The downward spiral of New York City Opera is depressing. But if their planned spring season does go forward (currently it looks like it will), it will begin with La traviata at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in February. They are promoting the production with this image.
Soprano Laquita Mitchell will be singing Violetta. There’s not a lot on YouTube of her singing opera rep, but based on this standard she’s got a voice and is a heartfelt singer:
But it’s obvious that she’s not a blond white lady. Can we talk about this for a minute? You can protest that they don’t have enough money to get a different poster model for this one opera. (The mysterious blonde pictured above is seen throughout their publicity materials.) Or perhaps they assembled the publicity images before their casting was complete. Since the company has become a shoestring operation this is even likely. But the result still makes me really uncomfortable.
Black Violettas are rare. I suspect this is because of the limited roles which society has allotted to women of color. Melissa Harris-Perry talked about this racism just last week on the Colbert Report. (She was promoting her book on this very topic.) Violetta’s angelic femininity does not figure in the stereotypes Harris-Perry describes. But black ladies should be just as able to be beautiful and virtuous dying courtesans in operas as white ladies! It’s great that Laquita Mitchell is defying tradition and will be singing Violetta at City Opera, and they should recognize this and put a woman of color on their poster, even if it’s not Mitchell herself.
Also, African-Americans are woefully underrepresented in classical music both onstage and in audiences. Writing the black lady out of the publicity materials isn’t a way to convince the African-Americans who think opera isn’t for them to change their minds. Look at how much Broadway has diversified in the last few years as producers have discovered how to reach more African-Americans. Maybe it’s time for classical music to figure out how to do the same.