“I’m rocking. I’m swinging! My roots run deep … “sings Will Liverman at a key moment in Terence Blanchard’s opera Fire shut up in my bones. “I bend, I don’t break! I’m rocking!
This vow of determination expresses a saving grace about Charles, the tortured protagonist at the heart of the opera, intensely embodied by Liverman. But her resilience also communicates something bigger than any story.
“It sums up the African-American experience,” reflects our own Greg Bryant in this episode of Jazz United, to which we dedicated Fire. Last week, Greg joined Nate Chinen for the work’s historic premiere at the Metropolitan Opera – when it became the first opera performed by a black composer in the Met’s 138-year history.
Nate reviewed the opera for NPR Music, calling it “magnetically powerful.” But we both walked away from the evening with a lot to say, and we knew we had to talk about it here – as a powerful translation of Charles M. Blow’s unshakeable memoirs; as a revolutionary moment for black creators in the field of opera; as an emotional experience, both on stage and in the hall.
Blanchard has proven himself to be limitless as an improviser, film composer and conductor. Fire It is less a question of forcing improvisational music onto the canvas, than of drawing inspiration from one of the fundamental philosophies of music: that the composer must serve the narrative by any means necessary. The music and its performers masterfully serve Kasi Lemmons’ libretto, combining a mastery of the classical tradition with a commitment to imparting the black experience.
In our conversation, we reflect on this musical achievement, and why Blanchard was the ideal composer for the task – and reflect on the wider impact of opera, as more institutions grapple with the question. of representation, and creators continue to seek avenues for their work.
The fire is extinguished in my bones: “Bend, do not break”
What I dig: Nate recommends a profile of Jeff “Tain” Watts on Jazz Night in America. Greg wants to scream Guantanamera, where he and Nate had dinner after the show.
Jazz United is produced by Trevor Smith for WBGO Studios.