"One of the last big areas of discrimination," says famed bass Simon Estes, the first African American male to sing at Bayreuth, "is in the classical operatic field."
He doesn't mean just the infamous incident in Washington in 1939, when the Daughters of the American Revolution banned contralto Marian Anderson from singing in Constitution Hall.
He means today.
"It's an incredible drought," Estes says in "Aida's Brothers and Sisters: Black Voices in Opera," tonight on KCET-TV.
His opinion is shared in the documentary by mezzo-sopranos Shirley Verrett and Grace Bumbry, among other legendary singers.
"We're going backwards," Verrett says.
"There was a consciousness [during the civil rights movement] that's gone today," soprano Barbara Hendricks says.
More resigned and philosophical, tenor George Shirley says, "It goes in waves."
Using archival footage of performances and current interviews with the singers and others, documentary directors Jan Schmidt-Garre and Marieke Schroeder survey the stories of Estes, Verrett, Bumbry, Martina Arroyo, Reri Grist and others, all of whom, despite difficulties, made international careers.