BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – “Great Performances at the Met,” the series produced by the Metropolitan Opera in association with PBS, has been a primary means of bringing the best of the Metropolitan Opera into the homes of opera fans across the country . It continues at 9 p.m. on April 1 with “Great Performances at the Met: Fire Shut Up in My Bones.”
Grammy-winning jazz musician and composer Terence Blanchard’s production of an adaptation of Charles M. Blow’s memoir marks the first performance of an opera by a black composer at the Met and his first return production in his theater after the shutdown of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is only Blanchard’s second opera who is best known for his work in the jazz world. Her connection to opera came at an early age through her father – an amateur baritone – who played all the most famous operas in their home.
“Because I heard all these operas and the melody lines and the structure of these operas really stuck with me, you know, the dramatic nature, you know, of ‘Turandot’ or ‘Carmen’ or any of those things, you know, really played a big part in how I see telling those stories in its form,” Blanchard says.
Featuring a libretto by filmmaker Kasi Lemmons, the opera tells the story of a young man’s journey to overcome a life of trauma and hardship. James Robinson and Camille A. Brown co-direct this new staging, with Brown also choreographing, becoming the first black director to create a Met production on stage.
Blow struggled to talk about how he feels when he sees his life story re-enacted on stage as it deals with such a traumatic time in his life. His reluctance to see the work stems from a concern that it is not healthy for him to continue reliving this dark period.
“Part of me says it’s something that happened in my life and it’s in the past. The two times I’ve been in the public, it’s really in the present. I don’t think that’s healthy for me,” says Blow. “So I try to appreciate both what I’ve done as a literary work, as literature, as an artistic creation that tells a true story , but doing my best to raise her to be useful to people.
“The only reason I wrote about it was because I thought it would be useful for other people who might be going through the same things and I owed this to the world because only I could write what was mine. But I had to dig up something that was buried to be able to do it.
Even when Blow toured the country promoting his book, he only read the most positive parts of his book to the public. He had to face history again when he was approached to make his story into an opera.
He says he faced history once again and then had to let it die again.
“As a person, just as a person, separate from what people might think is an honor to have your life on stage, I look at it and try to appreciate it as a work of art that this incredible team of people has created. I appreciate it for the art,” Blow says. “It’s also a traumatic thing that I can’t – it’s hard to say, ‘oh, I’m so thrilled. ‘
“I’m thrilled for the creative team to have done something amazing. I’m also thrilled that there are people going to see it for whom it will do what I hope the book would do for people. , that is, it will trigger something in you.
Blanchard fully agreed with Blow on why the creation of the opera was so important. It was never just an opportunity to stage a grand musical production or the grandeur of opera. It was about creating something that touches people.
Blanchard says, “It was really about helping souls and helping people heal. That’s really the ultimate goal of why we get into art anyway, at least the reason I became an artist, is to help people through those tough times.
“I know what art and music have done for me and my life, and I want to be able to create something to do the same for others.”
Baritone Will Liverman portrays Charles alongside soprano Angel Blue in Destiny/Loneliness/Greta with soprano Latonia Moore in Billie and Walter Russell III in Char’es-Baby. Six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald is the host.
The broadcast is part of Season 16 of “Great Performances at the Met” which kicked off in February and will run through November.