Terence Blanchard’s opera: “The fire goes out in my bones”

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The Metropolitan Opera in New York opened its 2021-2022 season with a production by jazz trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard. “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” is an interpretation of memoir written by “Sunday Morning” contributor Charles Blow, in which he describes his angst growing up in a small town in Louisiana in the 1970s and 1980s.

Will Liverman sings “Peculiar Grace” from Act II of “Fire Shut Up in My Bones”:


The fire is extinguished in my bones: “A special grace” through
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New Yorker magazine writer Hua Hsu said, “The audience was just applauding the artists after the step performance. It was, like, five minutes of continuous ovation.

“I know these guys have a cramp, man, holding this position for five minutes!” laughed Blanchard. “What a moment. What a moment for people to see each other. And they’ve never seen that on the Met stage.”

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The dancers perform in “Fire Shut Up in My Bones”.

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“What attracted you about the story of Charles Blow?

“It was the idea of ​​being isolated in your own community.”

Blanchard, who started playing the trumpet at the age of nine, spoke of feeling like he had a kind of double existence: “In the street, hanging out with his friends, then being that kid who has to break away from it all. ‘bus stop with its horn in hand on a Saturday. You know, that wasn’t a cool thing to do in my neighborhood. “

“Do you translate certain feelings into music?” Hsu asked.

“You have to allow yourself to be vulnerable,” Blanchard replied. “While I was working on it, man, there were a lot of times in my loneliness where I was just in tears. ‘Once upon a time there was a boy of special grace.’ This line touches me every time. “

Terence Oliver Blanchard grew up in New Orleans, in a house full of opera.

Hsu asked, “Your father was a huge opera fan; what did opera represent to him?

“Sophistication, the highest level of artistry. Every time there was a ‘Masterpiece’ performance on PBS, he’d say, ‘Hey, come over here, come over here. Listen. Listen. See, now this is. is music. It is music. ‘”

Blanchard’s passion is jazz. Today, he is a six-time Grammy winner and two-time Oscar-nominated film composer.

Terence Blanchard performs “Levees”, from his Grammy Award-winning album, “A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina)”:

He has been working on film soundtracks since the late 1980s, first as a trumpeter, on films like “Do the Right Thing”, when he started working with director Spike Lee. He remembered, “I just got hired as a session player, and I sat at the piano and started playing. Spike came by and heard it. He said,” Dude, c what is that? I said, ‘Oh, just something I’m working on.’ And then he says, ‘Can I use this?’ “

Blanchard composed the music for 15 Lee films.

Hsu asked, “When did you feel like a songwriter? “

“When we did ‘Malcolm X’ it was the first time I felt like I was emotionally connected to something I was writing for the movie. This movie, I knew, had to be powerful. “

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Composer Terence Blanchard.

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A ledger from the early 1900s contains the Met’s internal notations on opera submissions. “Amateur.” “Uninteresting.” “Not suitable for the Metropolitan.”

Hsu said, “It’s funny that they take themselves so seriously that he writes ‘Metropolitan’ every time. There isn’t a lot of space.”

During its 138 years, America’s greatest opera house and performing arts institution had never staged an opera by a black composer.

Blanchard said: “The arts are meant to be things that bring us together, that reject all of these notions of bigotry and intolerance, right? So it breaks my heart to think that William Grant Still is approached the Met and was turned away. “

Yet known as the “dean of African-American composers,” submitted three operas to the Met over a 20-year period.

Hsu asked, “In the 1920s and 1930s, what kind of opportunities were there for William Grant Still?

“None,” Blanchard replied. “It was all measured by what happened here at the Met. This is the place that makes the statement to the rest of the world.”

“These are all people whose works have failed at this point – Ms. Horatio Parker, Ms. Francis Thurber, Gertrude Auld Thomas, William Grant Still, women, African Americans, people [who] wanted to play here. They saw this as the pinnacle, and the reviews are so dismissive. Do you think there is a racial component to this rejection? “

“You think is there a racial component to that? Look, man, there’s misogyny all over the place too, with all these women who’ve been rejected, isn’t there? “

But this time it was the Met who reached out to Blanchard: “Called me and said, ‘We want to put your opera at the Met.’ I’m like, did this really happen? All of a sudden, boom, and it explodes and takes off like a runaway freight train. “

Performances of “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” sold out quickly. “And that should be a big lesson for arts organizations across the country,” Blanchard said. “It’s time. It’s time for us to move on, you know? Nobody loves classics more than me. Listen, I’m a jazz musician who loves Bird, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk. But I don’t. don’t try to be them. I’m trying to find the sound for my generation. “

In reviews, the production has been hailed as unlike any other opera. For Terence Blanchard, it was an opportunity to take risks.

Hsu said, “I hadn’t been to the opera since, you know, a third grade school trip. And there were times my ears caught up with what was going on. I was like, ‘Wait, is do they just sing blasphemy? ‘”

“Yes! Exactly. Exactly,” laughed Blanchard. “It’s not like we’re trying to be layman for the sake of being layman. It just kind of increased the energy.”

“Now that you’ve caught the opera bug, are you working on another one?”

“Well that’s the thing. Gala night, man, you know, ‘On behalf of the Met, we’d like to get Terence to write another opera for us.’ I was like, ‘Whoa, alright. I just wanna take a nap in between if I could!’ “

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Story produced by Mary Raffalli. Publisher: Emanuele Secci.


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