Black Opera

History, Power, Engagement

A musical challenge to our view of the past

From classic films like Carmen Jones to contemporary works like The Diary of Sally Hemmings and U-Carmen eKhayelitsa, American and South African artists and composers have used opera to reclaim black people's place in history.

Naomi André draws on the experiences of performers and audiences to explore this music's resonance with today's listeners. Interacting with creators and performers, as well as with the works themselves, André reveals how black opera unearths suppressed truths. These truths provoke complex, if uncomfortable, reconsideration of racial, gender, sexual, and other oppressive ideologies. Opera, in turn, operates as a cultural and political force that employs an immense, transformative power to represent or even liberate.

Viewing opera as a fertile site for critical inquiry, political activism, and social change, Black Opera lays the foundation for innovative new approaches to applied scholarship.

"A most welcome, insightful, deeply rooted and felt study, admirably researched and written. It is rich with ideas about how opera is presented and received, and with astute reflections on the troubling ways that race, racism, segregation, colonization, gender, sexuality, and sexism play into decisions about what operas are performed, how they are performed, and how they are heard and seen."--Ellie M. Hisama, author of Gendering Musical Modernism: The Music of Ruth Crawford, Marion Bauer, and Miriam Gideon

"A compelling companion to Rosalyn Story's important text And So I Sing. Where Story focused on constructing the general historiography, Black Opera expands this to a more analytical discussion of how black women have been represented socially, visually, and aesthetically through certain operatic roles. This perspective is unique, innovative, and fills a void in the scholarship on opera."--Tammy Kernodle, author of Soul on Soul: The Life and Music of Mary Lou Williams


Naomi André is an associate professor in the departments of African and Afroamerican Studies and Women's Studies. She also is associate director in the Residential College at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Voicing Gender: Castrati, Travesti, and the Second Woman in Early-Nineteenth-Century Italian Opera and coeditor of Blackness in Opera.

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