NEW YORK – “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 what the approximately 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 launched 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 nation’s largest performing arts organization resumed presentations at the start of the season, which was scheduled to run through June 11. The comeback drew a much more diverse audience than it usually attracts and was simultaneously broadcast live on 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, songwriter, librettist and filmmaker Kasi Lemmons, the production team and finally Charles M. Blow, opinion columnist of the New York Times whose memoir from 2014 was adapted for opera.
The evening was a triumph for Mr. Blanchard, a 59-year-old jazz trumpeter and composer who, like Mr. Blow, is originally from Louisiana. A heart-wrenching story of pedophilia in isolated northern Louisiana from the 1970s is beautifully composed with undertones of shadow and color.
“Fire” premiered in 2019 at the Opera Theater in Saint Louis and was presented at the Met as part of a co-production that will visit the Lyric Opera in Chicago in March and the Los Angeles Opera during next season. The morning of October 23 of the Metropolitan Opera, the last of eight performances, will be shown in theaters around the world.
This was Mr. 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. The energy builds at the start of Act 2 in a Baptist church with “Wash Me Clean” and her memories of a storm from her youth.