FIRE SHUT UP IN MY BONES
The metropolitan opera HD LIVE
An adaptation of Charles m. Blow's eponymous novel.
Composer: Terence Blanchard
Libretto: Kasi Lemmons
Co-Directors: James Robinson and Camille A. Brown
Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Walter Russell III
Running time: 3 hours 35 mins. (including interval)
Australian release date: Limited screenings from Saturday 20 November 2021.
Finally, audiences are once again able to experience the front row of the Metropolitan Opera, direct from New York City, now that the Met’s Live in HD series has begun in cinemas again after the COVID-19 lockdown. There is another reason to celebrate, too, because the season is currently showing a splendid production of Fire Shut Up in My Bones, the first time in the Met’s history that an opera has been written by a Black composer (jazz musician Terence Blanchard) and the libretto by an African-American woman (movie director and actress Kasi Lemmons).
Set in the small, poor town of Gibsland in northern Louisiana - where, incidentally, Bonnie and Clyde met their grisly end - and at Grambling State University, the story commences in the 1970s and moves through to the 1990s. It is told in three acts, the first setting the tone for the rest of the story. The main protagonist is Charles (Will Liverman), who was called “Char’es-Baby” (Walter Russell III) when he was a boy. He was also considered a “graceful boy living in a dangerous place”, as “sweet as pecan pie” and “a mama’s boy”, who spent his childhood seeking love and affection but was often ignored because he was the youngest of five brothers. Sexually molested by a relative when he was seven-years-old, the abuse left Charles with an overwhelming, unrelenting sense of grief and confusion which carried through to adulthood. Wanting to release himself from the past, which haunted him in his dreams, he felt he was faced with only two choices: either take his mother Billie’s (Latonia Moore) advice, when she would say “sometimes you gotta lay your burden down” in order to get on in life, or seek bloody revenge on his abuser.
The cast is magnificent: Walter Russell III and baritone Will Liverman often sing together as they are playing different aged versions of the same character and both are in fine voice, particularly Liverman; soprano Latonia Moore as Charles’s mother is superb; and a second soprano, Angel Blue, playing the triple role of Charles’s constant companions, Destiny and Loneliness, plus his first girlfriend, Greta, is her match. This intimate and revealing opera also uses utilises the best in set design (featuring clever back projections), costumes, lighting and production values. Special mention must also be made of the superb choreography by Camille A. Brown and, of course, Blanchard’s exceptional score, which unites a variety of musical styles into the opera - you can hear influences from jazz, gospel and even Latin music. The conductor is Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
This Live in HD production is hosted by soprano Audra McDonald, who interviews the leads, the conductor and Terence Blanchard himself. Fire Shut Up in My Bones is an emotional roller-coaster ride, not to be missed. You even get to glimpse Spike Lee in the stalls; we’re told it’s his second visit - that in itself gives credit where it is due.
Other operas to look forward to in the Live in HD season can be found here: http://www.themetinaustralia.info/