To the Lawrence community,
In Shakespeare’s “Othello,” subtitled “the Moor of Venice,” the Bard writes, “…he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed.” Shortly before the winter break, ten of my colleagues and I were named in print and on the Internet as holding racist views. It was alleged that I “publicly support the use of blackface on stage.” I was not present at a meeting of students and faculty where this issue was discussed, and I have not expressed my opinions in a public forum. The allegation was made anonymously, without any direct conversation or attempt to determine my actual viewpoint.
For those who are unaware of the context of this matter (since no clarification was provided in the accusation), the Metropolitan Opera recently made the controversial decision to stop using darkening makeup for the title role in Giuseppe Verdi’s Italian opera “Otello,” derived from the Shakespeare play. Without weighing down this letter with a lengthy discussion of race in opera, I encourage anyone seeking more information to read The Washington Post’s recent interview of five professional African American opera singers, who discuss this topic in detail. It can be found here. I happen to agree with much of what they said. I hope, however, that anyone wanting to know my specific views will come and talk with me face to face. I also invite to my studio anyone who would like to know more about opera or would like to discover some great singers of the past whose names are less well known than they deserve to be.
I can never truly know the experience of being African American in this country or on the Lawrence campus, with all of the challenges and frustrations that may entail, but I would like to gain a better understanding. Students of color deserve a campus that fosters learning without fear, as do all Lawrentians. Let us work together to build a community in which students and faculty can enjoy a lively exchange of information and ideas without fear of censure, and can share what the arts have to teach us about the many aspects of our common humanity.
— Bonnie Koestner, associate professor of music, vocal coach and opera music director