Monday, June 8, 2020

Black Lives Matter in Opera

Opera singer Lauren Michelle
This second week of June, Seattle Opera will continue to postpone our Songs of Summer recitals. This is because here in Puget Sound, across the United States, and beyond, we continue to grapple with not one, but two emergencies—COVID-19 and the systemic oppression and racism that threatens the health and safety of Black people in various ways. 

Systemic inequities do not simply exist in law enforcement or government, rather, they permeate all areas of life. Including arts and culture. Including opera. 

So as you read more about racial equity efforts from arts groups such as ours, we hope you will also seek out perspectives of Black Americans in opera, dance, theater, and more, including the perspective of singer Lauren Michelle, pictured above, who shared on Facebook: "Showing up to make art everyday as one of the only Black people in the room since elementary school IS my protest. A lifelong protest that says, 'I belong. WE belong.'"

As we make space for the lived experiences of Black people in opera, white folks and non-Black People of Color must hold ourselves accountable to learn, reflect, do better—and do more. In addition to Lauren Michelle's post, here's some of what we've been paying attention to at Seattle Opera the past few days. 


Lawrence Brownlee Interviews Will Liverman on Facebook Live 

Lawrence Brownlee, left, interviews Will Liverman, right, on "The Sitdown with LB," Facebook Live Series. 

Lawrence Brownlee, a beloved Rossini tenor and favorite at Seattle Opera, has started a new Facebook Live series, "The Sitdown with LB." On one recent episode, he interviewed another McCaw 
Hall star, Will Liverman. Brownlee described the episode with his "Little bro, Will Liverman" as a conversation about opera, church, life, Sinatra, Wendy’s fast food, racism, and height discrimination." Liverman, who had been scheduled to sing Marcello in our cancelled La bohème, shared what Brownlee meant to him as an emerging artist: "To see someone else that looks like you on the stage—it was a big inspiration for me."


Northwest African American Museum Juneteenth Celebration | June 19, 2020 

What does Black Freedom mean to you? This month, Northwest African American Museum (NAAM) is proud to collaborate with five other Black museums across the U.S. to explore that question with their launch of a new website, The website commemorates the the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth, the day when Blacks were emancipated from slavery in Texas on 1865. The June 19 website launch will include appearances from national leaders in Black museology, artistic performances, and educational content for the whole family. Join the Juneteenth commemoration today by visiting, subscribing, and submitting your response to the question, “What does freedom mean to you?” 


Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet, curated by Theresa Ruth Howard
A picture of Kat Addison (@katlynaddison), a first soloist with Ballet West featured on the @MoBBallet Instagram. 
Theresa Ruth Howard is a ballerina, a racial equity educator, and the curator of Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet, which produces online content celebrating Black ballet dancers throughout history. Seattle Opera fans may be familiar with Howard from our Black Representation in the Arts panel from February 2020. Following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, Howard used her platform on Instagram to amplify the need for Black justice in dance. Despite consulting for many ballet companies as a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion expert, Howard saw many companies failing to show their support for the Black community: "Help protect the bodies and lives of your Black artists, students faculty, and administrators," Howard wrote. "You want us? Stand with us. Stand up for us."

While she may be a force for change in ballet, Howard has also been an anti-racist teacher to us at Seattle Opera. Her leadership and expertise remind us that we too, need to be doing more to support Black people in the arts. 


LA Opera's Lift Every Voice Conversation  

LA Opera recently hosted a "a long overdue conversation on racial disparity and inequality." Moderated by acclaimed mezzo-soprano J'Nai Bridges, the panel of renowned artists including Julia Bullock, Lawrence Brownlee, Russell Thomas, Karen Slack, and Morris Robinson. Watch the panel on LA Opera's website.


Learn more about Seattle Opera Scholar Naomi André
Photo by Bettina Hansen, The Seattle Times 
In 2019, Seattle Opera appointed musicologist, writer, and opera-lover Naomi André as our inaugural Scholar in Residence. She is the author of Black Opera: History, Power, Engagement, which The New York Times describes as “A necessary exploration of how race has shaped the opera landscape in the United States and South Africa.” Additionally, André works as a professor at the University of Michigan, teaching Women’s Studies, Afroamerican/African Studies, and more.

Check out these two recent articles on André: The first from The Seattle Times and the second from LSA Magazine. You can also listen to an interview with our scholar on the Seattle Opera podcast.