New York’s Met Opera discards ‘blackface’ in Otello

Opera house ends a century-old tradition

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The New York Metropolitan Opera announced this week that for its latest production of Verdi’s Otello there would be no blacking up of the title character. Alexandrs Antonenko, the Latvian, white tenor will take on Verdi’s challenging role in September without ‘blackface’.

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After public dismay and outcry at last winter’s publicity shots featuring the singer wearing bronze make up (albeit in shadow), the company’s defence of his casting over black singers is that ‘Antonenko is among a small handful of dramatic tenors who can meet the considerable musical challenges of the role.’ The publicity images themselves were created independently of the current designs for the production.

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General manager of the Met, Peter Gelb, said in an interview that ‘It’s a sensitive issue… it’s a decision that has evolved over time’. A regular favourite of the opera house, Otello has indeed been performed at the Met for over a century, the last production being in 2012 with Johan Botha taking the lead role. According to their website, this 2015 production brings the action forward to the late 19th century, set in a glass palace.