Terence Blanchard Is The Metropolitan Opera’s First Black Composer

“Of course you’re filled with pride to be labeled with that,” said Blanchard. “But there’s a certain sense of, not guilt, but sorrow, because I know I’m not the first who was qualified.” 

The Metropolitan Opera returns on Monday, opening its season with its first-ever presentation of an opera composed by a Black musician. 

“Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” an opera based on the memoir of the same name by out New York Times columnist Charles Blow, and composed by jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard, will be the first production at the celebrated opera house since it closed at the beginning of the Covid shutdown. Its debut marks the first time that the Met has presented an opera by a Black composer in its 138-year history. 

“Of course you’re filled with pride to be labeled with that,” Blanchard told the Associated Press (AP). “But there’s a certain sense of, not guilt, but sorrow, because I know I’m not the first who was qualified.” 

“Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” originally published in 2014, tells the story of Blow’s childhood in rural Louisiana, and the trauma he endured after suffering sexual abuse at the hands of a cousin. It made its debut as an opera at the Opera Theater of St. Louis in 2019. 

Blanchard and Kasi Lemmons, who wrote the libretto, added artistic devices to Blow’s original story for its transition from page to stage. In the performance, the character of Charles is played by two actors: one plays his younger self and the other his college-aged incarnation still grappling with the abuse he suffered as a child. Blanchard also infused the opera with jazz styles, calling it an opera in jazz, the New York Times reported in 2019

The Met’s production of “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” stars baritone Will Liverman as the adult Charles, soprano Latonia Moore as his mother Billie, and soprano Angel Blue as his girlfriend Greta, and the figures of Destiny and Loneliness. It is co-directed by James Robinson and Camille A. Brown, who is the first Black director to helm a mainstage Met production. The opera runs from September 27 through October 23.


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