Friday, July 20, 2012

Broad Street Review: Maria Thompson Corley asks 'Can Black Opera Save Classical Music?'

[Donnie Ray Albert]

John Malveaux of sends this link:

Broad Street Review

For whom the black operatic bell tolls


Everyone loves Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, I noted last year in BSR. (See “Black opera: Struggle and strategy.”) But I asked: Will white audiences ever expand their listening menu to operas by black composers? And how can black musicians help push the envelope?

Anthony Davis’s 2010 opera X— based on the life of Malcolm X— was a great success for the New York City Opera, but it hasn’t been revived. His opera Amistad focused on the same slave ship rebellion that inspired the Steven Spielberg film. According to Davis, schoolchildren who attended his Amistad preferred it to the movie. Yet today Davis is mostly writing chamber works.

This problem has lately been reinforced by the ludicrous notion that the age of great black opera singers— which began with Marian Anderson and extended through Leontyne Price, Grace Bumbry, Shirley Verrett, Kathleen Battle, Jessye Norman, Leona Mitchell and Simon Estes— is over. Denyce Graves is probably as close to a household name as you can find today in this category.

This is absurd, as I discovered while listening to the abundance of gorgeous performances during the recent convention of the African American Art Song Alliance. Listen, for example, to Donnie Ray Albert as Amonasro in Verdi’s Aida on YouTube and tell me he isn’t one of the world’s great bass-baritones. 

1 comment:

Gwen said...

This point is a long-standing question, opinion and frustration for me. I agree that extending knowledge and programming of grand opera--in contemporary form is vital, but, as a classical trained singer of, primarily, art song who never reached to the operatic stage, I submit that it is important that all classical/school music be an important vehicle for people of color. We have the vocal ranges, and accoutrements for the field. Just as Asian instrumentalists are outstanding proponents of classical musical, today, so should we--in every area of the music. I've sometimes heard a potentially fine voice in "pop music" and wished that person could find the classics and study. What's the point,if you can't buy bread and pay the rent? We have a tremendous work to do.