When she was twenty, Angel Blue's singing teacher told her, “I'm sorry, but it will never happen. There will never be a black Violetta.”
Now she's at La Scala singing that very role. It's not the first time. She managed to break the taboo when she was twenty-four in Seoul, and there have been five other productions for her since. The La Scala production by Liliana Cavani is traditional and lavish. Her Alfredo is Francesco Meli, and Germont is Placido Domingo.
It's like being in the dream I'd always dreamt about. I was the only one to believe in that dream, but I believed in it greatly. I'm happy though also a little frightened. La Scala is the temple of opera, sited between via Verdi and via Boito, with all the ghosts of the great singers watching me.
It is a refreshing change not to hear, “Oh, I'm not afraid of being compared to Callas!” which many singers have proclaimed before going on to be booed. But Angel Blue has her feet on the ground.
In my hometown, Apple Valley [in California], there wasn't a theatre. My first encounter with music was gospel as my father was an evangelical pastor. I was already singing in church when I was four. But my father also loved opera, and on an old record player, we listened to Maria Callas and Anna Moffo. One day, he took me to the conservatoire in Cleveland where there was a concert version of Turandot. I was so affected by it that I burst into tears at the end. I told him that I wanted to become like that woman under the spotlight. He said that if I really wanted to, I could.
I enrolled for a degree in opera interpretation in Los Angeles, where I also studied piano, saxophone, guitar and had acting classes. I did some straight theatre too – A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Vagina Monologues – and to pay my way I worked as a model and took part in beauty contests. When I was crowned Miss Hollywood and Miss Bikini it allowed me to pay for university.
It was gratifying being on the catwalk because as a girl, I'd felt awkward, taller than most, and sturdy. I was bullied. But then my body changed, and Cinderella became a princess. Beauty is in the eyes of those who look at you, but it's also inside you.
In a certain way, I'm like Violetta. Her Sempre libera is mine too. But there is often a high price to pay for being ‘free' – my job takes me far from home… loneliness can weigh heavy. My consolation is that I have a husband and a son waiting for me at home.
Singing is my life, and my husband has never wanted me to give up my career. Like Tosa, who I'll be playing at the Aix Festival this summer, I live for art. My husband is well aware of this, and when the invitation came from La Scala he was the first to say, “Go!”
Giuseppina Manin who was interviewing the soprano for the Corriere della Sera asked if Angel Joy Blue is a stage name.
No, it's mine! My mother had wanted to call me Tiffany but looking up at the clouds she saw the wings of an angel. Blue is my father's surname and Joy is because that's what my parents felt when I was born.
Blue was a replacement for Sonya Yoncheva, and she finds herself sharing the stage with Domingo, someone fundamental in her career.
His Operalia competition gave me exposure [She won two of the prizes in the 2009 competition] and important theatres from Vienna to Munich to Valencia opened their doors to me. And also, La Scala where I have sung in Bohème and Porgy and Bess.
My father died too soon, but he's always with me. I would have loved for him to have heard me at La Scala.
Photos by Brescia e Armisano, © Teatro alla Scala 2019
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.