Metropolitan Opera Season Opens With First-Ever Black Opera Composer

By Darby Jones September 28, 2021
Terence Blanchard made history Monday night as the first Black composer in the  Metropolitan Opera’s 138-year history with ‘Fire Shut Up in My Bones.’

History is being made this week at New York’s Metropolitan Opera — for the first time in its 138-year history, the company will present an opera by a Black composer. After closing its door for the past 18 months due to the pandemic, the nation’s top opera house will open its new season with Fire Shut Up in My Bones, composed by Terence Blanchard.

Blanchard is a renowned jazz trumpeter and composer best known for scoring Spike Lee films, for which he has been nominated for two Academy Awards. He has played with jazz legends like Lionel Hampton and Art Blakely. But, at a recent rehearsal at the Met Opera, Blanchard was stunned by the scale of the production.

“I never thought I’d be in a situation like this, to walk in a room and there’s like 40 singers singing something that I’d written, and they’re rehearsing it,” he told NPR. “And then in the next room, there’s 16 dancers choreographing to a piece of music that I’ve written. And then in the other room, the principal singers are blocking—I keep waiting to wake up.”

Blanchard refers to Fire Shut Up in My Bones as “an opera in Jazz.” He says he is bringing jazz to the opera world, but not using the entire piece to make a statement about jazz. 

The show was first performed two years ago by the Opera Theatre of St. Louis. For the Met production, new scenes and a chorus were added, along with a troupe of dancers. The opera features an all-Black cast and mostly Black creative team.

“It’s an interesting thing because of what it means to society,” he said. “It’s not just about me being a composer. These people understand that this production is going to make a statement about our community, and how our community has been overlooked in the operatic world. There’s not a soul in this production who doesn’t get it.”

Image source: The New York Times