By Aaron Zhang and Anya Shukla
Angel Blue is an operatic soprano who has performed lead roles and solos at the Los Angeles Opera, the Frankfurt Opera, and the Berlin Philharmonic, among others. She has played characters such as Violetta in "La Traviata," Musetta and Mimi in "La Bohème," and Tosca in "Tosca." We spoke with her to learn more about her artistic journey.
Q: How did you first get into opera?
A: I saw my first opera, "Turandot," when I was four; it still remains, to this day, my favorite opera. What I remember most about seeing that opera was how much sound was coming from the stage. There was this part where they had Turandot in the light, and I remember the fact that she could sing over that orchestra. And I thought it was amazing.
That moment was really intense for me, and I wanted to sing opera basically as soon as I saw that first opera. I found a true passion for it because of how it made me feel—singing has so much to do with what you feel. Whenever I sing, I feel like it’s a part of my spirit singing. Singing is so much more than just having a voice to make noise. And that’s why it’s been my go-to, my love since I was a child.
Q: Reflecting on your current career and all that you have done so far, if you could go back and talk to yourself at four years old, at the opera, what would you say?
A: I would probably tell myself exactly what my dad said, because I said to my dad, “Daddy, I want to be like that woman in the light.” He looked down at me and smiled. He said, “You can absolutely be like the woman in the light.” And that’s probably what I would tell myself at four years old: that it is possible.
Q: In being in opera, a generally white-dominated artform, did you ever feel isolated or that it was harder to continue your artmaking in any way? If so, how did you overcome that?
A: I don’t believe the color of my skin has hindered me from any job or any role or ever singing anywhere. I think I have three things that have helped me in this art form: I'm a woman, I’m Black, and I’m American. Because I am different in this art form, it’s helped me.
Opera is a white-dominated art form, but this didn’t stop Leontyne Price; this didn’t stop Marian Anderson. And if it didn’t stop them, then it will not stop me.
My best friend is the only Asian lady on a board of directors, and she’ll tell me, “Today, nobody was listening to me; they were only listening to men, and most of these men are white.” But the thing is that she pushes, she keeps going. And she doesn't allow that intimidation to slow her down.
She and I talk about this all the time: don’t take on other people’s insecurities. I'm sure there are people who have issues that I’m Black, but that’s their problem, not mine, and I don’t want to make it my problem. For me, in a predominantly white art form, I look at the people who come before me, and I'm thankful to have them, because I see that if Leontyne Price can have an album that says “Voice of the Century,” then surely I can be the first Black woman to sing "La Traviata."
Q: As you mentioned, you have been the first Black woman to sing the lead in several operas. What do those accomplishments mean to you?
A: I’m thankful and very happy that I was able to make that mark in history. But I think of it less as being the first Black woman to sing a role; I celebrate for myself: “Angel, you worked really hard so that you could sing that role.” I just so happen to be the first Black woman to sing that role, so now that door has been opened for other Black girls to come in and to be able to do that, and that’s all because I worked hard.
Q: What motivates you to keep working and performing?
A: I try to use my platform as an opera singer to inspire people. For any young person who has a goal in mind, a desire to become something or do something with their life, whatever that may be—I hope that I am able to use my platform to motivate them in some way.
Q: Many teens today do not see opera as an accessible or relevant art form. Do you have ideas about how to make opera relevant to a younger generation?
A: I think it’s letting the people know that there is something there for them. It might not be the singing; it might not be the music. Maybe it’s just going to hear a live orchestra. I know a lot of people have gone to see opera recently, and they’ll say things like, “I’ve never seen an opera before, but I saw 'Akhnaten,' and the only reason I went was that I'm interested in Egyptology, but I really liked the show itself.”
I want people to know that opera can be for everyone. There’s this weird stigma that opera is for the elite, and it’s not, because I’m not elite; I’m from the high desert of California. The younger generation of opera singers, I think, have a very strong need to make sure that our generation and the generation after us understand and know that this art form is inclusive.
Q: On that note, why do you think racial equity in the arts is important?
A: I think it’s important to keep the conversation going about how we treat others. Racial equity is one of those things I think that people need to be mindful of because we don’t want to repeat our past.
I'm hoping that not just within the arts community but within the world, we really do start to look at how we treat other people. Because the only way for us to not repeat what we’ve already done is to learn from what we’ve done. Moving forward, we can care about how we treat other people because we want others to treat us well.
Q: Do you have any advice for teens of color in the arts or teens who are thinking about going into opera?
A: Have fun! I love opera; it makes me happy. Be dramatic, without getting in trouble for being dramatic. For any young person who wants to go into opera in any capacity, I would suggest they enjoy the ride and start listening to as many operas as they can, to start getting familiar with the stories and with the languages. It’s a fun ride, and I would just hope that they enjoy their journey.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.