Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz Under Fire for Use of Blackface

By Francisco Salazar

The Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz in Munich is under fire for a new production of “Johnny Spielt Auf” for its use of Blackface.

The opera, which premiered on March 11, in a new production by Peter Lund, was met by an open letter signed by 600 activists asking for the production to be recast or canceled.

The letter said, “Dear Mr. Joseph Köpplinger (State Director of the Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz), Michael Brandstätter and Oleg Ptashnikov (musical direction of the production), Peter Lund (director of the Production), Michael Alexander Rinz (production dramaturge), We, the authors and signers of this open letter, are firmly opposed the reproduction of the racist cultural practice of blackfacing in your opera production ‘JONNY SPIELT UP.’ We are appalled by your conscious decision to insert racist codes, which are historically directly related to anti-Black racism and its worst forms of brutal racist violence. Your arguments for this are flimsy and visibly contradict themselves and ignore important historical and current facts. Here it is clearly not about breaking taboos, artistic freedom, or historical accuracy, but about the use of an obsolete cultural practice that, due to its entanglement with devastating colonial practices can never be separated from their discriminatory context.”

As a result, the company noted that it will refrain from using the practice in all future performances. The company stated, “This historical fact was critically reviewed and condemned on stage in our production. However, our portrayal of blackface, which was also developed with People of Color in the making of the production, obviously hurt people. We are sorry and that was not our intention.”

Artists from the production noted that they were met with criticism on social media and one of the singers was forced to make a social media account private.

“Johnny Spielt Auf”  has been shown in 42 theaters including the Metropolitan Opera and was played in the original production by a white baritone, Max Spilcker, wearing black make-up. The opera was later banned and later condemned.

The opera will be performed through May 29, 2022.