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Planned events

Africa and the Diaspora on the Contemporary Opera Stage

Details to be confirmed

Black politics is in a phase of global renewal and alliance-forming, with TikTok activists engaged in #BlackLivesMatter and Hong Kong protests, repurposing social media platforms to diverse causes. Colonial, Confederate and slave trader memorial statuary has fallen from Cape Town to Bristol, signaling global trends in protest and resistance to long-established hegemonies. Artists and audiences are also listening outside traditionally assigned genres, and this listening is not merely random, but signals new identity formations. Contemporary opera has heard voices of both a renewed black polity and the willingness to work outside inherited genres. Likewise, however, composers and practitioners are embracing opera as ‘traditional’ form, to reinscribe it with previously untold narratives and meanings. In what ways are Africa and its diaspora telling their own stories on the contemporary opera stage?

Talking points may include, but won’t be limited to:

  • operatic adaptation of existing works (within and across genres)
  • the re-appropriation of contentious forms
  • formal experiments, such as Mthwakazi’s Xhopera
  • ‘traditional’ opera by black creators
  • opera and/as activism

Structural Barriers to Black Operatic Endeavour

Details to be confirmed

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 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, thus further impeding opera’s long-overdue reparative work. In this panel we listen to Black opera professionals’ experiences of structural obstacles to participation, and begin to think through possible solutions to these challenges.

Talking points may include, but won’t be limited to:

  • 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