Or so Laurence Olivier is supposed to have said to Dustin Hoffman, during the filming of The Marathon Man, when Hoffman got a little too deeply immersed in his role.
It’s acting – convincingly pretending to be a person you are not; experiencing events and emotions on the stage or screen that the actor might or might not have really experienced. It’s pretending, in the service of storytelling. In our current over-the-top state of extreme wokery, any kind of illogical insanity seems to rule; in this latest example, an American soprano singer, one Angela Blue, has made a great show out of quitting an opera performance, because of her objections to another opera performance and singer in the same venue. Angela Blue objected vociferously to Russian soprano Anna Netrebko singing in the title role of Aida, while made-up to appear as … gasp … Ethiopian. (A production design originated by the late Franco Zeffirelli, as an aside.) Angela Blue, who is African-American, terms it as ‘blackface’, although comparing serious grand opera to the buffoonery of vaudeville minstrel shows of a century ago is considerable of a stretch. What adds an interesting twist to this, is that the opera performance which Angela Blue walked away from was La Traviata, and her role as Violetta – a French courtesan, and in the original concept, a woman not of any color save lily-white.
To put it finely, Ms. Blue is perfectly OK with playing a white role, while throwing a hissy-fit over a white woman playing a sort-of-tan role. Quel surprise.
OK, then. This does bring to mind the great kerfuffle over casting of the US production of Miss Saigon, some three decades ago, which eventually died down when it was pointed out that a hard-and-fast across-the-board limiting of roles that an actor or singer could play to only that of their own ethnicity (or sexual orientation) would place severe limitations on those roles which an actor or singer could legitimately perform. Black opera singers, like Angela Blue would be limited to singing Aida, or Porgy & Bess. Opera singers of Japanese ancestry would have Madame Butterfly, Indonesians or Indians would have The Pearl Fishers and Lakme, singers of Chinese ancestry would have Turandot – and that would be that. Black actors looking to perform Shakespeare would have Othello and not much else save maybe in crowd scene. Performing anything Wagnerian would be totally out – only Germans could apply for those roles. Oh, and Hamilton would have to be totally re-cast; sorry, Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Discuss or comment as you can bear it.