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Terence Blanchard [Talks Back]
In June, the Metropolitan Opera announced that it will stage an opera by an African-American composer for the first time in the company’s 163-year history.
John Wirt

New Orleans jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard composed Fire Shut up in My Bones, the Met’s historic choice. “He’s a brilliant composer,” Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, told The New York Times following the announcement. The opera may premiere in New York as soon as the 2020-2021 season.

Times classical music critic Anthony Tommasini reviewed Fire Shut up in My Bones’ world premiere production at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. “Vocal lines,” Tommasini wrote in June, “flow from lyrical wistfulness to snappy declamations; dense big-band sonorities in the orchestra segue into lighter passages backed by a jazz rhythm section. And there are rousing evocations of gospel choruses at church, blues and, during a fraternity party, a rhythmic chorus of spoken words, finger snapping and dance steps.”

Kasi Lemmons based the Fire Shut up in My Bones libretto on a memoir by Louisiana native Charles Blow, a New York Times opinion columnist. Blanchard previously composed musical scores for Lemmons’ films Eve’s Bayou, The caveman’s Valentine and, opening November 1, harriet, a biopic about Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman.

This year has been a big one for Blanchard, including his sixth Grammy Award and UCLA’s announcement that he has been named the first Kenny Burrell Chair in Jazz Studies at the Herb Alpert School of Music. The Met and UCLA announcements follow the Oscar nomination Blanchard received in January for Spike Lee’s BlacKKKlansman. Lee and Blanchard have collaborated on more than a dozen films since the trumpeter composed the music for 1992’s Malcolm X.

Blanchard received another honor in October when the New Orleans Film Society presented him with its career achievement award. And the New Orleans Film Festival screened two new Blanchard projects, harriet and the Michael Murphy documentary, up from the Streets: New Orleans: The city of Music.

Speaking from Los Angeles, Blanchard—whose laurels also include his 2016 Best of the Beat award for best contemporary jazz artist—talked about harriet, up from the Streets and his historic place in American opera.

The Metropolitan Opera recently announced that it will stage your second opera, Fire Shut Up in My Bones. Was having an opera presented by the Met a longtime goal?

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November 2019

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