Met returns with the first work by a black composer in its history


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NEW YORK (AP) – “We bend, we don’t break. We’re wavering! ”Sings the choir in the second act of Terence Blanchard’s“ Fire Shut Up in My Bones ”.

This is how the nearly 4,000 spectators of the Metropolitan Opera felt as they watched Monday night’s historic performance, the first work staged in the house since March 2020 and the first by a black composer in the long history of a company which started in 1883.

With many women wearing evening dresses and jewelry and a large percentage of men in black ties and even a few in white ties, tails and top hats, people greeted each other to celebrate their return. at Lincoln Center after an absence they never imagined. .

After a historic gap of 566 days, the country’s largest performing arts organization had resumed presentations held at the start of the season which was scheduled to run through June 11. The comeback drew a much more diverse audience than those who usually attend the Met and was simultaneously broadcast live for video screens in Times Square and Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park.

There was a minute’s ovation for the orchestra at the start, even before “The Star-Spangled Banner” was sung with many shimmering high notes. And when it was over more than three hours later, about nine more minutes of applause for the cast, the songwriter, librettist Kasi Lemmons, the production crew and finally Charles M. Blow, opinion columnist for The New. York Times whose 2014 memoir was adapted for the Opera.

The evening was a triumph for Blanchard, a 59-year-old jazz trumpeter and composer who like Blow hails from Louisiana. A heart-wrenching story of pedophilia in segregated northern Louisiana from the 1970s is beautifully composed with undertones of shadow and color.

“Fire” premiered in 2019 at the St. Louis Opera Theater and premiered at the Met as part of a co-production that will travel to the Lyric Opera in Chicago in March and to the Los Angeles Opera during next season. (The Met’s October 23 Matinee, the last of eight performances, will be shown in theaters around the world.)

This was Blanchard’s second opera after 2013’s “Champion” about boxer Emile Griffith, and the music is most colorful and moving in the orchestral parts. Sometimes the vocal writing can seem more subdued, especially in the first act. Energy builds at the start of Act Two Baptist Church with “Wash Me Clean” and her memories of a storm from her youth.

There is an allusion in the text to what appears to be the “Liebesnacht” of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde”, a duet between Charles and his girlfriend Greta proclaiming “I used to hate the night. Night was my sworn enemy. And resuming the search for sexual identity, a theme of Blow’s book, Charles sings towards the end “I am what I am”, recalling “La Cage aux Folles”, the winner of the Tony Award 1984 of Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein .

Blanchard and Lemmons condense a largely descriptive book on key moments from Blow’s memoir: growing up the youngest of five, the assault by a cousin Chester, his baptism, the brutal hazing by a Grambling fraternity, and the search for love. with first Evelyn and later Greta. The biggest response from the audience was for the brothers of the dancing fraternity, who stopped the show.

Blanchard and Lemmons advance the plot by blackmailing the adult Charles (the imposing baritone Will Liverman) alongside the young Charles, said Char’es-Baby. Walter Russell III, a 13-year-old who played young Charles, received the greatest individual acclaim with a star-studded performance that was charming, insightful and moving.

An all-black cast included soprano Latonia Moore as Charles’s beloved mother Billie, soprano Angel Blue in the endearing triple roles of Destiny, Loneliness and Greta and bass baritone Ryan Speedo Green as menacing uncle. Paul.

Musical director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, wearing a colorful shirt very different from that of his predecessor James Levine, and conductor Donald Palumbo gave a vibrant performance. Nézet-Séguin, engaged in a contemporary work rarely seen at the Met, will conduct Matthew Aucoin’s “Eurydice” in November.

Directors James Robinson and Camille A. Brown (she was also the choreographer) stalled a breezy production with Allen Moyer sets dominated by two large squares that moved on and off stage.

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