MET Opera House building–Lincoln Center/Monday September 27th, 2021. MET Opera Opening night!
Welcome back friends, to in-person opera at The MET Opera House!
And on Opening night!!!
Yay! yay! yay!
So potent, powerful, and passion infused!
So ecstatic even, after 18 months of MET Opera House closure, to be able to discover on Opening night, among many friends, on a wonderfully balmy and dressed up ‘to the t’ evening, in New York City’s MET Opera House, last Monday, a new, contemporary, unique, “verismo” “opera in jazz” work, set in an African American community; overflowing with gorgeous music and dancing, ranging from jazz to classical, to traditional music from rural communities, including gospel, big band and blues.
An opera both deeply moving, and highly energizing, as opera and life can sometimes be; in a nutshell, a groundbreaking, sizzling, personal, revelatory, modern work, on top of being a historic opening!
How about that!
Yay! Yay! Yay!
What else is there to say about this new, unique, philosophical, three acts long, modern, 2019 opera/”opera in jazz” “Fire Shut up in my bones”?
It is by Terence Blanchard, a contemporary American composer of wide variety of genres, rooted in jazz; a six time Grammy award winner, a praised trumpeter, born in New Orleans, and best known for his film scores (in particular, for Spike Lee); and “Fire Shut up in my bones” is his second opera, which feels very cinematic, and of today.
It is based on a contemporary memoir set in late XXth century, of journalist and commentator Charles M. Blow, depicting his poignant and vibrant early life, in north western Louisiana; a life filled with joy, vulnerability and trauma, from childhood, all the way to early adulthood, in a rural, poor, African American community; and which, to everyone’s joy, ends on a hopeful note, as the hero understands ultimately, that he needs to leave pain behind, to move forward in life triumphantly, and choose instead, to persevere, love, and learn resilience; in other words, learn to bend, not break, to simply sway, as heroes do.
Yay! yay! yay!
And to me this “verismo” “opera in jazz”, although set in an African American culture, and in a recent and mundane past, specifically ranging from the 1970’s to the 1990’s is incredibly timeless, as were some of Puccini’s works, in their time (in particular “Il tabarro”) or for example as well Janáček’s “Jenůfa”; it is an opera as powerfully moving, as more “escapism” opera can be, when set in exotic cultures (such as Verdi’s “Aida” to Saint-Saëns’ “Samson et Dalila” for example), in its depiction of humanity’s capacity for happiness, joy, love and triumph, despite life’s complexities, in which tragedies and pain often, also coexist, with beauty, healing, hope, and love.
Yay! yay! yay!
So again, as many, I was very impressed with this wonderfully vibrant, new, contemporary opera/ “opera in jazz”: relevant, engaging, energizing, cinematic, powerfully moving and invigorating, musically rich, including exhilarating and intoxicating dancing (as it does also, in many older operas such as for example, Massenet’s “Manon”, Bizet’s “Carmen”, Wagner’s”Tannhäuser”).
Yay! yay! yay!
And this “Fire shut up in my bones” opera/ “opera in jazz” is difficult to categorize, because the music is so rich with various musical and dance traditions, but just gorgeous, arresting and gripping, and gloriously conducted, by acclaimed MET’s Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin. As was its ebullient, ardent, and exciting co-direction by James Robinson and Camilla A. Brown. And what a poetic, personal, and nuanced libretto by Kasi Lemmons.
Yay! yay! yay!
And the singers who resonated most with me, were American Soprano, Latonia Moore, as engaging and emotional as the hero’s/Charles’ mother “Billie”, as she was as “Serena”, in Gershwin’s MET Opening night in 2019 in “Porgy and Bess”, as well as American soprano, Angel Blue’s luscious operatic voice and sensitivity, as three different characters “Destiny”/’Loneliness” and “Greta”, as was American baritone, Will Liverman, as the hero, “Charles”, for his raw expression of pain, and young Walter Russell III, as young “Charles”, for his authentic candor and expressivity.
And the only aspect from classic opera repertoire, I did miss, despite all the inventiveness of the music and the brilliant storytelling techniques and inventions (depicting feelings as characters, for example, is a wonderful idea, reminiscent of Wagner to me, for example); so the only aspect from more traditional opera I did miss, was the presence of more real “arias” or actual songs in the opera.
For example, I loved the blues heard in a bar in Act I, or Charles’ ballad about “Peculiar grace”, and wished there had been even more such “songs” /”arias”, even more solos, or duets, or chorus singing, as we find also in “musicals”. And this opera also, to me, was reminiscent of “musicals”, in particular of “West Side Story” in its energy and visceral qualities.
Here are two excerpts of the opera, which particularly moved me, listen to the gorgeous music and to Charles’ “Peculiar grace” ballad describing his pain, and later his hope, and sense of liberation.
Just incredibly beautiful.
And now, let’s admire the incredible step dance from Act II while Charles is in college:
And here are great examples from blues, gospel, and pop, which this opera evoked for me:
So, to sum up my feelings about this new contemporary opera “Fire shut up in my bones” by Blanchard: what magical music, from the very first bar to the last, and what incredible visceral dancing (in particular, the opening scene in Act II, and the “Step” dance in Act III), which both contribute to an incredibly poetic, highly emotional, energizing, modern, and compelling work.
And which literally, moved the entire MET Opera audience, to the core.
Wow! and Yay!
Until next time friends!
Eternal butterflies 😊