Opera Can No Longer Ignore Its Race Problem

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There was a collective sigh of exasperation at the mention of how Blackness in opera more or less ends onstage. “In 20 years, I’ve never been hired by a Black person; I’ve never been directed by a Black person; I’ve never had a Black C.E.O. of a company; I’ve never had a Black president of the board; I’ve never had a Black conductor,” Mr. Robinson said. “I don’t even have Black stage managers. None, not ever, for 20 years.”

The Metropolitan Opera, the nation’s largest opera house — indeed, its largest performing arts organization — paints a telling picture. Its board of 45 has only three Black managing directors. Of the 10 people on its music staff, one is Black; of the 90-member orchestra, two. The Met has presented 306 operas in its 137-year history, none of them by a Black composer. (That will change when it stages Terence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” in a coming season.)

Last season opened with a production of “Porgy and Bess,” which despite having an almost exclusively Black cast — as required by the estate of its creators, the Gershwin brothers — was directed and conducted by white men (though choreographed by a Black woman, Camille A. Brown). At the bare minimum, Mr. Thomas said, that can’t happen anymore.

“Stop allowing white people to tell Black people about the Black experience,” he said. “That, to me, is outrageous. Don’t tell me about how I should feel to be Black and how I should move.”

Ms. Bullock, who early in the conversation said “I’m getting so tired of trying to make peace within myself,” called for an anonymous survey to identify patterns of racial inequity in the field, including at conservatories. Ms. Bridges said in a later interview that, similar to sexual harassment workshops, companies should mandate racism and diversity training.

Ms. Slack’s demand, she said in the video, amounted to no more than “humanity”: “I’m not asking for your seat. I’m asking that you move over so I can sit in mine, and you be OK with that.”



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