Last night, Monday 27 September, New York’s Metropolitan Opera made history by presenting an opera by a Black composer for the first time in 138 years. After 18 months of cancelled performances due to the pandemic, the opera house opened its new season with Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones.
As a trumpeter Terence Blanchard has performed with jazz legends including Lionel Hampton and Art Blakey. He has been nominated for two Academy Awards for his film scores and has won five Grammys for his jazz recordings.
From his expansive work composing the scores for Spike Lee films ranging from the documentary When the Levees Broke, about Blanchard’s hometown of New Orleans during the devastation from Hurricane Katrina, to the epic Malcolm X and the latest Lee film Da 5 Bloods, Terence Blanchard has created powerful soundtracks for human stories.
Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones
Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones is based on celebrated writer and New York Times columnist Charles M Blow’s moving memoir of the same name. The opera tells a poignant and profound story about his journey as a young man to overcome a life of trauma and hardship. The libretto was written by Kasi Lemmons and commissioned by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis where it premiered in 2019. The New York Times described Blanchard’s opera as “inspiring” and “subtly powerful”.
Although Terence Blanchard is a jazz composer he said Fire Shut Up in My Bones is not a jazz opera and described it as “an opera in Jazz”. He explained that what he sought to do is similar to what Stravinsky did when he brought folkloric melodies into classical music.
“I’m trying to take American folklore that I know, that I’ve experienced, which is jazz,” Terence Blanchard said, “and bring that into the operatic world, but not totally use the entire piece to make a statement about jazz.”
Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducted a stellar cast, led by Will Liverman as Charles, Angel Blue as Destiny/Loneliness/Greta, and Latonia Moore as Billie.
Choreographer Camilla A Brown, who also co-directed the production, is the first Black director to create a mainstage Met production.
The Metropolitan Opera presented a free, live simulcast of the Opening Night performance of Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones, on Monday 27 September, in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park. The performance could also be seen on multiple screens in New York’s Times Square, a tradition that returned for its 15th season.
“Our Opening Night will be historic”
“We are very pleased to welcome audiences for the Met in Marcus Garvey Park for the very first time,” said Met General Manager Peter Gelb. “Our Opening Night will be historic for the Met both in the opera house and in Harlem.”
Following Opening Night on 27 September seven additional performances of Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones will run until 23 October – book tickets here.