Through the wonderfulness of a friend I scored a ticket to the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera season. This was a particularly exciting opening night because of course last year there was no season at all. Still, I might not have gone; opening night is fancy and I’m not a fancy kinda gal. But the season opened with FIRE SHUT UP IN MY BONES, Terence Blanchard’s opera based on Charles Blow’s memoir. I very much wanted to see it, so I accepted the challenge of dressing as though I almost fit in. Silk shirt, silk trousers, embroidered silk Chinese slippers — I don’t wear heels — and there I was, among the ball gowns, capes, embroidered sequined jackets… and you should have seen the women, too. No, seriously, everyone looked great.
And the opera? I’m far from knowledgeable enough about opera to be qualified to review it, but it seems unfair to tell you I went and then not tell you how I felt about it. So: the performances were great. Angel Blue, especially, and Will Liverman, were mesmerizing, and Walter Russell III, who plays Charles as a child, has probably had his life ruined by getting a standing ovation on opening night at the Met. The music I also loved. Blanchard drew on many sources and handles his transitions seamlessly. I was disappointed in the libretto. An opera’s not about the libretto, and most are probably disappointing but luckily in languages I don’t speak. I’m probably too word-oriented and placed too much emphasis on it.
The most interesting thing about this opera, though it’s by a Black composer based on the memoir of Black man and performed by an all-Black cast, is that it’s not a Black story, if by Black story you mean a story about racism, a story that defines Black people in terms of how they’re situated in the White world. This opera is about making choices, about a child becoming an adult, about leaving, or not leaving, the past behind. That these universal themes are dealt with in the context of a Black man’s life, instead of the default White life, is, if you ask me, the real cause for celebration.