“Black Mozart” and its namesake will be the headliners of the new Glyndebourne concert

Joseph Bologna, Knight of Saint-Georges – Alamy Stock Photo

Glyndebourne will include music by a composer labeled the “Black Mozart” as part of efforts to make the opera “truly fair”.

The East Sussex Opera House will stage plays by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, the 18th-century virtuoso of mixed origins and whose career has largely been forgotten.

His arias will be performed for the first time in Glyndebourne and included in a concert of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem as part of an initiative to improve diversity in opera.

The first classical composer of African descent, Bologna enjoyed great success before his works were suppressed by Napoleon Bonaparte, who reduced his former stardom to a relative unknown compared to Mozart.

On December 3 and 9, Glyndebourne’s sell-out performances will put the two composers on an equal footing to raise the profile of several composers whose works have been forgotten.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - DEA / A Dagli Orti / De Agostini via Getty Images

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – DEA / A Dagli Orti / De Agostini via Getty Images

Simone Ibbett-Brown, the show’s director, told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that the project was concerned with “ensuring that we are a truly fair and creative environment for everyone to have that voice in what has historically been an industry. very classist “.

Regarding historically neglected composers, he said: “Due to patriarchy and many other types of structural problems – racism, skill – many of their works have been hidden from view.”

Bologna was born in 1745 by the Frenchman George de Bologne Saint-Georges and a slave named Nanon. Despite the racial boundaries of the 18th century, he received a thorough education and became a prodigious swordsman and violinist, before enjoying a career as a popular composer.

Ibbett-Brown explained that Bologna’s abolitionist views led to Napoleon’s suppression of his works, as the emperor was “heavily supported by many slave traders”. However, Glyndebourne will stage arias from his only surviving opera, The Anonymous Lover.

Mixed with the music of the 1780 opera, the actors will perform episodes from his dramatic life as a composer and revolutionary. The performance of Mozart’s Requiem will follow.

The decision to raise the profile of Bologna and to support it with the composer to whom it has recently been compared, with the epithet “the black Mozart”, was born following Glyndebourne’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

In 2020, he said in a statement: “The reality of the way we work has fallen short: opera companies, both on and off stage, have failed to realize the full creative potential that would be unlocked by a fully inclusive and diverse workplace. Glyndebourne is no exception.

“Our goal is to improve this situation and, inspired by the energy of the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the wake of the George Floyd murder, we are committed to examining how we work in all areas.

“As an artistic company, this includes examining decisions about repertoire (our artistic output), as well as choosing key performers for the works we present – directors, directors, designers – and how we choose performers.”

Stephen Langridge, Glyndebourne’s artistic director, previously said the East Sussex opera house was working to be “fully inclusive and diverse”.

In 2021 he partnered with the South London-based Pegasus Opera Company, which offers aspiring artists of African and Asian descent a coaching and mentoring program.

“Sampling” hidden music.

Ibbett-Brown said she was happy to promote Bologna as part of the Glyndebourne program: “Why shouldn’t I support this great music that currently, in reality, so few of us can really appreciate?

“Everyone feels this kind of prejudice, whether it’s about people, or more commonly inherited from a shared history and education and so on. He gives us blinders “.

He added: “We could lose these perfect pockets of inspiration; of genius. When we take off those blinders, all we can do is see more beauty in the world and I think that’s a really great thing.

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