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JAY SOWERS / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT —  Soprano Diana Thompson rehearses for Thursday’s performance at the antebellum house Cherokee. Thompson will present the “Black Swan Returns”  and will portray Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield a black woman that was born a slave in Natchez in 1817 and sung for Queen Victoria in 1854.
BEN HILLYER / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Soprano Diana Thompson rehearses for Thursday’s performance at the antebellum house Cherokee. Thompson will present the “Black Swan Returns” and will portray Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield a black woman that was born a slave in Natchez in 1817 and sung for Queen Victoria in 1854.

Thompson ready to evoke spirit of Black Swan

Published 12:02am Wednesday, May 15, 2013

One of the 19th century’s greatest opera voices will return to her Natchez birthplace this week, at least in spirit.

Soprano Diana Thompson will portray Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, a black opera singer born in Natchez, in the Natchez Festival of Music’s “The Black Swan Returns.”

Greenfield, dubbed the Black Swan, was born a slave in Natchez at Cherokee in 1817, moved to Philadelphia and went on to perform for Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace in 1854.

Thompson’s performance will include songs that Greenfield would have sung during her time and a first-person monologue of Greenfield’s life.

Thompson said she researched Greenfield and incorporated facts of her life, particularly those that interested her, into the monologue.

As a multiracial minority opera singer like Greenfield, Thompson said she feels very connected to Greenfield.

Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield was a black woman that was born a slave in Natchez in 1817 and sung for Queen Victoria in 1854.
Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield was a black woman that was born a slave in Natchez in 1817 and sung for Queen Victoria in 1854.

Greenfield’s father was African and her mother was white and Seminole Indian. Thompson’s father is African-American and Native American, and her mother is from Thailand.

“The African-American culture is the culture I identify with,” she said. “People try to fit you in a category, and I just say let me show you my talent beyond race.

“In my community, it’s shocking for people … they say ‘You’re on opera singer … you definitely should do R&B.’”

Greenfield, Thompson said, experienced similar identity issues with white people who did not think she was talented enough for her fame and black people who thought she was a sellout for performing at venues where blacks were not allowed.

Greenfield debuted at the Metropolitan Hall in New York in 1853 to a crowd of 4,000 white patrons because blacks were not admitted.

“I really connect to that. She felt troubled knocking on the front door and on the back door,” Thompson said.

Thompson said she hopes to do justice to Greenfield’s talent.

“It’s a phenomenal thing to know that someone during the mid-1800s could, against all odds, succeed to a level of excellence that many of us in this field are trying to get to,” Thompson said.

The opera world is a very small one, Thompson said, and very competitive.

“So to hear that she was successful and moved to Philadelphia and live in New York and performed at Buckingham Palace is amazing,” Thompson said.

Greenfield performed in Europe and after she returned, Thompson said, she worked to give back to her community. Thompson is also working to give back to her community by seeking funding to provide free or low-cost voice lessons for youth in Burlington at her studio, DB Voice Studio.

“The Black Swan Returns” will be at Cherokee, the house where Greenfield was born, Thompson said.

The performances will be at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Thursday. Tickets are sold out, but tickets are still available for “Kiss Me Kate” and “Rigoletto,” in both of which Thompson will be performing.