Opening Night of the Metropolitan Opera’s 2021–22 season will be a historic occasion—the Met’s first performance of an opera by a Black composer, FIRE SHUT UP IN MY BONES. Laemmle Theatres will screen the opera live on Saturday, October 23 at our Claremont and Pasadena theaters. Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts Grammy Award–winning jazz musician and composer Terence Blanchard’s adaptation of Charles M. Blow’s moving memoir, which The New York Times praised after its 2019 world premiere at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis as “bold and affecting” and “subtly powerful.” Featuring a libretto by filmmaker Kasi Lemmons, the opera tells a poignant and profound story about a young man’s journey to overcome a life of trauma and hardship. James Robinson and Camille A. Brown—two of the creators of the Met’s sensational recent production of Porgy and Bess—co-direct this new staging; Brown, who is also the production’s choreographer, becomes the first Black director to create a mainstage Met production. Baritone Will Liverman, one of opera’s most exciting young artists, stars as Charles, alongside sopranos Angel Blue as Destiny/Loneliness/Greta and Latonia Moore as Billie.
From Zachary Woolfe’s New York Times piece September 23 piece A Black Composer Finally Arrives at the Metropolitan Opera: Terence Blanchard, best known for scoring Spike Lee films, reopens the 138-year-old opera company with FIRE SHUT UP IN MY BONES:
“In 1919, William Grant Still was in his 20s — many years from the eminence he would later enjoy as the widely acknowledged “dean” of Black American composers. But he had already begun to write operas, and he boldly approached the nation’s most important company: the Metropolitan Opera in New York. We have no evidence he got an answer. Two decades later, Still was far more established, with his “Afro-American Symphony” widely performed. In 1935, he sent the Met “Blue Steel,” its music infused with jazz and spirituals. “Not worthy of consideration,” a company official wrote in an internal submissions ledger. Then Still wrote another opera, “Troubled Island,” about the Haitian revolution, with a libretto by the poet Langston Hughes. “The Metropolitan was our first target, logically enough,” he later recalled. That, too, was dismissed. “It would be a mere waste of time,” a 1942 entry in that submissions ledger went, “to go into details about this opera which is an immature product of two dilettantes.” The Met, the country’s largest performing arts institution, opened in 1883, and in its 138 years has put on some 300 titles. Not one has been by a Black composer.
“Until now. Closed for a year and a half by the pandemic and rocked by the nationwide uprising for racial justice, the company will reopen on Monday with “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” by Terence Blanchard, a jazz trumpeter and composer best known for scoring a host of Spike Lee films. “It’s a phenomenal honor, and it’s an overwhelming thing,” Blanchard, 59, said after a recent rehearsal. “But at the same time it’s bittersweet. I was just in St. Louis and heard the William Grant Still piece.” (Still’s one-act “Highway 1, U.S.A.” was done there this summer.) “And I’m like, OK, he was around. I’m honored, but I’m not the first qualified person to be here, that’s for sure.””
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From Charles M. Blow’s September 29 New York Times piece It Wasn’t Just My Life on That Stage. So Was My Purpose:
“I strongly believe in therapy, the idea of talking things out, working them through, as a way of making it over. A therapist once told me that I liked to keep my glass filled to the brim, but in so doing, there was no space for the extra and unexpected in life. When those things came, as they surely would, I would inevitably feel overwhelmed because my cup would always overflow. His analysis was spot on, and it has stayed with me. I have tried at times not to keep my cup so full, but that instinct feels foreign to me. If I am not on the edge of too much, I don’t feel like myself, I don’t feel like I’m living up to my potential and aspirations.
“And so I have adjusted in another way: I have learned not to bask in any adulation too fully or feel any pain too deeply. I have learned to keep my life as even and steady as I can, so that I can better survive it and also better enjoy it. This is one reason the past few days have felt so otherworldly to me. On Monday, “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” the opera composed by Terence Blanchard and based on my memoir of the same name, premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. It was the first opera on that stage by a Black composer in the institution’s 138-year history.”
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