The Metropolitan Opera continues its season of Live in HD cinema productions with Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones, an adaptation of the memoir by Charles M Blow and the first opera by a Black composer to be presented by the Met. The Washington Post describes the production as “A defiant, tender, and vital work of art … A starting point for something new, a refresh of where opera can take us”.
The name of jazz trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard has become synonymous with what are described on his website as “artistic works of conscience’’. The Oscar nominee, six-time Grammy winner and 2018 USA Fellow is as well known for his music which makes powerful statements on tragic events in American history as for his significant contribution to the world of jazz. He has composed over 50 soundtracks for film and television, debuted his first opera – Champion: An Opera in Jazz – in 2013, and recorded more than 30 albums. Fire Shut Up in My Bones is described by Associated Press as “…. a triumph for Terence Blanchard … Beautifully composed with nuances of shade and color …”. It has a score which contains elements of both classical music and jazz, requiring singers to have the power of classical training, but also ease with jazz and gospel singing.
Fire Shut Up in My Bones is based on the life of Charles M Blow, well known as an American journalist, commentator, op-ed columnist for the New York Times and current anchor for the Black News Channel. The critically acclaimed memoir, described by People Magazine as “searing and unforgettable”, was a New York Times bestseller, won a Lambda Literary Award, the Sperber Prize and made the lists of many best-sellers published in 2014. The opera relates the story of a young man’s journey to overcome a childhood of trauma and hardship, telling of his life in and around the small and impoverished town of Gibsland in northwestern Louisiana, and moving to his alma mater, Grambling State University, across a timescale ranging from the 1970s to the 1990s.
This Metropolitan Opera production is co-directed by James Robinson, Artistic Director of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, who has created productions for major opera companies in the USA and abroad, and Camille A Brown, the first Black director to create a mainstage Met production. The libretto is by award-winning director, writer, actress and professor Kasi Lemmons, marking her first foray into opera.
Fire Shut Up in My Bones stars baritone Will Liverman as Charles, who – according to the Observer – “…. took his lyric voice to the very limits of its capabilities in Charles’s violently emotional arias. And in more reflective moments, he revealed a piano sound so delicious you couldn’t help falling in love with him purely on the basis of timbre.”
Soprano Angel Blue sings Destiny/Loneliness/Greta with what the New York Times describes as “.… her luminous soprano voice and unforced charisma”. A rising star, she opened the Met’s 2019/20 season as Bess in a new production of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, following her acclaimed French opera debut – and role debut – as Floria Tosca at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in July of that year.
The role of Billie is sung by soprano Latonia Moore, described as “richly talented” by the New York Times, which also praised her performance of Serena in the Met’s 2019/20 season production of Porgy and Bess, writing that she “stopped the show…from almost vibrato-less, celestial high stretches to chilling, chesty low phrases, all of which she sang grippingly”.
Treble Walter Russell III takes the role of Char’es-Baby. Making his Met debut at the age of 13, he “… got the biggest individual cheers” writes Associated Press.
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus are led by Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, whom Associated Press says “…. brought out a vibrant performance ….”, and the broadcast is hosted by Emmy, Grammy and six-time Tony award winner, Audra McDonald.
Fire Shut Up in My Bones – described by the New York Times as “inspiring,” “subtly powerful” and “a bold affecting adaptation of Charles Blow’s work” – is a co-production of the Metropolitan Opera, L A Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago and commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera. Originally commissioned by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, co-commissioned by Jazz St Louis, it premiered there in June 2019.
Content Advisory: Fire Shut Up in My Bones addresses adult themes and contains some adult language.
Information sourced from Metropolitan Opera program notes
Charles M Blow