Saturday, September 19, 2015

'Otello' without blackface, finally

Is it news that the Metropolitan Opera is finally bringing the curtain down on its 124-year-old tradition of staging Verdi’s “Otello” with the tenor singing the role of the Moor in blackface – or at least bronzed-face?

Or is it news that it has taken the company 124 years to end the practice?

British actors were still darkening their faces for the Shakespeare play as recently as 1990. And when the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta “The Mikado” was staged last year in Seattle with the characters made up in what a Seattle Times critic dubbed “yellowface,” it sparked “a wide-ranging discussion of whether the work was a witty satire of the British, an ugly caricature of the Japanese, or both,” The New York Times’ Michael Cooper notes in an article exploring how white performers are made to look when portraying non-white characters: