The rising Southern California-bred soprano Angel Blue is having a smashing Vienna debut — except for an ugly encounter with a racist cab driver outside a Starbucks in the Austrian capital.
Blue, who has sung several roles for Los Angeles Opera, where she trained in its Domingo-Thornton Young Artist program, was on break from rehearsals for Benjamin Britten's "The Rape of Lucretia" and needed a ride back to the venerable Theater an der Wien opera house. She hopped in a white Mercedes cab, according to the Viennese weekly magazine News, only to hear the driver snarl, "I don't drive black women. Get out!"
"I did so and started to cry," she told the publication, recalling the Nov. 10 incident. "All I wanted in that moment was to get away from here."
The news broke Wednesday under the headline, "Scandal in Vienna: Taxi Driver Refuses to Transport Dark-Skinned Opera Singer." The paper said she is 27.
By then, says Blue's Beverly Hills attorney, Don Franzen, she had settled into her role, opening Feb. 17 and ending Tuesday, and has received a warm reception from the Viennese.
"She feels very loved in Vienna and has had a great experience, save for this one terrible incident," Franzen said Friday. "It shook her up at the time, but she feels it doesn't reflect on Austria in general." In fact, he said, Blue is looking forward to her already-booked return engagement next year at the same opera house, when she'll sing the role of Antonia in Jacques Offenbach's "The Tales of Hoffman."
In "The Rape of Lucretia," Blue sings the Female Chorus part — not a part in the chorus, but an important role that narrates and comments on the action.
Franzen, whose contact information is listed on Blue's website, said he's received about a dozen e-mails since Wednesday from Austrians who wanted to apologize for the incident and say that their nation is not racist.
Blue grew up in Apple Valley in San Bernardino County, graduated in 2001 from the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, then earned degrees at the University of Redlands and UCLA. Her single-song performance on a piano program at the Colburn School's Zipper Hall in 2008 was a hit with Times critic Mark Swed; after noting that she'd been a runner-up in the Miss California beauty pageant, Swed wrote that her performance of "Life Story," Thomas Ades' setting of a Tennessee Williams text about a one-night stand, was "funny, sexy, disturbing and ultimately devastating. She has killer high notes and killer theatrical instincts."
Blue will be back on her home turf May 21 as soloist for the Redlands Symphony's performance of Gustav Mahler's Second Symphony, repeating the program the following night at the Bob Burton Center for the Performing Arts in Fallbrook.
According to news reports, there was some dissatisfaction in Vienna when an official from the local Assn. of Taxi Drivers told reporters that, because there are 4,500 taxis registered in the city and Blue didn't get a tag number, "it will be impossible to find the man."
Franzen said he heard from Blue that an investigation is being undertaken and that when she arrived for Friday's performance, a large floral arrangment sent by the taxi drivers' association awaited her on a dressing room table.
Meanwhile, the famously all-white and nearly all-male Vienna Philharmonic is back on tour in America, which means that the renowned orchestra's long-controversial attitudes about race and gender are back in the news.
"Vienna Philharmonic Must Answer for Exclusion" was the headline for a commentary this week by Joshua Kosman, the San Francisco Chronicle's music critic, anticipating a three-concert stand at UC Berkeley that begins Saturday, the Vienna Phil's first Bay Area concerts in more than 20 years.
Kosman took issue with Americans who shrug at the orchestra's snail's-pace efforts to diversify, instead of prodding it to do better.
"To exempt music, and art in general, from moral considerations is not to protect it at all, but to marginalize it and rob it of any ability to engage on a human level," he said.
The Vienna Philharmonic is booked to perform Mahler's Sixth Symphony Thursday at Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa.