What is Black? What is Opera? What is the Black Opera Research Network (BORN)?

We use as a starting point a construction of Blackness that comes out of Black Opera: History, Power, Engagement (2018, 6). Black opera is meant to chart a terrain in interdisciplinary opera studies that attends to the racialised politics of contemporary and historical cultural formations. In addition to Black composers and singers, it can also include a historical context and political directive for having Black voices tell their own stories and become full participants in a genre that had been closed through segregation. Calling something Black opera might imply that there is a white opera or other identity-related operas: this is not our intention. This website is not the last word on what Black opera is, but it is an important starting point for how we can reinvent a term to include new voices, narratives, and experiences.

BORN wishes to serve as a platform for conversations on the history, experiences, politics, and practices of Black opera. Recent ongoing scholarship increasingly calls for such a platform, as the long presence of Black creativity in opera comes gradually, and often painfully, into focus in public and academic spheres. The range of music, contexts and experiences call into question all assumptions about even the most basic terms of reference: How do we define opera? What constitutes Blackness? And why do we need to define Black opera?

These questions are complex, and their responses as varied as the experiences of those who relate to them. Rather than fixing definitions for, or interpretations of, BORN’s critical terms of reference, we would like to approach these issues openly, and in dialogue with practitioners and scholars from a range of contexts. Our open enquiry is one that invites conversation with those in Black opera as a lived reality and scholarly endeavor.

Currently, this website does not incorporate operatic activity from Latin America, Asia, India, and many other spaces that have developed robust opera traditions in their own right, nor does it attend directly to Indigenous American or Indigenous Australian opera. We acknowledge that these spheres cannot be separated entirely from formations and articulations of Black experience, not least from a postcolonial and decolonial point of view. But we are also aware that a one-size-fits-all model of academic inquiry risks silencing the enormous diversity and specificity of operatic experience represented by agents from different contexts. We look forward to expanding our critical frame as the network grows.

The Black Opera Research Network explores opera both inside and outside the traditional structures of the West. Our critical interests, broadly conceived, include:

  • the relationship between opera and race
  • operatic activities, both historical and current, that challenge the perceived whiteness of opera as genre
  • operatic cultures that extend the boundaries of traditional, or canonic Western opera

We aim:

  • to contribute to the expanding discourse on alternative operatic cultures
  • to advocate an inclusive, socially responsive and responsible critical scholarship
  • to facilitate dialogue between scholars, and between scholars and practitioners
  • to develop and curate resources for teaching and research on black operatic activity around the world

We propose to explore BORN’s critical concerns through the following open conversations:

  • Black experiences in opera: perspectives from South Africa, Europe, and the US: August 21, 2020, 11am EDT / 4pm BST / 5pm CEST
  • Africa and the Diaspora on the Contemporary Opera Stage
  • The Operatic Enterprise and the Racialized Politics of Place

See the Events section for more information

This site is a project in the making, but we invite you to take a look around. If you’d like to get involved with BORN or have comments on the website, feel free to get in touch using the contact form, or drop any of the Team members a line! We’d be happy to hear from you.