Race, Realism, and Representation from Madama Butterfly to Hamilton

MUSIC 1225

In the Euro-American tradition, operas and musicals have long normalized the portrayal of (usually white) performers as characters of other races. Only in recent decades has the work of activists, performers, and scholars, pushed the cultural conversation to critique these practices as racist, exoticist, and culturally appropriative. On the live stage and on screen, music theater in recent years have paid careful attention to racially sensitive casting as a matter of restorative justice. We intuitively understand today that it is disrespectful for performers to portray themselves as characters of color outside their cultural background, but how has this relatively new idea come to be? How have performers of color engaged with this body of work over the past century? How have imagined narratives about the experiences of marginalized peoples affected the lives of the groups of people being depicted? Who has the cultural authority (or authenticity) to tell stories about others, and how has that authority been constructed and construed across different places and times? This course introduces students to the fraught and complex history of music theater in which performers portray racialized roles outside of their own identities. The syllabus pays particular attention to histories of music-theatrical yellowface as a racialized practice that - unlike brownface and blackface which have become taboo - continues to appear on performing arts stages today. Understanding the historical context in which these works arose and became popular, as well as analyzing the musical and dramatic techniques they utilized, can give us insight into their enduring legacy through to the present day. We will also complicate the easy rejection of this tradition by paying close attention to the history of people of color who, for the past hundred years, participated in, contributed to, and even loved, this body of work.
Course Attributes: EN H; AS HUM; FA HUM; AR HUM; AS SC; FA VC

Section 01

Race, Realism, and Representation from Madama Butterfly to Hamilton
INSTRUCTOR: Wangpaiboonkit
View Course Listing - FL2023