African singer alleges racism at Glimmerglass

African singer alleges racism at Glimmerglass


norman lebrecht

June 16, 2020

This is from a Facebook post by the Zimbabwean opera singer Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa:

Opera is racist, and as opera companies keep offering performative statements of solidarity, I’ve wrestled with the need to present past racial trauma as evidence to drive home the fact that these empty statements mean nothing. The true test of humanity lies, not in social media posts, but in actions; and the truth is that these actions have consistently been inadequate.

Last summer I was a Young Artist at the Glimmerglass Festival (an opera company in upstate New York) and I had a covertly racist White woman as a housemate. The second day of the program she touched my hair. She pulled at my locs and said, “How do you even wash these?” I was appalled. I had driven up to New York from Kentucky and the last thing I expected was to deal with a racist housemate in an opera program touting a diverse community of artists. I took a day to heal myself from the violence of a White woman touching hair that is sacred to me, and then I sat her down and did my best to teach her (though this should have been the job of company diversity training that was non-existent) about the impropriety of touching a black person’s hair. She laughed and said, “I guess you have to tell that to a lot of people.”

The situation worsened as this White colleague policed my body in our shared housing (telling me to ask for permission to be in communal spaces because my presence was an inconvenience to her), and used what I experienced as violent communication in the rehearsal space.

By this point, the relationship was so toxic it was affecting my work. I read the company’s non-discrimination policy and followed the steps prescribed to report the housemate to the Young Artist Program (YAP) director. I sent a formal complaint detailing the situation while keeping my housemate’s identity anonymous. In our meeting, the YAP director (a White man) asked who the housemate was. I told him, and he visibly recoiled in shock saying, “I’ve known her for four years, she wouldn’t say that.” He then added, “Some people don’t get the ‘hair thing’” and that she probably didn’t mean it so I should just let it go and deal with it.

This meeting left me distraught. I cried inconsolably in my car because of the violence of being gaslighted, discounted and silenced by a white man in a position of authority.

I reached out to my Black colleagues (there were a number of us given the company’s season requiring black singers for the roles) and they urged me to contact the head of the festival. I drafted an email with screenshots, quotes from the company handbook and a report of my meeting with the YAP director, demanding my report of discrimination receive due process according to company policy.

Only after this huge amount of emotional, intellectual and spiritual labor (while still rehearsing 10 hours a day) did I receive a response. An investigation ensued and my white colleague was called in for a meeting. In our final roundtable (another emotionally laborious process that I was summoned to), my housemate cried (white tears, DiAngelo 2018) yet still stood by the validity of her racist words and actions.

That same week a Black male young artist (of legal drinking age) was fired for allegedly drinking a beer before rehearsal due to an outdated alcohol policy upheld by the festival. He was reported by a White woman intern (Amy Cooper?) and was immediately released from his contract.

I bring this up because here we had an instance of excessive punishment for a Black man and no disciplinary action for the two racist, White employees. The White woman was called in for a conversation with administration, while the White male YAP director never once reached out to me to own up to his misuse of power through gaslighting AND defending the racism of the White housemate who was in fact, a close friend of his. For them, life simply returned to normal and the racial violence they caused had no affect on their professional reality. On my end, I was wrestling with the fear of being labelled a “problem singer” and that I would never again be hired in opera for speaking up.

This wound dug (and still digs) very deep because as an organization, the company pats itself on the back for its “progressive” steps in what is at best performative race representation i.e. tokenism.

Last season the company staged the world premiere of an opera about police brutality but paired that with “Show Boat.” As Black performers, we moved between one rehearsal process where we had to relive the real trauma of police murdering Black people, to another where we had to hold the trauma of hearing our White peers calling us “Nigger” in every performance.

I reached out to same YAP Director and asked him if the company was aware of the disparity in emotional energies being asked of its Black performers vs. its White performers. We were repeatedly being asked to relive real, psychic trauma without any professional, psychological support offered by the company. Presenting Black trauma on stage is heavy, and the work was triggering personal trauma for many Black performers in a visceral way. This request went ignored — no supportive resources were offered.

Completing the summer with the festival was a soul-crushing task knowing full well the double standard between the internal lack of anti-racist structures and the external performance of surface-level diversity. I felt like my Black body was being used on stage in a painful charade of tokenism. I felt undignified. I felt dehumanized.

Today, when I see the Glimmerglass Festival’s lackluster solidarity statement (see Instagram), I am neither disappointed nor enraged — I see an organization being true to its identity. The wellbeing of Black lives didn’t matter to them a year ago, and I don’t see what meaningful transformation could make them matter now, save for the fear of being labeled as complicit through their silence….

I’m sharing my story ahead of the Glimmerglass Festival’s town hall discussion on June 18 so that company leadership can see a firsthand account of the systemic harm they have inflicted through the lack of restorative justice (why does the YAP director still have his job?), lack of diversity in leadership, gaslighting, tokenism, and White liberalist “we’re not racist” rhetoric that fails to see its own shortcomings.

I pray the town hall is honest, vulnerable with clear action steps for an actively anti-racist future. I will not be in attendance because I am protecting my peace and refuse to waste my vital energy in a game of masquerade. That said, I may not have faith in the company but I do wholeheartedly believe in my peers whose friendship, love and earnestness is the only reason I believe in the possibility of an anti-racist opera industry at all….



  • Alphonse says:

    Forgive me for reposting the following, but I think it bears repeating, as articles such as this one abound.

    I really can’t take much more of this woke oneupsmanship. I’m being sincere in this comment, and I’m not trying to get a rise out of anyone. I’m in my late twenties now, but some part of me will always be that idealistic little boy who believed that the musical profession was a true meritocracy, and music itself a sublime haven from the politics and noise of the world. Now, the politicization of the industry is a foregone conclusion. Sometimes it feels as though the music itself is an afterthought. It’s become all about politics, wokeness, business, and self-promotion. Conservatories churn out joyless audition-winning robots who then go on to plaster themselves all over social media, either promoting themselves or getting up on their soapboxes and pontificating about political matters. Groupthink and herd mentality abound. I’ve already been struggling with the ill effects of quarantine isolation; bits of news like this only serve to discourage me further. I often wish that I was born in an earlier era. Deep down I’ll always be that same bright-eyes idealist I was. Apologies for my rambling. In sum, my feelings can be adequately summed up in the words of the great poet John Clare:
    “… I long for scenes where man has never trod;
    A place where woman never smil’d or wept; There to abide with my creator, God,
    And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept: Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
    The grass below—above the vaulted sky.”

    • Amy says:

      “I often wish that I was born in an earlier era.”

      Like “…in the land of cotton? Old times there are not forgotten”…?

      Yeah, those earlier eras were good times, good times. Much more comfortable for racists, misogynists…much better for the average wealthy white Christian male.

      (cue defensive sputtering in *3* *2* *1*…..)

      • Alphonse says:

        Amy- you are clearly a deeply unhappy and resentful individual. I pity you. Might I suggest that you immerse yourself in some sublime Renaissance polyphony- specifically, that of the obscure Alonso Lobo (1555-1617). Here is his motet “Versa est in luctum,” penned on the occasion of the death of Phillip II in 1598. It has given me great solace, and I encourage all to listen to it- I promise that you will not regret it:

      • Alphonse says:

        Could the people incessantly downvoting me kindly explain themselves? What is there not to like about the aforementioned Lobo motet? I’m genuinely at a loss.

        • John Rook says:

          @Alphonse: You have committed the crime of not subscribing 100% to the grievance culture. Any worthy act you may subsequently indulge in will never save you.

          • Alphonse says:

            It would seem you are right, John. These woke leftists are truly- and irrevocably- deranged. They want to “tear it all down.” I’ve committed the original sin of being born white, male, heterosexual, and Catholic. Therefore, as penance, I must spend the rest of my days groveling, begging for forgiveness, and, like the twisted Boston professor I quoted below, I just denounce Western civilIzation as a “racist myth.” I must immediately cease to immerse myself in the sublimity of Bach, Palestrina, Mozart, Beethoven, Shakespeare, Epictetus, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, Wallace Stevens, Hieronymous Bosch, Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, St. Augustine, Thomas Merton, and the countless other evil men of whose works the “mythical, racist” Western canon is comprised. I must forget all that, destroy my book, CD, and art collection, and report to the local re-education center at once, like a good comrade.

          • John Rook says:

            Very good, Alphonse; your healing has started. I’ll hand you over to my friend O’Brian…

        • Karl says:

          Read about microagressions and victimhood culture. There’s even a wikepedia page on it.

        • Hal Hobbs says:

          I downvoted you because you’re an idiot.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Wonderful thoughts. The people just aren’t listening anymore to the “waysist” wailing.

      They need to settle down and become hard-working contributors instead of grievance junkies. There’s always Zimbabwe, where I’m sure there’s no racism. Now that IS a laugh.

      My son’s friend is a Kenyan nurse; white father, black mother. She was shunned by her tribe for marrying a white man and he was murdered when my son’s friend was a babe of 6, because they wanted his farm.

      Stop complaining and grow up. There are others FAR, FAR worse off than precious princesses.

      • Marina Harris says:

        I can’t believe how racist and tone deaf this comment is. Shame on you.

      • Doofus1714 says:

        Dear Sue Sonata Form,
        You are part of the problem and to have more thumbs up that thumbs down for you juvenile comment speaks to the level of maturity of people reading these posts.
        Bitter, frustrated much??
        Have a fine day.

    • me! says:

      much sexual abuse of children eg occurred and occurs in music – your ability to be naive and idealistic was never the total reality, it excluded real life experiences others had and created. You can focus on music as a spiritual thing but dont forget the people who make and made it are humans, which encompasses tons of things positive and very negative

  • me! says:

    I’m glad she shared this, and hope real change results. Apparently basic anti racism/rude training IS NECESSARY and not being done. It seems all institutions are terrible at policing themselves on all issues, unfortunately, and all that needs to change.

    • Sick of whiners! says:

      Francesca Zambello needs to simply SHUT DOWN GLIMMERGLASS!!!

      It’s time to pull out of America and go to Europe.

      Everybody is sick of ONLY hearing black people complaining yet again. It’s why nobody wants to hire them. Only trouble if their own making.

      White, Asian, Hispanic, etc. grievances are NEVER overblown like this and certainly never make media headlines.

      Cut your losses and pull out of of Chautauqua‘s economy!!!!!

      • Marina Harris says:

        Another racist comment. Shocker. You guys know you’re just proving her point, right? Smh

        • plh says:

          We have more than a few trolls on this blog. Sick of whiners!/USWork Visa Education/POC is actually one of our right-wing lunatic loners, otherwise known as R.I. Sue Sonata Form is like a hyperactive kid, who thinks bad attention is better than no attention. Same with Arthur, who relishes his role as irritant. Readers are accustomed to them acting as foils and debasing the discourse. They engender a feeling of pity in me, as their struggle to remain underdeveloped is on full display.

      • Anonymous says:

        Please: the last thing Europe needs is your “WOKE” american nonsense! Do not come here with that mentality. Words are not violence; touching a person’s hair, while inappropriate if done without authorization, isn’t violence, etc. ONLY ACTUAL VIOLENCE IS AND OUGHT TO BE CONSIDERED AS VIOLENCE. Punching a person IS violence —and yet this is something that the “woke” crowd is OK with, as long as the person on the receiving end is a white, “cis-gendered”, heterosexual, (Christian) man or woman who espouses a conservative worldview.

        • Julian Castronovo says:

          We don’t want them in the USA either!

          Democrats are violent and create too many problems ‘somebody else’ always has to pay for since they’re poor.

          The 2016 election certified that the Left is too destructive to care for themselves and require mental help.

          They certainly can’t afford to move to other countries and immigrate legally under their standards. Proof of this was all the big talkers who were “moving to Canada if Trump won”. If only! Of course nothing happened because of the requirements CAN has in place. They won’t consider Africa unfortunately. It’s always the White dominant countries they gravitate towards.

          They’re not only stuck here mired in problems of their own making but their candidate has dementia on top of being a rich, white male. Joe Biden was Obama’s VP but he was ineffective for all those 8 years so what do you think will happen??

          Trump will easily win a second term.

          Democrats are too sloppy, sarcastic and violent which goes against the rational definition of leadership. All their cities and states end up broke and trashed out. Look up Chicago, Minnesota and Seattle. Oh well, glad Hillary lost.

  • I find these allegations about Glimmerglass highly doubtful. Keep in mind that old Irving Berlin hit tune, “there’s no bizness like show bizness. Very few of us are aware of these rules concerning African hair and I’m sure your roommate didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. And frankly, I am concerned about where such accusations are ultimately going.

    • Amy says:

      Let me guess, Helene Kamioner…
      You’re a white woman.

      (“Very few of US are aware of these rules concerning African hair”) Wow.

    • me! says:

      I don’t know what world you’re living in but pregnant women don’t like strangers to touch their bellies and no one likes strangers helping themselves to touching our hair – if you do you are an outlier and should have known this already; it’s like you STILL DON”T being willfully ignorant – you need training and should not be in any work environment touching people without consent, or frankly even asking for it is wrong

      • Claudia Siefer says:

        i grew up in a bi -racial household . Still firmly in my mind embedded 60+ years ago is this: “Keep your hands to yourself”

    • V.Lind says:

      She didn’t hurt her feelings. She traumatised her. She needed a day to heal herself from the violence of having had her hair touched.

      You cannot be sure what her housemate’s intentions were, but I would venture that she had no idea that the hair was sacred to the offended party. As a Catholic whose graduate work included Theology, I can assure you that it would never have occurred to me.

      • US Work Visa Education says:

        While people like this choose to be offended and advertise it to their detriment today instead of facing issues like educated adults, she is putting barriers in EVERYONE’S way besides her own in a trite, self-absorbed way.

        She needs to not only look up Kathleen Battle but what BECAME OF Kathleen Battle who actually has a gift and made in America.

        SOURCE: (it’s a NYT article, so it’s ‘true’)

      • AWC says:

        She’s not traumatized V.Lind.

        Her culture still hates homosexuality and that is the true problem.

        Once she learned of Francesca’s sexual orientation, Tanyaradzwa DISCRIMINATED against her in the form of slander she can’t prove and chose to go to the media in her state of hatred and contempt for a well-respected female in the opera world.

        This girl clearly had somebody else inject her diatribe with the numerous catchphrases and pejoratives only an English speaking, politically adept person in the States would know.

        It’s clear and quite bad for this girl’s hopes for any sort of career. Nobody hires troublemakers unless they can make you a lot of money but you can’t push it like Kathleen Battle, Placido Domingo, James Levine, etc. THEYRE OVER!!!!!

    • Hal Hobbs says:

      Are you for real? You think it’s completely appropriate for some Karen to tug someone’s and make sundry racist remarks? Please go back into the shell you crawled out of.

  • Alphonse says:

    An addendum to my earlier post. The Facebook post that Norman mentions above was, in turn, shared by a professor at a major conservatory in Boston. He is a white man, for reference. He wrote the following, which is simply chilling. Anyone with a shred of common sense left will agree with me. This is a man who clearly despises himself, as well as the very music of which he claims to be a professor. God help us. Here is what he wrote:

    “Any time a student asks why I hammer away about the forces of white male supremacy in the formation of the European art music canon–which itself was grounded in the historical horror show that was colonialism and chattel slavery–here’s a big part of why. Erasure of non-white, non-male artists and cultures, and their contributions from history foster a world in which all non-white non-males are wrongly made to feel like guests, or even interlopers in a tradition that draws heavily from their own cultural heritage, either through theft, exploitation, or even stereotyped degradation. And I know that I have often served this insidious fiction, that my attempts to correct myself have sometimes been painfully tone deaf, and that I have plenty more work to do on myself. Here’s the point: “Western civilization” is a white supremacy serving myth, and it’s way, WAY past time for it to go!!! And hey, why don’t we start with the misguided assumption that all music students MUST learn the European art music tradition!”

    • V.Lind says:

      What should aspiring orchestral players be learning instead?

      • Alphonse says:

        V. Kind- I wonder if people read my entire post. It’s a quote from someone else, which, as I said in my introduction, I vehemently disagree with.

        • V. Lind says:

          No, Alphonse, I read it and agree with it.My response was to the quote, which I may not have made clear — should have added an emoji!

          • Alphonse says:

            Ah, I see. Thank you. And apologies for the autocorrect on my phone- naturally I meant to write V. Lind! I felt the need to add that postscript after seeing how many thumbs down I received…

          • V. Lind says:

            I collect mine! I consider them a badge of honour.

            And I enjoyed your typo…wanted to think of it as a Freudian slip!

          • John Rook says:

            That Boston prof has serious problems.

          • Wesley says:

            No, you received that many thumbs down because many of us agree with the professor, not you. And, you’re a little young to be identifying with these old white reactionary dudes.

    • SSD says:

      Alphonse, I have been known to have more than “a shred of common sense” and I don’t agree with you at all. Rather, I agree with the professor from Boston. He doesn’t have to despise himself to realize he has unwittingly played into a racist system. Neither do you. If you have awareness of a problem, you can try to address it. On the other hand, if you say, “this is really unpleasant and I don’t want to think about it,” that’s your prerogative, but it’s completely unreasonable to expect those who don’t have the privilege of ignoring it to do so. You’re pretty young to be identifying with the regressive white guy.

  • Bone says:

    Hair touching violence. Now we’re getting a little silly. Hope she recovers fully from this blasphemy (insert eye roll)

    • JPK says:

      How dare you.

      Oh wait, I forgot. You probably have floated on a cloud of privilege. You’re part of the problem, and will do anything to maintain a corrupt system.

      • Guest says:

        Privilege was institutionalized. It was called affirmative action.

      • Bone says:

        My privilege has been to live in the greatest country on Earth and work to the best of my ability making a life for myself, family, and community.
        The cloud you refer to hasn’t existed for me. Pettiness generally hasn’t played a role in my decision making; certain races and genders, however, can’t seem to make any large-scale progress due to focusing on minutiae to the detriment of any enjoyment of their own privileges.

        • JPK says:

          Greatest country on earth? What would that be? Surely not the United States, given its long history of racism, sexism, homophobia, and repression of working people. But please, think yourself privileged. I think you’re an arrogant racist ass.

          • Bone says:

            You are entitled to remain ignorant. Hope you enjoy living in whatever utopia you inhabit.
            But, please, at least acknowledge my first point: someone crying racism because their hair was touched is a bit rich.

          • Hazam says:

            So why do huge numbers of immigrants continue to flee to the USA and not your country?

    • Anna says:

      I find that somebody touching my hair is a very intimate act, which I would strongly object to from a stranger. And I don’t have African hair. It feels to me like touching a pregnant woman’s belly.

    • Hal Hobbs says:

      You’re obviously deaf, dumb and blind as well. White fragility much?

      • Enquiring Mind says:

        Was your position created for you, as is often the case for Blacks in certain fields? Cause that will give you a real sense of fragility and insecurity as is apparent in your posts.

  • Araragi says:

    Back in college, I arrived early to class one afternoon and was sitting quietly waiting for the professor to arrive. On the other side of the otherwise empty room, I overheard two girls joking about Jews with big noses, apparently unconcerned about being overheard. I am a Jew with a big nose. What they said was clearly insensitive but in the moment I didn’t label them anti-semites. I didn’t go to the Dean to complain about anti-semitism on campus. And I certainly didn’t let their callous remarks affect my life in any way, large or small. I just dismissed their jokes as insensitive but likely not malicious. I believed then and continue to believe they are good people who chose to make a stupid comment in the moment. It’s important to try not to offend. But it’s even more important to try not to be offended. In the vast majority of cases, racists are impotent to stop you from succeeding in life. But a victim mentality can stop you from succeeding.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      No, racists are not impotent to stop people from succeeding in life. That’s kind of the point.

      • How ridiculous. Countless professionals of color are successful in spite of racial obstacles.

        • Doofua 1714 says:

          Dear Ms. Kamioner,

          Your comments on this thread show a surprising lack of empathy or any real reflection. However you are by no means the only one to post such things on here.
          It is a shame. A real shame that classical music “fans” (or any group for that matter) lacks such empathy, and at the end of the day, intelligence.

    • anmarie says:

      The Holocaust was nothing compared with this woman’s sacred hair being touched — and by a white woman, no less.

    • me! says:

      you are assuming way too much just because it pleases you. Of course they were anti semites, and rude and mean and hurtful and of course they knew it – they knew if someone did that to them how it would feel. I also can”t help wondering how close to end of WWII this was, as horrors of holocaust very real and very well known. You SHOULD have challenged them, told them they should be aware they can be overheard and what they say seems shallow and cruel. But you let them continue to victimize a victimized people – yes it hurts the world has cruel people (nazi germany!), but it does. Pretending it doesn’t isn’t wise

      • Araragi says:

        I have never considered myself a “victim” of anti-semitism, though I’ve experienced it. A victim is someone who is injured. Anti-semitic remarks don’t injure me. They just show me the person who uttered them is a fool. Victimhood can be a mentality and it’s one I want no part of.

        • V. Lind says:

          If any group has a history of victimhood — a very real and very bitter — and very recent — one, it’s the Jewish people.

          If any other group has a history of victimhood, it’s American blacks. Very real, and very bitter, and in all too many cases, very recent.

          You almost certainly have antecedents who have been victims of some of the horrors of history, but you demonstrate perspective in your assessment of the ignorant around you. I assume you were not directly involved in the Holocaust, or in pogroms, or any of the other massive and systemic abuses of your people that exist to this day. But I’ll bet you know people who were.

          Ms. Tawengwa does not look old enough to have been involved in the old abuses of blacks by whites in Zimbabwe, though it is certainly conceivable that she has parents or relatives or friends who were. And although she was certainly never a slave, she may well have been pulled over for driving while black. But she has not been shot by a cop or kneed in the neck till dead. She has been approached by an insensitive and rather rude individual while in rehearsals for an opera in one of the foremost centres for music in America.

          Whatever else happened aside from the hair incident — she is not entirely clear — and however sceptical the organisers of the YAP may have been that she was subjected to anything egregious, I am always reminded of something Jo Brand said on HIGNFY a couple of years ago about the cumulative effect of this sort of thing on women, and do not doubt that for blacks it is at least as bad and probably worse. I am sure she has been on the receiving end of unpleasantness before.

          She has not developed the ability to shake it off and just get on with it, let alone react as you did, let alone to “try not to be offended.” She may well think, why should she have to try, and that is a fair question, one that I hope the reactions to George Floyd across the globe will see addressed in the coming months.

          I thought long and hard before getting myself into this thread. I’m a white woman. Not a rich one, but very well educated and having led an interesting life. I have also travelled extensively, and been subjected to certain hostilities in some places because I was a foreigner. They made me think about minorities at home, and sympathetic to the fact that they lived with this while I was basically just visiting it.

          But I am also of a generation that did not no-platform, or demand trigger warnings, and my only idea of safe spaces was staying out of seedy parts of town after dark, or being very careful if I found myself in one for some reason. Unlike a number of my younger friends, I was not raised to believe I was always right, or could not be contradicted, or punished (in schooldays), and I was taught to take the rough with the smooth. I heard plenty of anti-Catholic commentary in my life. If appropriate, I would enter debate; most of the time it was more appropriate to shrug it off. In other words, like you, I did not go about primed for being offended.

          I might have been more sympathetic to Ms. Tawengwa if her language had not been so dramatic. If she had been offended — which in the hair incident and possibly others she was vague about would have been justifiable — I might have understood. But “trauma” struck me as excessive, as did “a day to heal” and “sacred.” I have never heard anyone use that word about their person or activities except in deliberate, and good humoured, use of hyperbole. (“My weekends are sacred,” in a response to a boss who wants you in on a Saturday after you have done your M-F 9-5).

          I read a statement from the Glimmerglass people, presumably a preamble to this Town Hall they are holding virtually tomorrow, and it is full of some pretty weaselly words. They hardly seem up to the sort of admissions, or activities, Ms. Tawengwa demands. She has already pre-judged their exercise as a “masquerade,” sight unseen, in part because she would like someone to lose his livelihood because someone else was rude to her and he did not deem it a hanging offence. She speaks of “restorative justice.” What about proportional response?

          I will be tuning into this Town Hall to see if it is as bad as she predicts. But when someone is determined that the world is out to traumatise her and that she is eternally a victim, I’m not sure what they can offer that would satisfy her.

          She will not be participating but I hope she will be watching, and that she will post her response to it. I will not do what she did and anticipate her reaction.

          But based upon what she has already provided us, I have no right to any of these views, being white if not particularly privileged. Is she right? I am asking myself that, seriously. But my initial feeling is that if I have no such right, I would be self-marginalising, and I don’t see see why I should. I certainly don’t want her marginalised. However, I come from a background that says there should be give and take, and that dialogue is a good start.

          • Dieter says:

            If any group has a history of victimhood — a very real and very bitter — and very recent — one, it’s the Jewish people.

            If any other group has a history of victimhood, it’s American blacks. Very real, and very bitter, and in all too many cases, very recent.

            Couldn’t have said it better myself!

          • Araragi says:

            V.Lind – I have no comment other than to say I truly enjoyed your comment.

          • John Rook says:

            Great post.

          • MDR says:

            Oh, V. Lind. I could hug you.

        • John Rook says:

          Excellent reply.

    • Matt says:

      Perhaps you don’t have people making fun of your big nose every day. It is easy to dismiss a one-off event but black people deal with these “insensitive” comments and actions every day.

      • Araragi says:

        Matt – it’s not a contest over who is the most aggrieved and if you think it is you’ve entirely missed the point.

  • Tiredofitall says:

    What a wonderfully written narrative of your experience at with Glimmerglass. I’m so sorry for what you you had to endure, but perhaps your story will prevent future incidents from occurring. I hope “Karen” and the head of that YAP program read your post and reflect.

    Francesca is known for her voluminous emails (well, when she needs something…). She should immediately open a dialogue with you.

    P.S. On what planet in this day and age would a company perform “Showboat” and continue to use “nigger”? Come on, Glimmerglass, you can do better. Artistic choice? Would the director allow a pejorative for lesbian if confronted with the choice, whether or not it was permissible when a piece was created?

    • Larry D says:

      So if a racist character is depicted, they shouldn’t be allowed to use racist terms? Perhaps their racist actions should be sanitized also? Of course then they wouldn’t be racists, so where is the drama? Well, drama isn’t as important as making sure the actor’s feelings don’t get hurt, I suppose, especially those who can’t distinguish between the play and the reality.

    • POC says:

      Zimbabwe should never have allowed her to use her passport to venture over to such a racist country.

      Why did she willingly expose herself to any ‘white’ after clearly knowing all of the pejoratives and catchphrases she used in her facebook post (also created by a ‘white’).

      Zimbabwe has failed you dear.

  • RW2013 says:

    Red’ Sie nur nicht zu viel, Sie ist ja hübsch genug!

  • Larry D says:

    I understand the tragedy of your life. My hair, when I had it, was also sacred to me.

  • Xeum11 says:

    Reading this fills me with so much sadness. Having experienced many similar situations in my non musical line of work, I always find such stories absolutely revolting and depressing. Racism and denial of racism lash at one’s soul. The fact that there is racism in opera where the transcendence of the soul is expressed through the immanence of the voice the vibration of which comes from bodies the skin colours of which no one in their right minds should care about, makes that reality as preposterous as it is disgusting.

    • me! says:

      It’s actually more otherness and pathological self-centeredness rather than racism – I had people touching my hair without permission because it was long, or because I did something interesting to it – it is 100% offensive, assaultive and unacceptable.

    • Arthur says:

      Good, I’ll let you just be filled with sadness for me while you’re at it – saves me the trouble of having to even pretend. Maybe she should toughen up and realize it’s going to take more than a few well-placed complaints and woke wailing to get an opera career, and that she actually is a forgettable, minor singer with a tiny voice. And anyone “in their right mind” is perfectly entitled to care about skin color or anything else they choose regardless of what you think. After all, “if you don’t see race, you don’t see my struggle” – haven’t we seen that scrawled on enough semi-legible cardboard signs?

      • psych student says:

        Wow. I hope others see posts like yours and realize why we’re in this terrible situation. You can’t validate anyone else’s experience at all. Telling people who have been continually mistreated to “toughen up” is the most dysfunctional approach you could take, but I realize you don’t want to improve anything. Your defensiveness has made you blind and heartless.

  • Ramesh Nair says:

    A well-written post that effectively describes what an individual experiences of racial trauma. Also, an almost textbook description of ‘intersectionality’.

    Beyond the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, it would be germane to read this article by Jonathan Haidt for social context ( a quote – ‘by some campus guidelines it is a micro aggression to ask a Latino American or an Asian American ‘where were you born?’, as it implies the person is not a real American’) :

    There is a global epidemic of anxiety in younger people that intriguingly tracks with the rise of smartphones and Facebook, though this statement makes no claim of the validity, or otherwise, of the grievances. To extend Haidt’s and Lukianoff’s thesis ( which in large measure deals with anxiety and grievance amongst privileged white Americans of college age ) this global rise in anxiety amidst the young, exacerbated by exposure and sharing on social media, also washes against the very real grievances of minority ethnic groups. Also pertinent is the Me-Too movement.
    This young woman’s commentary exemplifies the intersection of these facets.

    • Arthur says:

      It would be germane to read a woke article? You know, go read your own articles. It staggers me to see the presumption of the woke, who assume that everyone in America is just going to pause their lives, download a bunch of BS articles by Black professors, and get right down to “doing the very hard work”. If your movement depends on Americans reading, you can forget it. As for me, I really would, but I still have a lot of Archie comics and most of an 1971 Pinto owner’s manual to get through first. I’m sure you can see how that takes priority

    • V.Lind says:

      It’s not a “woke” article. It’s a pretty good critique of the rise of snowflakery, for which the author has little time.

    • Claudia Siefer says:

      The “where were you born” question looms large for me as my brown-skinned husband will ask it freely when meeting /greeting others who remind him of himself and his homeland. In his case I think of it not as micro-aggression but as a source of connection. That said, I’ve asked him to lay off the question (well-intentioned as it is in his intent and delivery) while in mixed company , meaning white people

  • Hal Hobbs says:

    Perhaps this site should change its name to Slipped White Discs.

  • fflambeau says:

    Why is the black lady in the above photo, the one complaining about white people touching her dreadlocks, wearing fake, blue contact lenses? She also has no dreadlocks (not locs) in the photo above, so does that mean she herself cut her precious dreadlocks to get a job?

  • fflambeau says:

    “Last season the company staged the world premiere of an opera about police brutality but paired that with “Show Boat.” As Black performers, we moved between one rehearsal process where we had to relive the real trauma of police murdering Black people, to another where we had to hold the trauma of hearing our White peers calling us “Nigger” in every performance.”

    Didn’t the great Paul Robeson sing the lead in Showboat? I don’t seem to recall him making such stupid comments but he was a fighter for what was right.

    • V. Lind says:

      In recent hours I have been reading up about Glimmerglass and its doings. I read that its Artistic an General Director, Francesca Zambelli, has been very pro-active on the issue of inclusion — involving more than blacks, but certainly including (!) them — since her 2010 appointment. And as for the production that seems to have traumatised the so-easily traumatised Ms. Tawengwa, it is one of the very few operas in the repertoire that includes an all-black cast. It is about a subject that is piercingly relevant today, and it has already had a major award and was scheduled (pre-Corona) for performances at the Kennedy Centre by Washington National Opera and at the Chicago Lyric.

      I watched the Town Hall, and although buzzwords make me cringe — and they seemed to know them all — the three participants struck me as sincere and determined. And the man currently in charge of the YAP — though whether this is the person to whom Ms. Tawengwa took her complaint, I could not say — is black. If it was he, that is something she might have mentioned. It is inevitable that the matter came to his attention (Ms. Gambelli made reference to the fact of a complaint, without detail but with admission, right off the top) so it would appear that he was not sufficiently persuaded about the degree of trauma or offence to take or recommend action, at least as regards firing himself or another.

      From her account, the housemate was rude and insensitive, and maybe more. If rudeness and insensitivity are so traumatic to her, she is in for a very rocky life. But I got no feeling that these people were performing a masquerade, as she decreed in advance that it would be. I am left wondering what it would take to satisfy her.

      I am more interested in when I might get a chance to see and hear Blue. From that review I found, it could become a very valuable addition to the operatic repertoire (I hope the music is good — the review unsurprisingly concentrates on its theme) and one that could bring a lot of people into an opera house that had never ventured there before. Which is enough for many a company to look hard at adding it to its seasons to come.

      I have come away from this, so far, with a growing regard for Glimmerglass, to the point that I may check out its next scheduled Town Halls. About the fact that it has publicly associated itself with Black Lives Matter on its website signals its intentions, whether they are new or not.

      • Art Cohen says:

        We just want to go enjoy the shows we’re paying to see.

        We don’t care about your perceived or real problems.

        We really don’t want to get entrenched in SJW causes or listen to only one group.

        Just get over yourselves and get to work like I do and my father did even after surviving the holocaust.

        You’re entertainers for God’s sakes!!

      • MNK says:

        I’m glad you watched the town hall. I thought they did a good job explaining the MANY steps they have already taken in this area, and what they plan to do in the future, which is MUCH more than other companies are doing. The plan to have an outside party conduct an investigation into the matter is wise.

        Just FYI, Eric Owens, the singer/black man you identified as the head of the YAP is NOT the man who has been accused. He is more of an “executive level” artistic advisor. The man who has been accused is a young, white man who I happen to know well and respect a great deal. I’ve experienced his empathy, professionalism, and collegiality first-hand for many years and find this account very surprising. (I should note here that I am a white woman – and I acknowledge that I experience things fundamentally differently than black people.)I’m not discounting her story, but I await the results of the third-party investigation eagerly. There is most definitely another side to this.

  • AndrewB says:

    In defence of ‘ Showboat’ it was the first musical to place white performers and black performers on stage together . A key point in the plot is the arrest of Julie Laverne simply for being born of a mixed marriage. The show contains an anthem / a cry for freedom song in ‘ Ol’ man river.’ Just read the verse ( and there have been adjusted versions) but I believe one was ‘ Coloured folks work on the Mississippi …..while the white man plays.’ Can you imagine the bravery of the composer , librettist and cast of those first performances?
    There are a lot of insults in opera librettos , just as there are in plays – often used to build sympathy for a character who is an ‘outsider’ excuded or misunderstood in some way. Certain words really offend us now , we try to find alternatives.
    While it may hurt to hear such things as an artist on stage , I can only believe that the performance of a piece like Showboat promotes awareness of prejudice. There is nothing ‘ token’ about that show. It went as far as could be dared within its racial context and time.
    However , I can understand that appearing in the show combined with an opera about police brutality makes great emotional demands – surely this should be discussed by all parties at the time when contracts are negotiated?
    I am so saddened to hear of this person’s experiences.

    • Wasn’t Showboat written by a Jewish person?

    • Arthur says:

      I’m so not saddened, and nobody is “brave” by being in a production of Showboat. You’ve signaled enough virtue for today, pick up your illegibly lettered cardboard sign and move on. Surely there’s a gender activism protest or something that desperately needs your “solidarity”! Hurry now, maybe you can score an Hermès bag, or at least a 12-pack of Target off-brand Little Debbie snack cakes. Because body positivity, too, right?

      • Andrea says:

        Why do you keep mentioning illegible signs? You’ve already told us you’re proud to be an American who doesn’t read. In other words, a low information voter. That and your reference to looting and obesity says a lot more about you than the protesters.

        • Arthur says:

          Good to know you read my posts. 😉

          • Andrea says:

            I read everyone’s posts. I actually want to understand people who hold racist views so I can hopefully challenge them without causing them to immediately get defensive.

      • Marina Harris says:

        Arthur, you know the vast majority of opera singers are extremely liberal, right? We don’t want you at the opera. Please do us all a favor, and stay home, forever.

        • #walkaway says:

          Not all opera singers are Liberals Marina.

          For the ones who are or simply “going along with the crowd”; they need to think for themselves right now.

          What are Democrats doing for you right now “in your time of need”??

          No political leader, union, opera house is reaching out to them and helping with meaningful financial support.

          The opera industry (among others) isn’t THERE for anybody but THEMSELVES!

          Instead of misplaced blame on President Trump, you need to realize YOUR OWN KIND AREN’T HELPING YOU!!! Simply stoking your people’s anger while you USE them is exploitation.

          Those on the Left are obviously too emotionally FRAGILE to formulate a cogent viewpoint! Big talking points won’t cut it when you’re about to go hungry and homeless. Instead of being easily manipulated, you need to demand action from those you elected who are in power to help you now!

          There’s no work on for you, nothing to put on your calendars; so ask yourselves what voting “blue” has done for you???


          It’s time to stop complaining and simply #WALKAWAY

          • Joe says:

            Upset about the tiny turnout at Coronapalooza?

          • Bill says:

            It’s the Left spreading the virus in those Hitler-like gatherings so, less Dems..GREAT!

            They always collapse from the inside anyway.

            What difference at this point does it make?!?! (said the sexless, powerless, old hag)

  • Doug says:

    Left eats Left. Pass the popcorn!

  • Arthur says:

    Incidentally: anyone who would make these sort of “complaints”, typed at this length, is undoubtedly here breathlessly reading the comments. Yes, Tanya, I mean you. Can I suggest you pursue a promotional partnership with Kleenex- it would be useful with all your weeping about people touching your hair (quelle horreur!) and it’s sure to be “on-brand” with your “white tears” hypocrisy.

    • V. Lind says:

      Now, now…that post took a “huge amount of emotional, intellectual and spiritual labor [sic].”

      And I agree — the term “white tears” is repulsive. Not to say racist.

  • Eric says:

    White man speaking here, asserting his privilege: She may be from ZImbabwe but she has certainly mastered all the pc buzzwords which substitute for real thought. I hope she has recovered from all that violence.

    And hair touching – no African American I knew ever mentioned this “taboo”. Maybe it’s an African thing, like ritual fly swatters.

  • Grace O'Malley says:

    There are many of her performances on YouTube. Here is one:

    She is also a composer and a fine pianist, has an excellent soprano voice, and performs in a wide variety of styles. She changes her appearance a lot too (especially the hair). In fact, her appearance varies so much from one performance to another (especially the hair), that I wasn’t always sure if it was the same person.

    She is talented enough to get rid of the gigantic chip on her shoulder, and ignore the nay-sayers. Many, many black (or is it now, Black? Or BLACK?) singers have been able to have major careers.

    • MDR says:

      As someone who spends their working days listening to singers, I wouldn’t call that an “excellent” voice.

      And as a pianist, I can confirm that that is not a “fine” piano technique.

  • Tiredofitall says:

    Boy, the lack of understanding and empathy in these posts is appalling. And we wonder how many of the atrocities of the 20th century were able to occur. Fasten your seat belts, regrettably.

    • V. Lind says:

      There may be some, and can’t interpret people’s intentions. But I think I am not alone in wondering if she was somewhat over-reacting, and that that is what is reducing the empathy quotient.

      • eric says:

        She also conflates racism and cultural insensitivity. If you overplay the racist card ultimately no one will listen.

    • Just let them go! says:

      Image what caucasian singers still have to endure after all this time??

      Norman needs to exploit this topic as well so readers can maintain their balanced viewpoints since people are so ignorant of operatic history.

      The answer is to commence the permanent closings of major opera houses where problems already have occurred. They’re only coasting on donations from white people as it is and can’t begin to open.

  • Austin says:

    I occasionally lurk the comments section, but the immediately judgmental dismissals by many (some of whom colleagues) amplifies not just a sense of insecure apathy to hearing another account of discrimination but also a direct attack on a person’s character of whom y’all are unlikely to have ever encountered in your life. Learn something new, challenge yourself, and acknowledge that there are things in the world that need to be expressed and fixed. We can tell the difference between wanting peace and wanting quiet, and sadly any dingus can tell y’all are more interested in the latter.

    Consider taking a long look in the mirror before you make another knee jerk reaction, because your wisdom of “suck it up and move on” can most likely be better applied to yourself. Don’t be a snowflake.

    Dear Norman, as much as we recognize your sensationalist journalism rivals the Daily Mail, we thank you for giving Tanyaradzwa a large platform to eloquently and incisively air necessary grievances.

  • Hypocrite says:

    I don’t think that she is overreacting. There is one very objective piece of evidence to convince me and that is that they used the “n” word in Showboat. I have never encountered a modern production of Showboat that dared use the original lyrics. I am stunned that no one spoke up or complained about this at the time of production and Francesca Zambello should have to answer for this very bad decision!

    • Parrot Road says:

      That’s it in a nutshell. “Dared to use the original lyrics”. Showboat has no meaning if you don’t “dare to use the original lyrics.” It’s not meant to be pretty-pretty. It’s about a specific time & place. No lessons can be taken from it without the brutal reality of the original.

  • Karl says:

    “the impropriety of touching a black person’s hair. ” Is it only black people? Why only black people?

    • Arthur says:

      I believe so. I’m white. Touch my hair, or what’s left of it. It would be kind of weird, but what’s the problem?

  • Marina Harris says:

    I am disappointed but not shocked by the numerous racist, ignorant, petty comments left by “opera fans” on this thread.

    If you actually loved opera, you would care about your singers. You would believe them. You would support them.

    I am a white soprano, but I’ve seen racism against Black singers in my line of work too many times to count.

    How dare you tell a Black woman how to feel or respond to something YOU HAVE NEVER EXPERIENCED.

    Either you love opera and value the opinions of its singers, no matter the color of their skin, or you don’t. Period.

    • Arthur says:

      Nonsense. All these singers are REPLACEABLE. Utterly replaceable. They make more every day – they didn’t even stop for Corona 😉

      I love opera enough not to get caught up on the this and that of the various singers. I’m there for the show and the whole tradition. I don’t need to “value” or even know the opinions of its singers – in fact, show me someone who’s *not* a singer who actually cares about the opinions of singers. Singers are singers are singers – the world revolves around them, and Tanya proves that in oh so timely a fashion. So yeah, don’t tell me how to “feel or respond to something” either.

      I’m not so sure, by the way, that anyone needs to “support” singers because they love opera. For what? Let the system sort itself out. Some win, some lose, some make it to the stage, some are the ones you end up hearing and some you don’t. That’s that and I’ll take it as it’s delivered to me. No one worried about “supporting” in the days of Patti and Caruso….

    • V. Lind says:

      Are you suggesting we value every thing every singer ever says? That because I like opera its practitioners are to be deemed to be always right?

      Where were you when there were singers complaining about Placido Domingo’s behaviour?

      I don’t think anyone here has told this lady how to feel or respond, and I daresay most of us have experienced some injustices in our lives, though I would not contend that in the societies I live in I have experienced anything comparable to what many, if not most, minorities experience daily, let alone anything as extreme as some of the excesses we are all painfully aware of.

      My problem with her post, as I have indicated in several of my own, is her intemperate language and an attitude that seems recalcitrant. To be fair, I’m sure that is what she found in the man to whom she appealed, and there was obviously no meeting of the minds over her complaint. None of us here is in any position to assess the rights and wrongs of what she experienced. My point is that she did not present a case that is overwhelmingly convincing, because she seems unwilling to see any point but her own. That’s not a stance I value in anyone.

  • KJN says:

    Ha ha wow, to everyone who is doing anything other than completely supporting this singer: I came here for the white tears and gosh did you guys deliver! As someone who works in this industry, yes, this problem is systemic and seriously hampers to the careers of so many singers of color who are extremely talented. Your discomfort with their candor about this experience is so telling. Feel free to get mad at me and tell me I’m coddled, but you all look foolish now and will look even worse in about 50 years. P.S. In literally any situation, touching someone without their permission is absolutely wrong, I’m not quite sure why anyone thinks that’s acceptable!!!

    • Bone says:

      I came hear for the white knighting / kneeling / supplication, and boy, did you deliver!
      In the immortal words of Hulka, “Lighten Up, Francis.”

      • KJN says:

        Lordy, the response is even better. Bravo! Your compete obtuseness and barefaced white privilege would be so funny if it wasn’t part of this very serious issue. Congrats for being part of the problem, though. So exciting! Making history.

  • Marshall says:

    We know Lebrecht will put any attention grabbing story or apparently Facebook on this site-and in some, some cases justified.

    You could fault Zambello in other areas-but the Glimmerglass Opera’s social consciousness, out reach on issues, endless seminars etc., sensitivity to race, PC to a fault, etc. etc. is all there.

    I wonder if the NYT article will get the same attention here.

    My Journey to Writing an Opera About Police Violence

  • Margaret Choo says:

    She sounds real touchy … although touching other people’s hair without permission is extremely odd, if it did happen … also she is confusing representation with endorsement when the N word is used theatrically … a real snowflake

    • Bone says:

      Concise summary of normal feelings prior to current climate of offensensitivity. Bravo. And agree 100%

  • Vis a vis the vociferous and mostly judicial commentary here on the Jewish People and People of Color, both are resilient People, We have overcome and will continue to overcome, hopefully not by any means necessary. In the end, it’s about survival, and certainly Jews know what it means to survive. The point I am trying to make is that collectively and individually People _ “Menschheit” must leave behind a viable legacy for those who will come after us. We all inherited a rich legacy from those who came before us, and I feel that as a Jewish person, I don’t wish that legacy to be only the horror of the Holocaust. I am always bewildered by the ugly fact that Human Beings can’t work together even though we seem to have the same goals. Those goals being a decent quality of life, and learning and growing and creating…those inalienable rights…but we all seem to get in the way of each other’s achieving those rights. I will be 70 years old this year and have lived through what I consider to be some pretty interesting times, I’ve learned a lot, but will never understand Mankind’s lack of acceptance toward our inherent differences, and what passes for human nature. Myself included. And most tragically because of our intolerance to diversity, however and when it was learned, closes a lot of doors and at the same time opens other doors better left unopened.