Met Returns with 1st Work by a Black Composer in Its History

September 28, 2021

NEW YORK — "We bend, we don't break. We sway!" sings the chorus in the second act of Terence Blanchard's "Fire Shut Up in My Bones." 

That is how much of the audience of about 4,000 in the Metropolitan Opera felt as they watched Monday night' landmark performance, the first staged work in the house since March 2020 and the first by a Black composer in the long history of a company that launched in 1883.

With many of the women wearing evening gowns and jewels and a large percentage of the men in black tie and even a few in white tie, tails and top hats, people greeted each other to celebrate their return to Lincoln Center after an absence they never imagined.

After a historic gap of 566 days, the country's largest performing-arts organization had resumed staged presentations in the start of the season scheduled to run until June 11. The return attracted a far more diverse audience than usually attends the Met and was simulcast live to video screens in Times Square and Harlem's Marcus Garvey Park.

There was a minute ovation for the orchestra at the start, even before "The Star-Spangled Banner" was sung with many a shimmering high note. And when it was over more than three hours later, about nine more minutes of applause for the cast, the composer, librettist Kasi Lemmons, the production team and finally Charles M. Blow, The New York Times opinion columnist whose 2014 memoir was adapted for the opera.

The evening was a triumph for Blanchard, a 59-year-old jazz trumpeter and composer who like Blow is from Louisiana. A wrenching tale of child molestation in segregated northern Louisiana of the 1970s is is beautifully composed with nuances of shade and color.

"Fire" premiered in 2019 at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and was brought to the Met as part of a co-production that will travel to the Lyric Opera of Chicago in March and Los Angeles Opera in a future season. (The Oct. 23 matinee from the Met, the last of eight performances, will be broadcast to movie theaters around the world.)

This was Blanchard's second opera after 2013's "Champion," about boxer Emile Griffith, and the music is most colorful and moving in orchestral parts. At times, the vocal writing can seem more restrained, especially in the first act. Energy lifts at the start of the second act Baptist church with "Wash Me Clean" and his recollection of a storm from his youth. 

There is allusion in the text to what seems to be the "Liebesnacht" from Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde," a duet between Charles and girlfriend Greta proclaiming "I used to hate the night. Night was my sworn enemy." And picking up on the search for sexual identity, a theme from Blow's book, Charles sings near the end "I am what I am," harking back to "La Cage aux Folles," the 1984 Tony Award winner by Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein.

Blanchard and Lemmons condense a largely descriptive book to key moments in Blow's memoir: growing up the youngest of five children, the assault by a cousin Chester, his baptism, brutal hazing by a Grambling fraternity and the search for love with first Evelyn and later Greta. The audience's biggest response was for the dancing fraternity brothers, who stopped the show.

Blanchard and Lemmons move the plot along by having the adult Charles (imposing baritone Will Liverman) sing alongside the young Charles, known as Char'es-Baby. Walter Russell III, a 13-year-old who played the young Charles, got the biggest individual cheers with a star-making performance that was charming, insightful and moving.

An all-Black cast included soprano Latonia Moore as Charles' doting mother Billie, soprano Angel Blue in the endearing triple roles of Destiny, Loneliness and Greta and bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green as the menacing Uncle Paul.

Music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, in a colorful shirt markedly different from the attire of predecessor James Levine, and chorus master Donald Palumbo brought out a vibrant performance. Nézet-Séguin, showing a commitment to contemporary work seldom seen at the Met, is to lead Matthew Aucoin's "Eurydice" in November.

Directors James Robinson and Camille A. Brown (she also was the choreographer) blocked a breezy production with sets by Allen Moyer dominated by two large squares that shifted on and off stage.


ΑTHENS – The International Theatre Festival Monodrama Sofia 2024 presents The Artaud Diptych directed by the preeminent Greek director Ioli Andreadi.

Top Stories


A pregnant woman was driving in the HOV lane near Dallas.

General News

NEW YORK – Meropi Kyriacou, the new Principal of The Cathedral School in Manhattan, was honored as The National Herald’s Educator of the Year.


NYC Officials Shutter Furniture Store Illegally Converted to House More than 40 Migrants

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City furniture store that had been illegally converted into sleeping quarters for more than 40 migrants has been shut down by city officials.

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to decide whether former President Donald Trump can be prosecuted on charges he interfered with the 2020 election and set a course for a quick resolution.

ATHENS - On the one-year grim anniversary of a head-on train crash just outside a tunnel in central Greece, which killed 57 people, promises made in the immediate aftermath to add long-delayed safety measures haven’t been met.

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans have blocked legislation that would protect access to in vitro fertilization, objecting to a vote on the issue Wednesday even after widespread backlash to a recent ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court that threatens the practice.

KUNA, Idaho  — Idaho halted the execution of serial killer Thomas Eugene Creech on Wednesday after medical team members repeatedly failed to find a vein where they could establish an intravenous line to carry out the lethal injection.

Enter your email address to subscribe

Provide your email address to subscribe. For e.g. [email protected]

You may unsubscribe at any time using the link in our newsletter.