You are currently viewing Met Opera reopens with landmark first show by Black composer

Met Opera reopens with landmark first show by Black composer

After an 18-month shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic and protracted labor disputes with its musicians and crew, the Metropolitan Opera reopened Monday with a history-making debut — the first work by a Black composer.

“Fire Shut Up In My Bones,” a poignant opera centered on the tension of growing up a Black man in the American South, was composed by Terence Blanchard, a top-tier jazz trumpeter and Spike Lee’s go-to film score master for three decades.

When the premier US opera company in 2019 first announced its forthcoming staging, it was unclear when exactly “Fire” would come to Manhattan.

But the months of Black Lives Matter protests that reverberated nationwide and beyond over the summer of 2020 lent the project new urgency.

The Metropolitan Opera is the largest performing arts institution in the United States, but in its 138 years of existence has never before presented an opera by a Black composer.

Reopening the Met’s doors with Blanchard’s work offered an opportunity to make a statement.

It’s progress “bigger than me,” the Grammy-winning, Oscar-nominated artist when the Met first announced it would produce “Fire.”

“It says more about what’s going on in our country; what’s going on in the world of art… and the statement that this makes.”

“Fire,” which originally premiered in St. Louis, is Blanchard’s second opera.

With a libretto from film director Kasi Lemons, “Fire” is based on the searing memoir of Charles Blow, a columnist at The New York Times. 

The book recounts his coming-of-age as a black boy in the US Deep South, grappling with racism and abuse, sexuality and and inner rage.

The Met’s 3,800-seat theater opens its doors at Lincoln Center after months of heated labor talks — a dispute that had threatened to derail the opening performance.

But in late August, the orchestra struck a deal with management, which reportedly included pay cuts for musicians with vows to restore some of that pay once box office revenues hit 90 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

All customers and staff along with orchestra and chorus members must show proof of vaccination against Covid-19 during the 2021-22 season, as will attendees.