Blind Opera

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Sarah Brightman as Blind Mag. Magdalene DeFoe is originally from the stage musical and 2008 film Repo!The Genetic Opera (where she was portrayed by original stage Christine Sarah Brightman), and is more commonly known by her stage name Blind Mag, which was coined to publicize her recovery from blindness thanks to GeneCo.She is played on the Sueniverse by Megan. His bestselling book, Blind Injustice: A Former Prosecutor Exposes the Psychology and Politics of Wrongful Convictions-a memoir of his journey from hard-nosed prosecutor to innocence champion-is considered a foundational text on the causes of wrongful conviction, and inspired an acclaimed opera, also entitled Blind Injustice. This summer, Cincinnati Opera presents the world premiere of Blind Injustice, an opera drawn from the real-life tragedies and triumphs of six women and men, all of whom were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. Eventually, they were set free through the work of the Ohio Innocence Project.

About Me

Blind musicians seem to be generally blues and jazz musicians, so country singer Ronnie Milsap is a bit of an oddity. He was born in Robbinsville, North Carolina with a congenital disorder that left him almost completely blind at birth. This disability did not stop him from progressing in the music business. Opera News is a free to use platform and the views and opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author and do not represent, reflect or express the views of Opera News. Any/all written content and images displayed are provided by the blogger/author, appear herein as submitted by the blogger/author and are unedited by Opera News.

Cristina Jones is a soprano hailing from Southern California. She has performed recitals, oratorio and operatic works in the United States, England, and Scotland.


Highlights include Fauré’s Requiem, John Rutter’s A Mass for the Children, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, as well as Verdi’s Rigoletto and Falstaff, Bernstein’s Candide, Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Mozart’s Così fan tutte and Der Schauspieldirektor, Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, Jonathan Dove's Flight and Handel’s Rodelinda.

More recently, she was featured as the soprano soloist in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony under the direction of Dr. Kimo Furumoto with the Rio Hondo Symphony. Rossini’s Stabat Mater with the Laguna Beach Chamber Singers, and she also prepared the role of the mother in Amahl and the Night Visitors by Menotti with Opera California under the direction of Dr. Philip Roh.


Born with Retinopathy of prematurity, an eye condition which eventually left her totally blind, Cristina began her musical training at the age of eight upon joining the Johnny Mercer’s Children’s Choir at the Braille Institute under the direction and guidance of Anne Bell. Thanks to Anne’s guidance and encouragement, she was inspired to study music more fully at California State University, Fullerton - School of Music.

In 2013, she received her Bachelors of Music from CSUF, where she studied with Linda Leyrer, Mark Salters, and Janet Smith.


Blind Opera Singer Man

Upon receiving her Master of Arts in Voice Performance in 2015, Cristina graduated with honors from the Royal Academy of Music in London, where she studied under Julie Kennard and Iain Ledingham. Currently, Cristina is performing in various concerts and operas, teaching private voice, and studying privately with Fred Carama.


When she’s not screeching for audiences or at students, Cristina is tap dancing, laughing, reading a good book, going on adventures with her guide dog Dwayne, or advocating and raising awareness for an empowered and enriched life as a soprano who happens to be blind.

Music

As cultural appropriation through casting spikes controversy in film, the world of opera seems colorblind, yet equality remains a distant goal there too.

Soprano Pretty Yende

Blind Opera Singer Duet

When Hollywood casts Asian characters with white actors, it's called 'whitewashing' and is considered a form of cultural appropriation. A case in point: in the science fiction film Ghost in the Shell, the US-American-Danish actress Scarlett Johansson was made up to fit the role of a Japanese cyborg. Constance Wu, an American actress of Taiwanese heritage called it 'modern blackfacing.'

After it was announced that Hollywood veteran Ron Howard would direct the film biography of Chinese pianist Lang Lang, Lulu Wang, a Chinese-born American filmmaker, questioned whether Howard had the necessary 'intimate knowledge' of Chinese culture and history to properly tell the story of the world-famous artist.

Opera

A modern rallying-cry: 'whitewashing'

Offered the role of a Japanese-American major in Hellboy in 2017, actor Ed Skrein declined following accusations of whitewashing, leaving the role open to be 'appropriately' cast. Daniel Dae Kim, an American of Korean lineage, got the role and thanked Skrein for acknowledging that 'Asian characters are for Asian actors.'

Malaysian-British actor Henry Golding was twice affected by the new sensibility. A heterosexual, he portrayed a gay Asian immigrant in the 2019 movie Monsoon but initially hesitated when voices were raised that the role should go to a gay actor. The actor of mixed ethnicity again found himself under attack when taking a role in Crazy Rich Asians of 2018: some felt that it should have gone to a full-blooded Asian. 'I know I'm Asian through and through. There's nothing I needed to prove,' said Golding, now discussed as a candidate to portray the next James Bond — in the absence of counter protests.

Whitewashing's long and not so venerable tradition

Casting non-white roles with white actors and actresses is a practice as old as film itself — from Germany's popular 1960s Winnetou films, where Frenchman Pierre Brice played the native American chief, to actor Laurence Olivier donning blackface to depict Othello in the eponymous 1965 movie.

Then there was yellowfacing, such as in Breakfast at Tiffany's in 1961, with Mickey Rooney made up to portray a Japanese landlord.

Today Mickey Rooney's portrayal of a Japanese landlord in 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' looks offensive and stereotypical

John Tehranian, professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, has written a book on the subject of whitewashing that includes his own experience as an Iranian American in academia. 'Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with race-blind casting, as long as it works both ways,' said Tehranian. 'But in reality, it never has; one rarely sees, for example, an African American, Latino, or Asian actor cast as a white character.'

Opera goes by its own playbook

For one work in the operatic canon, colorblind casting is essentially ruled out. For performances of Porgy and Bess, composer George Gershwin and songwriter Ira Gershwin willed that their 'Black opera' be henceforth cast only with Black singers. Trying to circumvent the rule, the Hungarian State Opera had its white Hungarian soloists sign a statement declaring that they identify with Black Americans. The Gershwin estate was not satisfied with the solution.

'Porgy and Bess' in Hungary, with an all-white cast 'identifying' with Black people

Black singers eventually conquered the stage by the mid-20th century, but not without setbacks. When the conservative Daughters of the American Revolution blocked the African American contralto Marian Anderson from performing at Washington's Constitution Hall in 1939 because of her skin color, an angry First Lady Eleanore Roosevelt protested. Anderson then performed at the Lincoln Memorial, and in 1955, at 58, she broke the color barrier at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Blind Opera Tenor

Another African-American operatic pioneer, Leontyne Price, was famed in the role of Aida in Giuseppe Verdi's opera of that name from the 1950s until the seventies, conquering one of the world's most prestigious houses, La Scala in Milan, in 1960. A year later, Grace Bumbry was Venus in Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser at the Bayreuth Festival. Conservative Wagnerians were up in arms, but critics delighted at the singer's stage presence and vocal texture.

She went down in Bayreuth Festival history as the 'Black Venus:' Grace Bumbry

Jamaican-born British singer Willard White, knighted in 2004, performed along with Grace Bumbry in Scott Joplin's 'Black opera' Treemonisha but also broke the color barrier with roles like Mephistopheles in Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust and Wotan in Wagner's The Rhinegold and The Valkyrie.

Blind Opera Singer Male

Currently in high demand on the world's stages are the South Africans Pretty Yende and Golda Schultz and the Americans J'Nai Bridges and Lawrence Brownlee. For them, the restrictions based on skin color would no longer seem to exist. Meanwhile, modern stage directors freely interpret the mostly historical repertory, updating the works or placing them in different cultural contexts, thus relativizing the importance of skin color.

Marian Anderson and her accompanist Franz Rupp were guests at the White House during the Kennedy administration

Behind-the-scenes racism

Blind Opera Singer Italian

No survey of Black vocal artists — or vocal artists altogether — would be complete without Jessye Norman. Many take credit for the discovery of that voice of the century, including the 1968 ARD Music Competition in Munich, where the American won first prize. With her dark-timbred soprano, Norman was veritably deified at her operatic and concert appearances.

Offstage though, Norman had different experiences. In her 2014 autobiography Stand Up Straight and Sing! she related various kinds of daily discrimination: a careless remark by a conductor, an insensitive question by a critic, security personnel keeping her out of the hotel pool. Norman kept a diary about these instances until it grew too lengthy.

Racism = mindlessness

Morris Robinson, a successful bass born in 1969, acknowledges that while the stage may now be more colorblind, the rest of the industry is not. 'In 20 years, I've never been hired by a Black person,' said Robinson in a panel discussion initiated by singer J'Nai Bridges and hosted by the Los Angeles Opera in May. 'I've never been directed by a Black person; I've never had a Black C.E.O. of a company; I've never had a Black president of the board; I've never had a Black conductor. I don't even have Black stage managers. None, not ever, for 20 years.'

As the arts and entertainment industries continue to struggle with issues of discrimination — including reverse discrimination — other voices come to mind, such as that of the self-described 'eternal optimist' Jessye Norman, who died in 2019: 'Society will, inevitably, come to the understanding that racism is mindless, lacking in all the light that is within us.'

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