Piotr Beczala Expresses Thoughts on Potentially Performing ‘Otello’

By Francisco Salazar

Piotr Beczala has revealed his interest in taking on the role of Verdi’s “Otello.”

In an interview with Tagblatt, the tenor said that while the role appealed to him, “with the whole racism discussion, it has become complicated to perform this opera today. It is ridiculous that you can no longer imagine wearing make-up for ‘Otello’ in a theater. Forbid anyone to paint themselves black when he sings Otello? Forbid painting a Butterfly’s slit eyes? This is weak, even if there are reasons for it.”

When asked if he would be willing to paint his face for the role, he added, “An Otello in a gray suit instead of black make-up is not appealing to me, even from an intellectual point of view. Verdi’s music remains, of course, but for me, opera is not just music, it’s not just acting. We’ll leave the ship out for my sake. But there are visual stimuli that affect the audience, they triple the effect. This includes Otello’s black skin. The visual kindles the magic of emotions.”

He added, “People always forget the prehistory: Why did Otello become such a person? He had to work three times as much because he was Black. Today everything is implemented far too directly, far too simply. This is a pity. Opera is a total work of art, every element counts – including the Black hero.”

Questions over blackface and its continued use in the opera world have become a major part of the global discussion in recent years with a great deal of focus centered on “Aida” and “Otello,” considered amongst the greatest operas ever composed. As such, reactions and policies taken regarding blackface have differed vastly across the opera world.

In 2015 the Metropolitan eliminated blackface from its “Otello” production, while companies such as the Canadian Opera Company, Washington National Opera, and Atlanta Symphony have opted to only present “Otello” with a Black singer in the title role.

In Europe, the Wiener Staatsoper and Bayerische Staatsoper’s new productions also eliminated the practice while a new production at the Royal Opera went for a tan look to sidestep the issue.