The season begins with the very first opera by a black composer | At national scale

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New York (AP) – Charles Blow was in the audience at the premiere of the opera based on his memoir “Close the Fire in My Bones” and his childhood by an older cousin. I remember seeing a scene of sexual abuse.

“To be honest, it was more unpleasant to see everyone looking at me. They were so nervous about it that they worried about my reaction.

They didn’t have to worry, Blow said in an interview. “When I wrote the book, I was already taking care of all of them,” he said. “I don’t have the trauma that many expect from me.”

Blow, a New York Times columnist, will reappear in audiences when the opera opens the Metropolitan Opera season on September 27. It will be the first opera performance at home since the pandemic closed 18 months ago.

More historic is the fact that the “fire” score by jazz trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard will be the first opera by a black musician to be unveiled at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the first time in 138 years.

“Of course you’re proud to be tagged with that,” Blanchard said after a rehearsal last week. “But I know I’m not the first person to qualify, so I have a special feeling of sadness, not guilt.”

For example, Blanchard said he heard the first one-act opera “Highway 1” performed by black composer William Grant Still at the Opera Theater in Saint Louis this summer, at the premiere of “Fire” in 2019. Said. 1963.

“I’m sitting there listening to it,” he said.

According to Blanchard, OTSL artistic director James Robinson wrote another opera after the premiere of the first “champion” based on the life of boxer Emile Griffith in 2013. down. When his wife Robin Burgess recommended reading Blow’s memoir, Blanchard said it struck a chord.

In his book, Blow, now 51, was a shy and sensitive kid from the Louisiana countryside, with four macho brothers, a benevolent child drunk for his father, and a gun. He explains that he grew up in poverty as a warm and hardworking mother. Her handbag.

Born in New Orleans, Blanchard said, “I knew a lot about his growth as I wanted to be a musician, walked to the bus stop on weekends, put on my glasses with my horn, and other boys were playing football on the street. It was not a popular look. “

To write the libretto, Blanchard hired his friend and frequent collaborator, filmmaker Kasi Lemmons. She had never written an opera script, but said she was on the “to-do list” of what she wanted to accomplish someday.

“I didn’t know what the normal process was,” Lemons said. “I didn’t even know the script would run first. I thought maybe the music was coming first.

She turned to Robinson for advice. Robinson made the final proposition that “in opera you can sing anything”. Inspired by this, she created two characters known as Fate and Loneliness to accompany Blow at various points in her life. She also has a child playing the role of young Charles on stage in various locations with an adult character.

Lemons said he was nervous about how Blow would react to some of his inventions. “OK, I wrote this guy’s loneliness as a character. It’s pretty boring.

“On the other hand, the way he spoke about loneliness in the book was very clear,” she said.

After she handed the script to Blanchard, he set it to almost unchanged music. The score is imbued with jazz rhythms and is full of lyrical passages, including authentic tunes by certain characters.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art production is co-directed by Robinson and Camille A. Brown. Music director Yannick Neze-Seguin met, with baritone Will Riverman as adult Charles, soprano Latonia Moore as mother, soprano Angel Blue as Destiny, Ronellines and his girlfriend Greta . Lead. The final performance, on Saturday afternoon October 23, will include eight performances that will be shown live in HD in theaters around the world.

This work is a joint commission from the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Los Angeles Opera, which will be announced next spring.

In his memoir, Blow describes himself as bisexual and writes candidly about having a homoerotic fantasy dramatized in opera through a dance sequence choreographed by Brown.

Lemons wants to be able to draw inspiration from his story by overcoming the traumatic blow that the public suffered in his youth.

“It’s very sad, but it’s not sad Charles Blow,” she said. “The climax of the story is how to harness the power of pain.”

Blanchard repeats this point of view. “The mere fact that Charles has had such success in his life shows how much he has overcome,” he said.

“I hope some young children coming to this opera will see it. Hope this can really change some people’s lives.

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