Databases and Artist Support Services
Afrocentric Voices in ‘Classical’ Music
Created by soprano and researcher Randye Jones in 1998, this site features biographies of important African-American opera singers, a chronology of major events and accomplishments by African-American singers, and a list of libraries and research centres that house collections by and about African American musicians. The site also features a database of African-American singers currently active as students, educators, or professionals: https://www.afrovoices.com/futurevoices.html.
Black British Cultural Foundation
A charity founded by soprano Grace Bumbry, British MP Lord Boateng, and campaigner Vincent Osborne. The Black British Cultural Foundation aimed to address the underrepresentation of ethnic minorities in British classical music, especially by means of ‘The Voice of Black Opera’ competition.
Please note this organisation currently appears to be dormant.
Black Central Europe
‘We bring you over a thousand years of Black history in the German-speaking lands and show you why it matters right now.’ This site traces the long history of the Black diaspora in central Europe, from 1000 AD to the present day. Though not focused specifically on opera (or music), the website’s resources do contain some information relating to Black singers on the continent. The ‘Entertainers’ category on the interactive map is particularly illuminating in this regard.
An organisation founded in 2018 by Jonathan Estabrooks and Miranda Plant, to support the creation of a new feature-length documentary, Black Opera, committed to celebrating Black American opera history. Between 1 June and 31 August 2020, Black Opera presented a weekly live broadcast hosted by Kenneth Overton and featuring a number of guests discussing Black operatic activities. The recordings are available on Youtube and Facebook.
An in-progress list of Black operas researched and maintained by Allison Lewis and Nicholas Newton. The document covers six categories: 1. Operas by Black composers; 2. Operas by non-Black composers, which tackle issues of race concerning the Black experience; 3. Operas by non-Black composers that have (a) Black character(s); 4. Oratorio and concert works that involve the voice, written by Black composers; 5. Concert works by non-Black composers, which tackle issues of race concerning the Black experience; 6. Musicals by Black composers who have also written operas. This work is subject to intellectual copyright restrictions; this database should not be formally cited. Should you wish to circulate, promote, or add to the list, get in touch with Allison Lewis and Nicholas Newton (available for non-commercial purposes only) at email@example.com.
Black Opera Alliance
Black Opera Alliance was created in 2020 ‘to empower Black classical artists and administrators by exposing systems of racial inequity and under-representation in the industry and challenging institutions to implement drastic reform’. It is a site for activism, advocacy, and practical support on behalf of Black opera practitioners.
Black Women in Opera
B.W.I.O. was established by Renee Ombaba in January 2020 ‘to highlight the past and present achievements of black opera singers’. It offers a community to Black opera singers, and shares information on auditions, workshops, and performances. The organisation also offers educational initiatives for younger listeners.
Coalition for African Americans in the Performing Arts
A non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting African-American performers and expanding audiences throughout the USA. The site features a short section on composers and musicians of African ancestry who performed in Europe, North America and Latin America from the 16th to the 20th Century.
The Classical Color Line
A news article written by Greg Sandow for the Village Voice in 1997. Apart from the information contained in the article, the site is valuable for linking to extracts from interviews Sandow conducted with African-American opera singers, in which they reflect on the racism and prejudice they have faced throughout their careers.
Utah Opera’s Timeline of Black Opera History
A chronological account of some important dates and events in the history of Black operatic activity, mainly in the USA. The site provides short biographical details of important Black singers from the past, and links to the personal websites of a few current stars.
Voices of South Africa
A non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting South African opera singers through education, training, audience development, community engagement, and advocacy. The Voices of South Africa Trust runs an annual competition open to singers resident in South Africa. Talented candidates, regardless of experience or education, enjoy workshops and masterclasses before competing for a number of prizes.
Who’s Who in the World of HBCU Opera Stars
More than the Band – Pt 2
These two resources are both part of The Hundred-Seven, a site dedicated to the promotion of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). ‘Who’s Who in the World of HBCU Opera Stars’ is a biographical list of opera singers who have been educated at HBCU’s; ‘More than the Band’ provides a list of HBCU that offer training for opera singers.
Women in Music
Established in 1985 in New York City, Women in Music advances ‘the awareness, equality, diversity, heritage, opportunities, and cultural aspects of women in the musical arts through education, support, empowerment, and recognition.’ The organization encompasses chapters around the world, including 14 in the USA, and several further afield, including India, Brazil, and Japan. A South Africa chapter was established in August 2020.
Americolor Opera Alliance (USA)
A company based in Atlanta, GA, which celebrates American music and culture by presenting operas ‘based upon American or Afrocentric culture and experiences’. The company was founded by composer Sharon J. Willis.
Amplified Opera (Canada)
A collective of opera artists focusing on opera and equity, based out of Toronto.
Arcola Theatre (UK)
Based in London, Arcola Theatre promotes new and diverse talent in theatre. The Arcola Lab programme offers free rehearsal space to BAME and refugee artists, while the annual Grimeborn Festival provides a platform for young and diverse opera companies, with innovative staging and affordable ticketing.
Harlem Opera Theater (USA)
A company dedicated to the provision of performance opportunities for gifted artists in Harlem and other ‘communities where opera is seldom performed’. Harlem Opera Theater focuses especially on works by African-American composers and productions that cross generic boundaries.
Houston Ebony Opera (USA)
Founded by Dr. Robert A. Henry (1916-1996), Houston Ebony Opera Guild describes its mission as ‘providing performance and on-going professional development opportunities for African-American choral and opera singers form Houston and the nation; to foster, in broad-based audiences, an appreciation of opera and concert music including the African American spiritual; and to sustain and expand the African American presence in voice-associated classical music in general.’
I Colori dell’opera (USA)
An opera company based in Houston, which aims to increase representation, especially of minorities in the opera community, on the operatic stage. I Colori dell’Opera was founded by soprano Errin Michelle Hatter. The company also supports HVSS—the Houston-based Vocal Pedagogy Scenes Program for Singers.
Isango Ensemble (South Africa)
Founded in 2000, Isango Ensemble is a Cape Town-based opera and theatre company renowned for innovative new productions, and for reimagining Western canonical works in a South African idiom. The company prioritises empowering disadvantaged young people from the country’s township communities.
Johannesburg Opera Company (South Africa)
A ‘performing arts and entertainment company focusing on opera related productions, concerts and events’. Johannesburg Opera mostly advertises itself as offering a range of potpourri-style events for corporate clients. Though the company’s repertoire includes a range of genres, its main focus appears to be operatic.
Mosaic Opera Collective (UK)
A company of Black and Asian artists committed to diversifying and reinvigorating opera through the creation of new works. They were featured at the 2018 Grimeborn Festival.
Please note that this company currently appears to be dormant.
National Negro Opera Company (USA)
Founded in 1941 by Mary Cardwell Dawson, the National Negro Opera Company is the first exclusively African-American opera company in the United States. It was initially based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and later moved to Washington, DC. The company, which undertook numerous national tours, disbanded with Dawson’s death in 1962.
Please note that the above is not a website for the organisation, but a link to the National Negro Opera Company collection at the Library of Congress, Washington DC.
Native Earth Performing Arts (Canada)
Canada’s oldest professional Indigenous theatre company, based in Toronto. In 2018, they created I Call Myself Princess, a play by Jani Lauzon about Indigenous people and their relationship to opera, particularly as mediated by the Indianist movement (https://www.nativeearth.ca/princess/ ).
NitroVoX is an a cappella group that performs works that focus on the African diaspora through genres such as opera, drama, gospel, and music theatre. Founded by Felix Cross, the group was initially part of a separate music theatre group, NITRO, as musical contributors. The group has taken part in several tours and participated in the premiere of Odaline de la Martinez’s opera, Imoinda, in 2019.
An opera company based in New Orleans, which is dedicated ‘to researching and performing lost or rarely performed works by composers of African descent’. OperaCréole especially promotes performers and composers with ties to New Orleans.
Opera Ebony (USA)
Founded in 1973, Opera Ebony is a professional African-American opera company based in New York City. It is the longest-surviving African-American opera company in American history, and is renowned for numerous world premieres and commissions, including operas about abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.
Opera Noire of New York (USA)
An opera company based in New York city, which is dedicated to the advancement of African American classical singers and practitioners.
Opera North, Inc. (USA)
Active for 40 years, ONI provides performance opportunities for classical musicians from underserved communities, and seeks to bring opera to more racially diverse audiences. The company runs a number of education and outreach programmes, including ‘Opera Goes to the Library’, ‘Opera in Schools’, and ‘Opera for Seniors’.
Pegasus Opera Company (UK)
Founded in London in 1992, Pegasus Opera is a touring company whose mission is to create performances and work opportunities for Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic artists from all backgrounds, while also engaging in audience development and outreach.
Short Black Opera (Australia)
Short Black Opera Company is an Indigenous not-for-profit company based in Melbourne, Australia, which trains and provides performance opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander performing artists.
South Shore Opera Company (USA)
Based in Chicago since 2009, South Shore Opera Company provides opportunities for professional artists of color, especially local Black artists. It also offers a springboard for new works by composers and librettists of color.
Thee Black Swan Theatre and Opera Company (UK)
An opera and theatre company aimed at providing Black actors and singers with performance platforms, apprentice opportunities, and appropriate compensation for their labour.
The Third World Bunfight (South Africa)
A Cape Town-based company formed specifically to present the works of South African artist Brett Bailey. Productions include newly composed and canonic operas, music theatre, and multimedia art installations.
Township Opera Company (South Africa)
A Cape Town-based company (founded in 2018) whose members are established singers from the townships around the city. Each of the 24 members owns an equal share in the company, and therefore fulfils a triple role as performer, shareholder and director. Township Opera Company’s performances currently centre around recitals, rather than full productions.
Trilogy: An Opera Company (USA)
Based in Newark, NJ, Trilogy: An Opera Company is ‘a non-profit opera company that functions as a festival’. The company foregrounds works by black composers as well as compositions that are reflective of black experiences. It prioritises diversity in its casting and hiring practices.
Ubuntu Opera Company (South Africa)
A Cape Town-based opera company founded in 2019, which seeks to create a professional platform for South African opera singers to enable them to build careers without having to seek work abroad. To date, the company’s productions have mostly centred on vocal recitals; a full production of Juan Burgers’s opera Ubuntu was planned for 2020.
Umculo (South Africa)
Umculo was founded in 2010 by Shirley Apthorp. In addition to producing opera and music theatre, the organization prioritizes social change and educational outreach. Umculo has toured internationally, conducted workshops in local townships, and constructed international relationships.