The Voice of Black Opera: A vision for a diverse UK opera sector
After a 2016 report revealed how opera was ‘shockingly monocultural’, diversity on UK stages is improving.
Yehuda Shapiro looks at how the industry is catching up with other areas of the performing arts. She also talks to the founder of a competition set up to promote rising BAME opera stars.
In 1961, the young Missouri-born mezzo-soprano Grace Bumbry caused both a sensation and a scandal. She became the first black singer to appear at the Bayreuth Festival. Wieland Wagner, who cast her in Tannhauser, countered the reactionaries by declaring that his grandfather composed “for vocal colour, not skin colour”.
Bumbry herself recently told the BBC she was “standing up for my people from the point of view of racial equality in the arts. I had my job to do, I was chosen for this role in this place and I wasn’t going to let myself down.” She added: “There’s no reason for me to back away from something I can do.”
At 80, she remains active as a teacher and mentor. She is also, with Lord Boateng, a patron of the Black British Classical Foundation. This is the charity tackling the under-representation of ethnic minorities in opera. It has just announced the 2018 Voice of Black Opera competition.
Finals are scheduled for October 2018. The competition aims to showcase “the Commonwealth’s finest up-and-coming BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic] opera singers”.
Radical action required
Vincent Osborne, artistic director of the Black British Classical Foundation, says: “The Voice of Black Opera is about more than finding fabulous voices. It is about demystifying, inspiring, and creating platforms. Talent has to be grown across the board”.
British-born singers from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, are also part of the mix. A report published last year, Opera Training for Singers in the UK, revealed the “shockingly monocultural” nature of the operatic sector.
It even concluded that the situation for singers from minority ethnic backgrounds “has not improved…There is a strong sense… that radical action is now required.”
TNT Arts & Culture
Photo Credit: US Federal Goverment