On September 27th the Metropolitan Opera will have the opening night of Terence Blanchard’s new opera, “Fire Shut Up In My Bones.” The Met Opera was founded in 1880 and when the curtains rise on that Monday night, Blanchard will make history becoming the first Black director to create a mainstage Met production performed at this prestigious and historic institution. Let that sink in.
Blanchard has adapted New York Times journalist Charles Blow’s memoir into an experience that transcends race and class. When I recently sat down and spoke to Blanchard, I was curious to know how he felt about making history, opening the door for Black performers and composers, representing his beloved New Orleans, and paying homage to all of the teachers and musicians who have influenced him throughout his career.
Many readers may know Blanchard because of his trumpet skills and his impressive catalog. Others may be familiar with Blanchard as a composer for motion picture films and his close work with director Spike Lee on soundtracks and original scores as wide ranging as “Jungle Fever,” “Mo’ Better Blues,” “Malcolm X,” “Crooklyn,” “Clockers,” “Inside Man,” “Bamboozled,” “Get on the Bus,” “Four Little Girls,” “Red Tails,” “BlacKkKlansman,” “Da Five Bloods,” to name just a few.
What struck me throughout my conversation with Blanchard was his recognition of all of the teachers he has had throughout his career who helped him think not only about musical construction and innovation, but also the importance of mentorship and dedication to one’s craft. Blanchard as a trumpeter, a pianist, or a composer, has mastered all three lanes.
My excitement for “Fire Shut Up In My Bones” stems from my excitement for the world to see a stage full of African American opera singers performing songs written by an African American, based on a memoir written by an African American. History is being made at one of America’s most prestigious cultural institutions and in traditional Blanchard fashion, the Oscar-nominated composer is focused on the work and the final product. He is excited for the audience to be able to experience what he’s seen in rehearsals these past few months, especially the dedication of the performers and the incredible choreography by the brilliant Camille A. Brown.
I asked Blanchard if he ever sleeps, as I listened to his new album “Absence” (Blue Note records). He explained that his work ethic stems from his parents and seeing his father work two jobs in addition to making time to write and perform music. I am thrilled for this performance and all of the doors it will open for so many in the future.
For those interested in a night at the opera, go to www.metopera.org. Tickets start at $37, and the show runs on select nights from Sept. 27 to Oct. 23.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC.