A work composed by a black musician, historic premiere at the Met Opera in New York

Fire Shut Up in My Bones, a contemporary and flamboyant work with jazz and blues accents by renowned trumpeter Terence Blanchard, was performed on Monday for the post-Covid reopening of the Met.

After a year and a half of the curtain lowered because of the coronavirus, the Metropolitan Opera in New York found its audience on Monday, September 27 evening for a historic premiere that resounded as far as Harlem: a work composed by a black musician, the trumpeter Terence Blanchard. In 138 years of existence and despite great African-American composers like William Grant Still, the prestigious institution had never shown one of their operas, unlike other stages in the United States.

It’s been done since Monday, with Fire Shut Up in My Bones, a contemporary and flamboyant work, with jazz and blues accents, by Terence Blanchard, renowned trumpeter famous for having composed the soundtracks of many Spike Lee films. The libretto, written by American filmmaker Kasi Lemmons, is inspired by the memoirs of Charles Blow, a columnist for the New York Times which chronicles his coming of age as a black boy in the southern United States, struggling with the racism and trauma of a sexual assault perpetrated by a cousin during his childhood.

And for the occasion, the work, performed, sung and danced in the usual lair of the Met Opera, at Lincoln Center, was also shown on a giant screen, in an outdoor amphitheater at Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem, where entry was free. After three hours of performance, concluded with heavy applause, Lara Rabkin, a 48-year-old designer, had tears in her eyes. “It was very powerful. It is important that we talk more about men expressing their emotions, especially black men in our community, because there is often no place to talk about their traumas, their injuries, and to support each other rather than return an image of hardness “, she explained, very moved.

It “goes beyond my person”

Long before the show, in the shade of the trees in the park, near 125th Street in Harlem, a long queue had formed to show his vaccination card and then sit on the benches in the amphitheater. of 1700 places quickly filled. Before baritone Will Liverman sang the first notes, the orchestra, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, had sounded the American hymn, applauded by the standing crowd.

At the end of 2019, the Metropolitan Opera announced that it was putting Terence Blanchard’s opera, already performed in Saint-Louis, on its program, without specifying what place this work would take in its season. A year and a half later, and after the George Floyd affair, Fire Shut Up in My Bones is on the bill for the post-Covid reopening, an even more important symbol. That “Exceed my person” the 59-year-old Louisiana-born, six-time Grammy-nominated and Oscar-nominated musician told AFP, seeing it as a sign that “Says more about what is happening in our country and in the art world.

But for Linda Talton, a 54-year-old education consultant who lives in the Harlem neighborhood, “It should have happened much longer ago”. “It’s a shame that he’s just the first. We are in 2021. We should be ashamed as a country ”, adds this woman, short hair dyed blonde, who says to herself anyway “very happy”. “Terence Blanchard is incredible, he is a legend, it is very beautiful that he honors this space”, she says.

During the pandemic, the Met, the largest employer in the United States in the performing arts sector with more than 3,000 employees, also had to face long social negotiations, against a background of wage cuts, to be able to resume. An agreement was finally reached at the end of August: it provides for salary cuts for musicians, with management pledging to restore some of it when ticketing revenues reach 90% of the level before the pandemic. .


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