It’s Called Acting, Dear Boy

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.

35 thoughts on “It’s Called Acting, Dear Boy”

  1. doesn’t aida take place in egypt, there was another verdi play that served as a backdrop to quantum of solace, at an opera house in braganz, austria,

  2. Aida is an opera written in Italian by an Italian librettist, with music by an Italian composer, commissioned by an Egyptian ruler of Albanian descent.

  3. “… ‘blackface’, although comparing serious grand opera to the buffoonery of vaudeville minstrel shows of a century ago is considerable of a stretch.”

    A century ago? The BBC — yes, that English pillar of wokeness — had a very successful TV variety show called “The Black & White Minstrel Show” which ran until 1978, less than half a century ago. There was also a successful spin-off stage show which ran into the 1970s.

    Owing to the lack of English people of African origin in those benighted days, the negro parts were filled by honkeys in blackface. Among other accomplishments, this BBC show gave English viewers awareness of, and appreciation for, African-inspired music — not a bad thing.

  4. Well, there is a reason why the term prima donna exists…
    Definition of prima donna
    1: a principal female singer in an opera or concert organization
    2: a vain or undisciplined person who finds it difficult to work under direction or as part of a team

    Glad to see it holds even as opera becomes more and more “diverse.”

    Wokism is insane lefty American colonialism, and the rest of the world should tell its adherents to pound sand and go back to America and leave them alone.

  5. IIRC, the grand march from Aida is the Egyptian national anthem. How cool is that?

    What next, Mimi only to be sung by starving consumptives?

    Still, when the concept that all art is artifice loses hold–or is never learned–art itself is on the way out.

    European high culture and tradition are on the scaffold, waiting for the floor to drop.

  6. Well Ms. Blue has had her 15 minutes, I suspect that opera directors going forward will avoid problems by finding a different soprano. It’s not like there’s a shortage. The same fate will overtake most of the rest of the wokesters sooner or later.

  7. MCS: Betcha this boosts her career bigly, at least here in the US. The opera going crowd are as woke as it gets. Wealthy white liberals eat that stuff up, both differentiate them from the filthy proles.

  8. One of my favorite opera singers was Leontine Price, whose Carmen was magnificent. My current favorite in this role is Elina Garanca.

    She has even better voice than Price and more gorgeous but both are wonderful.

  9. Given the origin of diva, your average opera manager probably needs more tolerance of drama from employees than, say, your average McDonald’s manager. I was probably overly simplistic in my analysis of her future employment prospects. I suppose some of it depends on how good her voice is.

  10. I love that Olivier story, but I also heard Dustin Hoffman say that this was not quite accurate.

    “I’m getting into character” was his cover story because he was out partying at Studio 54 etc., it being the early 70s and he being a movie star. “It’s method” sounds better than “I did all the Bolivian marching powder and several groupies”.

  11. This disease called progressivism is insidious. In 2020, Beethoven’s Jubilee year (celebrating his 250th year), attempts were made to cancel him by accusing him of being racist: The year before I read an article on the “whiteness” of classical music and how things needed to be changed. I responded with this: Unless and until these people are shamed and shunned for their utterly ridiculous and destructive beliefs, and thoroughly ignored, nothing will change.

  12. Is there any evidence that Beethoven ever saw anyone that wasn’t white? Once he left Bonn, he didn’t get much further than a long walk from Vienna for the rest of his life. Neither place had any sort of minority community in the late 18th-early 19th century.

    On the other hand, you’re not going to hear Joplin or Samuel Coleridge-Taylor on a hip-hop station or at a rap concert. They’ve been relegated to the ghetto of “classical” music.

  13. That article doesn’t say that the loons said Beethoven was racist, it says that his music is a part of parcel of how racist/sexist/classist classical music is, so it should be cancelled.
    White liberals have gone completely insane. The combination of Obama not being hailed universally as our savior and Trump succeeding him drove them over the cliff. Poll after poll shows that group being a massive outlier among all other demographics as far as loathing the country and their own race, and it all happening starting in Obama’s second term then massively accelerating under Trump.

  14. Not long ago the definition of blackface changed from the insulting to any darkening of skin and there was no pushback.

    Now the new definition is firmly rooted so that an Asian comedian portraying evil fantasy elves with black face makeup. The culture is diminished ever so much.

  15. Totally mistaken. You have to remember the saying – “If leftists didn’t have double standards, they wouldn’t have any standards”. So it’s perfectly ok for a black or asian person to play a white person. All of these rules ONLY apply to white people.

  16. The Anglo-B/black musician Samuel Taylor-Coleridge was one of the first notables to claim that Beethoven himself was B/black, and the idea had a lot of appeal to a lot of people, before classical music itself was unmasked as You Know What. As late as the 1970s “Beethoven was Black” was a commonplace among people who who were wrong about much else also. (It’s easy to construct a plausible scenario for a moor in the woodpile–the Spanish sent tens of thousands of troops from all over the Med to fight against the Dutch rebels. No doubt some horny mercenaries found some willing local girls . . . Over decades that could leave some traces. But that’s just fun speculation and spitballing.)

    Evidence that Beethoven ever saw a non-W/white? Vienna was the capital of a sprawling multicultural empire including portions of Italy, and we know that imperial and royal courts often kept a few Blackamoor servants about–you find them in court and historical paintings.
    For that matter, exotic peoples featured heavily in circuses and other popular entertainment.

    And we know that the Turkish armies which were the infidel foe of Habsburg for centuries included troops from North Africa and the Middle East; a whole genre of “Turkish” music flourished, with Haydn, Mozart, and Ludwig van all contributing, and Germanic military bands took their Jingling Johnnies direct from the Turks.

    But this is all scholasticism–I’ll see what I can find that’s more solid than contextual plausibility. Or someone else can take a shot.

  17. Ah yes, but the double standard is getting VERY ANNOYING – to the point where a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t really care are also getting annoyed, and walking away, or at least, pointing out the screaming hypocrisy.
    I had read, ages ago, that American opera singers are one of our exports: we turn out more than can be comfortably employed in the the US. Europe has so very many performing companies and festivals, along with appreciative audiences, so American singers gravitate there. Little Miss Blue may discover that European companies are disinclined to put up with her tantrums.
    As for prima donna behavior, there are limits, beyond which even the talented can’t be endured. Kathleen Battle, who famously had a reputation for being difficult, finally got sacked from the NY Met in the early 1990s.

  18. It’s important to keep our nomenclature straight. Diva is opera, prima donna is ballet. Wait until the woke get to Swan Lake. Just what human race corresponds to a black swan?

  19. The general absurdity of many of these complaints borders on the preposterous, as well as the nature of hypocrisy that surrounds a common LACK of complaint:

    1 — lots of complaints about the ethnicity of the cast of Air Bender. I’m sorry, I’ve looked at the anime. That kid could easily walk down any American street and pass for white.
    2 — similarly with ScarJo in the lead of Ghost in the Shell. Anyone can go hunt up images of “Major”, the character. There’s nothing in available imagery that screams “Not white!!” Moreover, the context of the movie is, there’s been a disaster (probably a war) and the place they are in is a melting pot of refugees from everywhere. So… white is certainly not out of the realm of probability.
    3 — Hypocrisy 1 — There’s an anime and a manga, Attack on Titan. A major portion of the characters are all white people working for a German corporation. They made a live-action version. Not a white person anywhere got hired. What, there are no white actors in Japan? No one complains or takes issue.
    4 — Hypocrisy 2 — Bollywood. They continually take movies and shows from AngloEuropean sources, cast “white-Euro” parts using Indians. *crickets*

    Note that the last 2 — i have no issue with that was done in either case — I’m calling attention to the fact that the only time these whiners bitch is when it gives them a chance to attack white people. Never when others are case in white roles.

  20. }}} Glad to see it holds even as opera becomes more and more “diverse.”

    The more woke it is, diverse it gets.

  21. Just what human race corresponds to a black swan?

    The Biden Administration.

    An event that is unpredictable.
    A black swan event results in severe and widespread consequences.
    After the occurrence of a black swan event, people will rationalize the event as having been predictable (known as the hindsight bias).

  22. It was perhaps scarlets worse performance by a country mile but aeon flux was another dumpsterfire
    Red sparrow was horribly miscast and acted worse

    They did a live action starblazer at one point, with properly ethnic characters

  23. Anna Netrebko has really been taking the heat lately. She was recently fired by the Met for refusing to perform a ritual denunciation of Putin. As usual, the double standard is obvious and grotesque, but perhaps we can take some comfort in the fact that there is zero chance the problem will be solved by prohibiting blacks from performing any but black roles. I saw Reri Grist perform the role of Rosina in “Barber of Seville” in Munich, and she was fantastic – a perfect coquette. And she was well into her 40’s at the time!

  24. One of the worst aspects of the Ukrainimania was that sort of Russophobic nonsense, which seems to have moderated a bit as the realities begin to set in. Shades of 1914-18.

  25. On the set of Galaxy Quest, Tim Allen had to return to his trailer for a few moments to collect himself after Nesmith confessed to Balthazar that it was all a fake. Alan Rickman allegedly said “Oh my god, I think he just
    experienced acting.”

  26. 2 — similarly with ScarJo in the lead of Ghost in the Shell. Anyone can go hunt up images of “Major”, the character. There’s nothing in available imagery that screams “Not white!!”

    In the original Ghost in the Shell manga it was stated that the Majors brain was hosted in a military grade cyber body that looked like a popular civilian model. So the filmmakers should have included that little bit of trivia with the proviso that the civilian model was made to look like a popular early 21st century actress. That said, I doubt it would have shut up anyone who was looking to be offended.

  27. To be fair, the singer is not objecting to the casting, just to the practice (as she sees it) of “blackface”. She has not voiced any problem with Netrebko singing the role itself as long as her face is not darkened for the performance. That still seems way overdone: the stage makeup used here is worlds from the minstrel look that she has in mind, and there needs to be some way for the audience to identify the character. I know that the Met has banned black makeup for “Otello” despite the importance of the title character’s ethnicity to the plot. People need to be less sensitive and more sensible. Here in Tokyo, makeup is often used when needed for black characters, as in a recent performance of the Broadway musical “Memphis” (directed, as it happens, by a black American). A Japanese-speaking black American friend who appeared in the show with the otherwise all-Japanese cast was absolutely fine with it, which seems the right attitude.

    The “Miss Saigon” incident is totally different since it actually bans people for their ethnicity, which doesn’t even seem legal. That’s not an issue in Japan, of course, though I think they used blonde wigs for the non-Vietnamese characters — they have to make the difference clear somehow, right?

  28. goldman, didn’t give too much direction to hoffman’s character, he was neurotic because his father committed suicide because mccarthy, his brother played by roy scheider, who last surfaced in the rainmaker I think, was even more of an enigma

  29. If you grant that minstrelsy is irredeemably racist, none of the examples above are even remotely comparable. The objectors aren’t objecting to anything substantive or even symbolically objectionable in the context of the actual works. They are objecting because of one thing that outwardly slightly resembles one element of minstrelsy. I might even be willing to argue that blackface counts as one of the less objectionable elements, based as it is on undeniable physical reality. It’s only makeup after all.

    Now, what will they decide about Show Boat? For those that might not have the book on the tip of their mind:
    What are the new arbiters going to make of Blacks passing for white, Whites passing for black? Will they find that acceptable and if so, when might the “standards” change to make it unacceptable? And, who exactly, made them the boss? Are we required to defer to any and every person of color that raises any objection for any reason?

  30. “Are we required to defer to any and every person of color that raises and objection for any reason?”

    I’m thinking, yeah, we are.

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