Blackface at the Met: An exploration of the casting of performers of color in the roles of Aida and Othello from 2007-2017
Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
Nancy Newman, Ph.D.
In the early to mid-nineteenth century, blackface minstrelsy was a common practice seen throughout the United States, as white performers would paint themselves with cork paint and create a caricature of black society at the time. The art form lost popularity with the dawning of the American Civil Rights movement in the mid-twentieth century, but aspects of this have continued in our more modern performing art forms, with people of color not being cast in roles that are written for them. In 1955, Marian Anderson became the first African-American performer to play a lead role at the Metropolitan Opera, breaking the color barrier. Despite this integration, performers of color are not cast as often as their white counterparts, even when a role would dictate it. As recently as 2012, the esteemed opera house was utilizing Blackface for the role of Othello in productions of Verdi’s Otello, showing that even if a character’s skin tone is relevant to the plot, it was not a priority to hire someone who fit that description. Utilizing the Metropolitan Opera Archive, performances of Verdi’s Otello and Aida Opera from the period of 2007 to 2017 were analyzed to determine the rates at which characters of color were performed by performers of color.
Groenert, Kaeli, "Blackface at the Met: An exploration of the casting of performers of color in the roles of Aida and Othello from 2007-2017" (2019). Music. 1.