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Engaging Opera as Popular Culture and Social Justice: Naomi André (University of Michigan)

This lecture is part of the Humanities Unbounded Lab, "Black Music and the Soul of America." If you are unable to attend in person, you can join online at (Meeting ID: 941 8053 7776).

Abstract: In this talk I outline some of the larger frameworks from my book "Black Opera: History, Power, Engagement" (2018) and take them further to include a quick mention of Beyoncé's "Homecoming" (2018), and three operas on Black topics that debuted the summer of 2019 (Terence Blanchard and Kasi Lemmons, "Fire Shut Up in My Bones," Opera Theater of St. Louis and then the Metropolitan Opera in NYC 2022; Anthony Davis and Richard Wesley, "The Central Park Five," Long Beach Opera; and Jeanine Tesori and Tazewell Thompson, "Blue," Glimmerglass Festival). I quickly contextualize "Fire Shut Up in My Bones" and "The Central Park Five" and then spend the most time with "Blue." I have been fortunate to see all three operas and got to know Tesori and Thompson through several panels in the Breaking Glass series (run by Glimmerglass Opera Festival). From the legacy of minstrelsy and the frequent negative portrayal of Blackness in opera, this talk outlines a shadow history and explores how opera can be relevant for today and a space of liberation.

Naomi André is Professor in Women's Studies, the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, and the Residential College Arts and Ideas in the Humanities program at the University of Michigan. Her books, "Voicing Gender: Castrati, Travesti, and the Second Woman in Early Nineteenth-Century Italian Opera" (2006) and "Blackness in Opera" (2012, edited collection) focus on opera from the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries and explore constructions of gender, race and identity. She recently published "Black Opera: History, Power, Engagement" with University of Illinois Press, a monograph on staging race and history in opera today in the United States and South Africa.

Free and open to the public.

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