, I mean.

      • Tamino says:

        Are you for real? I suggest you first acquaint yoyrself with the concept and tradition of THEATER.
        Hint: it’s not a social support service institution for ethnical minority singers.
        Also: are you equally outraged about Jessey Norman or Simon Estes singing roles that portrait (‘to portrait’, learn about the meaning of that word as well!) white skinned characters?

    • Robert Groen says:

      Agreed. Actually, I can’t remember when I last saw a properly hunchbacked Rigoletto.

      • S_Peng says:

        Perhaps this article explains it better.

        • Robert Groen says:

          No, it doesn’t, Peng.

        • Mrs Norman Maine says:

          S.Peng. You live in some parallel opera world where it is possible to cast every opera “correctly”. Nothing wrong with slitty eye make up for Cio Cio San. Or try casting Lakmé your politically correct way in a major house – can’t wait for that recording.

          • S_Peng says:

            The comments in favor of “yellowface” and “blackface” in opera and theatrical performances, I suspect, are posted by non-minorities, who have never experienced discrimination (and I’m not referring to reverse-discrimination or White-discrimination, either). It is rare to cast a non-White in a major character that’s traditionally a Caucasian role but it’s okay to have a White performer in heavy makeup playing an Asian or Black!? WTF. Reminds me of the era when Al Jolson in blackface was acceptable. If you are saying there is no qualified Black sopranos for the role of Aida at the Met or any big venues, then this only perpetuates the problem when emerging minority artists do not see performers looking like themselves on the stage in leading roles, it’s discouraging.

  • Liz says:

    Slob on my knob, Norman.

  • Robert Groen says:

    Peng, with all due respect, you keep trotting out the same whine without addressing any of the arguments that other contributors here put forward. I’ll have one more go, but that’ll be it. You now introduce Al Jolson into the discussion, but I’d like to point out that he, unlike the Placido Domingos, Jon Vickerses,Carlo Cossutas etc.etc. of this world worhe is black makeup almost permanently because that was his personal stage persona. In Britain they had the Black and White Minstrels, a bunch of white guys who only ever appeared made up as (pardon the expression) little Sambos. That has been rejected by all, inluding me, as unneccesarily portraying black people with exaggerated thick red mouths, big round eyes and a penchant for waving straw hats. They’re no longer there. Gone. Over and done with. A white opera singer, on the other hand, does not seek to portray a black man as anything other than the character the playwright or librettist had in mind. Thus, Placido Domingo, can one night be a starving bohemian in wintry Paris, a painting Italian revolutionary the next, a mysterious suitor in Peking the following week and a hunchbacked court jester the week after that. All these parts require, in make-up and costume, some connection with the time and place they are supposed to be operating in. So, inevitably, in an opera based on Shakespeare’s Othello, the Moor of Venice there is every reason for poor Placido to look like a Moor i.e. black. I guarantee you (as a member of a once abused minority) there is not a scintilla of racism in this. This, of course, goes for the women as well. Netrebko may have a run as an Ethiopian princess with a tinted face one week, but soon she’ll be rosy-cheeked and arch in l’Elisir d’Amore or, in Onegin, falling hopelessly in love with a Russian cad, who happens to be a friend of her sister’s fiance.. Do you understand what I’m getting at, Peng?.It’s not racism. It’s theatre. Make-believe. So what is the real problem, from the black (or ethnic) singer perspective? I’ll tell you. Availability.There simply aren’t enough non-white singers of the required standard to play all these Otellos, Aidas, Cio-Cio Sans and (yes!) jeunes Hindoues that the myriad amateur and professional opera companies require year on year. You’ll have to agree that the black singers that DO rise to the very top (and there are quite a few of them) are never short of work and not an opera house in the world would wilfully, in a racist manner, take a white singer for Otello if a black one of similar statue was available. As I said before, the problem is that there are many more Otello’s required than there are black singers to play them. So the real problem is not racism, but education, training, talent and ambition. You can’t pick a black OPtello off the street; he’ll have to love opera, have the desire to be a singer, have a trainable voice, spend a few years at conservatory and in private tuition and, like everybody else, start at the bottom rung of the ladder. That’s quite an ask for anybody. But it has to be done. It can be done, Pryce did it. Estes did it. White did it, Verrett did it, Norman did it. Battle did it, Bumbry did it. Alexander (Roberta) did it. Owens did it. These operatic greats were/are never denied access to any role that suited them, black or white. There is no racism in operatic casting, just an insistence on quality. So, in the world’s black communities, encourage youngsters who have a speck of singing talent to develop that talent. get them interested in opera rather than rap, persuade them to put off fame and fortune until they have completed a pretty gruelling musical education and after all that, their careers can begin. Hereinspaziert, in die Menagerie!
    I wish you well, Peng.

    • S_Peng says:

      Ok. You win, you have the last word. I really need to stop wasting my time like this as it takes away from my practice time. Best of luck.

      • Ms.Melody says:

        I take an issue with your earlier statement” It is rare to cast a non-White in a major character that’s traditionally a Caucasian role.” You say you have been in the US for 50 years, yet you seem to have missed the time when opera became color blind.
        Let me offer you a small sample: Leontyne Price as Leonora in” La Forza del Destino”, Kathleen Battle in “L’Elisir D’Amore”(Adina), “Le Nozze di Figaro” (Susanna);”Ariadne auf Naxos”(Zerbinetta); “The magic flute” (Pamina), all brilliantly conducted by James Levine.Kathleen Battle in Don Giovanni with Karajan in Vienna.(Zerlina)
        Forza with Leontyne Price also features Isola Jones as Preziosilla; Jessye Norman as Siglinde, Shirley Verrett in Tosca with Pavarotti;Shirley Verrett as Lady Macbeth; Grace Bumpry as Carmen. All these are commercially available on DVD. There are many more featuring African American singers. I selected these on purpose because people like you cannot be told, they have to be SHOWN. African American singers have been singing white character roles for decades and nobody objects.We would all be poorer if we did not have these great artists. Do you honestly think that when Lawrence Brownlee ( while playing an English royalist in “I Puritani”) hits a high F, anyone in the audience gives a rat’s ass what color he is?! If a 200lb white soprano in make-up makes you cry when she sings a role of a 15 year-old Japanese girl, that’s not racism or cultural appropriation, it is high art. You are right, you should stop wasting your time on creating issues where there are none. Devote your energies to a more worthwhile cause.

        • S_Peng says:

          Oh, I get it. A few Black performers have been previously casted in the leading role so it’s okay now for White singers to wear blackface to pretend they’re African or yellowface to magically become “Oriental” (Asian). Sheesh.

          • Ms.Melody says:

            Peng,yes, it is OK. It is called THEATER, role playing, suspension of disbelief, creating a character you are playing, or in this case, singing. It is not racism, it is part of the magic.
            It is much better to use your passion and energy to create rather than try and destroy and divide as you are obviously trying to do with opera.Look at the National theatre in London.
            They have been color blind and gender neutral for years. An African actor played Salieri in Amadeus, brilliantly. The audience loved it. So, lighten up.
            This is not one you are going to win

          • S_Peng says:

            Bring back the good ole’ days of Al Jolson and White minstrel performances. I miss those days, too.

          • Ms.Melody says:

            S.Peng,George Shirley sang over 80 roles all over the world( singing while black), Vinson Cole, another major artist chosen by no less than Karajan to sing the Italian singer in der Rosenkavalier. I am sure Karajan could have his pick of singers and probably did not care about your hypertrophied racial sensibilities.
            So, as has been pointed out by others, it is about quality and abilities. If you are so keen to right the racial imbalance, start by educating the young people in classical music and value of knowing history and art.

          • S_Peng says:

            Ms. Melody, I am a member of the Arts/Performance Board at my local university, where I also donate frequently to the School of Music and School of Theatre. So I put my
            money where my big mouth is.

          • Robert Groen says:

            Mr. Broken, thank you for your insights into the significance of darker and lighter skin shades in ancient Greece and elsewhere, but I’m going to have a lie-down. Too much, too much!

          • Caleb says:

            Keep up that good fight S_PENG! It’s exhausting fighting people who use the past as a rationalization for continuing racist traditions. You’re not alone in this fight.

          • T A Langeland says:

            Just because you want it to be racist- it isn’t. Please look at the definition of racism. It may surprise you what it says.

        • Novagerio says:

          And don’t forget Simon Estes mighty Dutchman from Bayreuth between 1978-1985 !!!

          • Ms.Melody says:

            And Jessye Norman in Met’s” Ariadne auf Naxos”, together with Kathleen Battle, and Pretty Yende and Lawrence Brownlee singing in all major opera houses

        • S_Peng says:

          Black and Asian performers don’t wear white paint on their face when casted in traditionally white roles. Why do Caucasian actors/singers wear blackface or yellowface when given POC characters?

          • Robert Groen says:

            Peng, shut up for heaven’s sake. I’ve been polite to you throughout but you are a prize idiot.

          • S_Peng says:

            STFU yourself Robert Groen. You are a pretentious A$$.

          • Robert Groen says:

            I’ve been called that before, Peng, but always by people like you, so I’m not offended.

          • Ms.Melody says:

            S.Peng, so in big bad, racist US you have accomplished a great deal,, yet you carry a chip on your shoulder a size of a log.
            You should be better informed about a huge role non- white singers played in the betterment of opera all over the world before you cry racism and discrimination. Add to my list Mark Doss and Ryan Speedo-Green.

          • S_Peng says:

            Ms. Melody, you missed my point. But I don’t want to regurgitate everything I’ve already posted. Like you said, rather than waste our time bickering on this forum, we can make better use of our efforts in putting our money where our mouth is, like supporting emerging artists.

          • Novagerio says:

            I’ve been sick and tired of the “Black Otello” issue for ages; First things first: The threat of a Turkish fleet invading the island of Cyprus draws Othello and Desdemona away from Venice. … The invasion was a complete success; Cyprus became part of the Ottoman Empire and 20,000 citizens in Nicosia—one of Cyprus’ largest cities—were massacred.

            That’s what happens before the curtain raises to Giuseppe Verdi’s mighty Storm.
            Otello is a Berber, a “white african” who fights against the Moslems, serving the army of the Venetian army. “Esultate! L’orgoglio musulmano sepolto in mar!” – is his opening line. The “black” theatre make-up is simply a theatrical anachronism. In today’s standards, this captain is a turk from Nicosia…

          • Novagerio says:

            Sorry, correction: I meant to say “serving the army of the Venetian Republic” (!)
            It’s been a tiring and “interesting” thread folks !! – Thnaks for now !!

          • Robert Groen says:

            Novagero, thanks for your historical update. It was interesting and instructive, providing background to Otello of which I wasn’t aware. My very last words on the subject (we must all be knackered, including the worthy Peng (who, I am well aware, speaks from perfectly honourable conviction, that was never the problem) are that this discussion wasn’t about anachronism and historical accuracy, it was about racism. I’m going to bed.

          • Saxon Broken says:

            Actually, the emphasis on the blackness of Otello refers not to his race but his excessive maleness. His wife’s whiteness refers to her femaleness. Within each racial group males are very slightly darker than females; hence “male” qualities are “black” and “female” qualities are “white”.

            This meaning has largely been lost, but there are still elements of it in the English language. For example, think what it means to be in a “black mood” or have a “black heart”. On the other hand, what does it mean to “turn pale/white”, or “wave a white flag”. More generally, whiteness is associated with purity or innocence.

            It is a standard trope, at least from the time of the Ancient Greeks, that the maleness of men needed to be tempered by reason; it needs to be controlled. E.g. you mustn’t be too male/black. Otello is “excessively black” because his manliness is without reason and judgement; he can not control his passionate jealously. Although Otello’s blackness is at the centre of the play, understanding it is racial terms means you will seriously under-estimate the sophistication of the story.

  • Ms.Melody says:

    When the discussion deteriorates to name calling, the issue at hand becomes secondary or lost altogether.
    Time to give it a rest.
    I hope Anna has a great run as Aida at the Met.

    • Robert Groen says:

      Of course I agree with you Ms Melody. But believe me, I’ve tried. I lost it in the end, but I’m only human. And in my defence: I never lost track of the issue at hand. I’m rapidly turning into a culture pessimist. We are living in dangerous times.

  • Ms.Melody says:


  • Trevor Lynes says:

    Black opera singers often sing white roles. Very few operas have been written for black singers but all the black sopranos and tenors have performed in white roles so why all the fuss at this time ? Netrebko is offered the role as she fills the theatres she performs in and that is a fact ! Opera is colour blind and that is the way it has evolved…if singers are good enough then they will be offered the roles. At the end of the day it is the most popular singers who fill the houses they perform in and Netrebko is the most popular at the present time. Aida is performed regularly and most use make up as it fits the role. It is not a slight on black singers IMO….maybe they should white up to play Lucia or Mimi !!!!!

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