Sep 14 2022


11:00 am - 1:00 pm

Structural Barriers to Black Participation in Opera

Time: 14 September 2022; 11:00 EST / 17:00 CAT


Ronald Smith (USA), Advisor and Project Planner for Denyce Graves Foundation
Tanyaradzwa Mkhanazi (Zimbabwe/USA), Director of Mushandirapamwe Singers; CEO of Zimbabwe KIDS camp
Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi (South Africa), Soprano

On 23 June 2021, news emerged of acclaimed South African soprano Pretty Yende’s detainment at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, France. Yende’s experience echoes reports by other Black singers of having to prove to border police in countries where they are contracted to perform that they are, in fact, musicians. These instances of racial profiling are part of a catalogue of obstacles Black opera practitioners face before they even get to the stage: others include insurmountable administrative processes including visa requirements and travel restrictions; the financial and archival work involved in reconstructing and bringing to performance works by Black composers; and economic and infrastructural circumstances in countries of origin (such as lack of access to reliable internet or electricity) that often impede long-distance negotiation or preparation. Global structures of exclusion and inequality continue to undercut efforts to cast more Black singers and to programme works by Black composers. This further impedes opera’s long-overdue reparative work. In this panel, moderated by BORN member Donato Somma, we listen to four Black opera professionals from South Africa, the US, Zimbabwe, and the UK, who will detail their experiences of structural obstacles to participation. Together, we’ll begin to think through possible solutions to the challenges.

Talking points included:

  • Operatic reform and the issue of so-called ‘national security’
  • Institutional responsibility towards contracted artists
  • Programming and the challenge of archival reconstruction
  • The deceptive gains of the digital era


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