About Us

We are a platform for conversations on the history, experiences, politics and practices of Black Opera.

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Black female singer

Our Approach

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.

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

Opera & Race

The relationship between opera and race

Operatic Activities

Operatic activities, both historical and current, that challenge the perceived whiteness of opera as genre

Operatic Cultures

Operatic cultures that extend the boundaries of traditional, or canonic Western opera

We Hope To:

As we tackle these broader discussions that span many aspects, we hope to:

Contribute

We hope to contribute to the expanding discourse on alternative operatic cultures

Advocate

Advocate for an inclusive, socially responsive and responsible critical scholarship

Facilitate

Facilitate dialogue between scholars, and between scholars and practitioners

Develop

Develop and curate resources for teaching and research on Black operatic activity around the world

Female recording music

Our Critical Concerns

BORN explores ongoing dialogue and thorough open conversations.

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Black experiences in opera

Black experiences in opera: perspectives from South Africa, Europe, and the US

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Africa and the Diaspora

Africa and the diaspora on the contemporary opera stage

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Politics of Place

The operatic enterprise and the racialized politics of place

Meet The Team

We’ve assembled a diverse group of contributors from across the globe!

Naomi André

Naomi André

Professor | Musicology

Naomi André is David G. Frey Distinguished Professor in the Department of Music at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. She received her B.A. from Barnard College and M.A. and PhD. from Harvard University.  Her research focuses on opera and issues surrounding gender, voice and race.

Lena van der Hoven

Lena van der Hoven

Assistant Professor | Musicology

PhD in Musicology from the Humboldt University of Berlin for a dissertation on the Politics of Musical Representation in Prussia from 1688 to 1797. She was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Max Planck Institute for Human Development. Since 2016 she has been a member of the Young Scholars’ Program of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

Wayne Muller

Wayne Muller

PhD | Musicology

PhD degree in Musicology from Stellenbosch University with a thesis titled, A reception history of opera in Cape Town: Tracing the development of a distinctly South African operatic aesthetic (1985–2015). This study revisited the historiography of opera in South Africa and traced changes in the performance practices and views on the performed works.

Michael Mohammed

Michael Mohammed

Director | Musical Theatre Ensemble

His dissertation used narrative inquiry to explore the use of vocal technique as a means of personal and cultural expression by elite Black opera and musical theatre singers. His research continues to look at the representation of persons with marginalized identities in operatic and theatrical performance. 

Mia Pistorius

Mia Pistorius

Global Research Fellow

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Global Research Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies, University College London, and the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Her research centres around Western art music in apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa, and incorporates interests in voice, race, coloniality, and political resistance.

Hilde Roos

Hilde Roos

General Manager | Africa Open Institute of Music

Her research concerns historical and contemporary representations of opera in South Africa with special reference to the intersection of the genre with politics and race. Her PhD dissertation focused on the indigenization of opera in South Africa. She has held postdoctoral fellowships at Stellenbosch University and UNISA. 

Allison Smith

Allison Smith

PhD Candidate | Boston University

B.A. in Saxophone Performance from the University of Mary Washington in 2014, and an M.M. from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in Historical Musicology in 2017. Her current work focuses on contemporary South African opera, primarily in relation to race and the diaspora of South African singers who move abroad for work. 

Donato Somma

Donato Somma

Lecturer | Wits University

Teaching in the undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in Music he also engages with interdisciplinary teaching across artistic disciplines in the broader School of Arts and humanities. Opera, as inherently interdisciplinary, is both model and subject for reading cultural history from multiple critical perspectives. 

Kristen Turner

Kristen Turner

Lecturer | North Carolina State University

PhD in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research centers on race and class in American middlebrow musical culture at the turn of the twentieth century. She is co-author with Horace Maxile of Race and Gender in the Western Music History Survey: A Teacher’s Guide (2022).’

Joy H. Calico

Joy H. Calico

Professor|Musicology

University Distinguished Professor and Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Musicology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee (USA). Her scholarship focuses on the interdisciplinary study of Cold War cultural politics and on opera since 1900. She is the author of two monographs – Arnold Schoenberg’s ‘A Survivor from Warsaw’ in Postwar Europe (2014) and Brecht at the Opera (2008)

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