The Met Opera reopens with the black composer’s first historical performance
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New York (AFP)
After an 18-month closure due to the coronavirus pandemic and prolonged labor disputes with its musicians and team, the Metropolitan Opera reopened on Monday with a historic debut – the first work by a black composer.
“Fire Shut Up In My Bones,” a poignant opera centered on the tension of growing up a black man in the southern United States, was composed by Terence Blanchard, a prominent jazz trumpeter and master of film music of Spike Lee for three decades.
When America’s premier opera company in 2019 first announced their upcoming staging, it wasn’t clear when “Fire” would be coming to Manhattan.
But months of Black Lives Matter protests that reverberated across the country and beyond in the summer of 2020 gave the project new urgency.
The Metropolitan Opera is the largest performing arts institution in the United States, but in its 138 years of existence it has never presented an opera by a black composer.
The reopening of the doors of the Met with the work of Blanchard was an opportunity to make a statement.
This is progress “bigger than I am,” the Grammy-winning, Oscar-nominated artist told AFP when the Met first announced he would produce “Fire.”
“It says more about what’s going on in our country; what’s going on in the art world… and the statement it makes.”
“Fire”, which was originally premiered in Saint-Louis, is Blanchard’s second opera.
With a libretto by director Kasi Lemons, “Fire” is based on the searing memoirs of New York Times columnist Charles Blow.
The book chronicles his coming of age as a black boy in the Deep South of the United States, struggling with racism and abuse, sexuality and inner rage.
Blanchard, 59, is a regular at showbiz: he has composed dozens of films during a dynamic career that has seen him work with greats like Herbie Hancock, Dr. John and Stevie Wonder.
– ‘Momentary’ –
About an hour before thousands of people dressed in formal wear – including a parade of vibrant jewel-toned dresses and feathered shirts – began to enter the multi-story Lincoln Center house, a long line formed in outside an outdoor amphitheater in Harlem for a simulcast of “Fire”.
Among that audience was Linda Talton, who called it “sad” that it took over a century for the Met to present the work of a black composer.
“There are so many black composers who probably could have done it 50 years ago, 75 years ago,” said the 54-year-old education consultant. “It’s just America.”
Blanchard’s jazzy score ushered in the powerful show with a world-class ensemble through a number of emotional stages. The performance also included several captivating dance sequences, including a college dance number that caused the audience to stand up with applause midway through Act II.
“Fire” began with Blow as a young child, played by the awesome Walter Russell III, and saw his development into a young adult, played by Will Liverman.
The famous Angel Blue played his college girlfriend, Destiny, and also appeared on stage as a captivating metaphor for “Loneliness”.
The 3,800-seat Met Theater opens at Lincoln Center after months of heated labor talks – a dispute that threatened to derail the opening performance.
But in late August, the orchestra struck a deal with management that would have included pay cuts for musicians who pledged to restore some of that pay once box office revenues hit 90 percent of levels. ‘before the pandemic.
All customers and staff as well as orchestra and choir members must show proof of Covid-19 vaccination during the 2021-22 season, as are participants.
The remainder of the Metropolitan Opera season features works by Verdi, Mozart, Wagner, Stravinsky and Puccini.
“Fire” is currently scheduled to last until October 23.
“I have a feeling it’s going to be something important, and not because it’s me,” Blanchard told AFP of the historic staging.
“Just because it is.”
© 2021 AFP