I’ll get the bad news out of the way first. In a repeat of the 2014 telecast of Werther featuring Jonas Kaufmann, the signal from the Met’s broadcast of Fire Shut Up In My Bones was lost at the opera’s climax and did not return until the middle of the curtain calls. I was told by the theater’s personnel that this likely happened in all the sites receiving the telecast. I don’t know if such was the case, but here’s the opera’s last 10 minutes taken from the performance of October 19. Fire Shut Up In My Bones finale. As was the case with the Massenet opera, this technical failure was a crushing end to a great performance.

The Met is so woke that a constant Haldol IV drip could not make it miss a social justice moment. At the same time it was trying to stiff its musicians and stagehands by cutting their salaries, it hired a highly paid Director of Diversity. What is they supposed to do beyond what’s already being done? If the Met gets any more diverse, Peter Gelb will be selling single cigarettes on Broadway. The company reopened after a COVID induced aphasia of 18 months with the first opera by a black composer ever staged by the company. A work based on the memoir of a far left black journalist, Charles Blow, with an all black cast. These characteristics were enough to ensure a rapturous response from the Met’s woke audience and critics. Despite all the posturing, Terence Blanchard’s opera is the best new work to appear at the Met in decades. Sometimes craziness is not enough to subdue high quality.

Blanchard’s music is tinged with a bit of jazz and a lot of rhythmic and emotional content. It starts with its weakest music – a parlando writing that resembles many other recent operas. But once the scene shifts to the chicken factory where Charles’ mother Billie works, the pace quickens and doesn’t falter for the duration of the opera. Blanchard’s vocal line is right in the sweet spot of all the performers. His orchestral writing is bright and brilliant. It makes full use of a modern orchestra and includes a jazz band which gives the sound an apposite tinge.

The story centers on Charles’ sexual abuse by his cousin Chester when he was 7 years old. The young Charles (called Char’es-Baby) appears throughout the piece singing along with the mature Charles. This pairing works better than it might seem away from the stage. The opera focuses on the scar and sexual confusion the abuse left on Charles, a condition not dealt with until the opera’s end – the conclusion we didn’t get to see or hear.

The work’s dramatic intensity captures the audience’s attention and builds on itself as the story unfolds. The opera is a cohesive whole, but a few highlights are worth mentioning. The music to the ballet that opens Act 2 is lovely. The dancers depict Charles’ homoerotic thoughts that constantly trouble him. Charles’ aria in the same act is powerful and moving. A quintet, for Charles and his four brothers, depict his and their satisfaction about his getting laid for the first time. There’s a lot of “adult language” in Klasi Lemmon’s libretto. Her lines effectively rhyme. The fraternity initiation was well staged and danced. The duet between Charles and his first love Greta was moving.

The huge cast of singers and dancers were all first rate – not a blemish among them. Four deserve further mention. First, Will Liverman as Charles; he was onstage throughout the performance, save for the chicken factory scene. He gave a searing performance as the opera’s tormented protagonist. Liverman has a rich baritone that seems ready for the standard baritone repertoire. He’s due to sing Papageno in The Magic Flute at the Met later this season. His part in Fire… does not have any very high notes in it, so I can’t tell if he would be right for Verdi. Angel Blue played three roles. Destiny, Loneliness, and the corporeal Greta. She was in lush voice, as is now expected given the excellence of her previous work at the Met. The first two spirits speak to Charles alone. They encourage whatever behavior he’s engaging in when they address him. Latonia Moore was titanic as the put upon mother of five sons fathered by a faithless husband; she wants a better life for her gifted youngest son and for herself. Char’es-Baby was deftly portrayed by the 13 year old Walter Russell III.

The Met’s orchestra played brilliantly under the dynamic baton of the Met’s music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin who wore a shirt made for him by the costume department of the company, but which looked like he got it at Waikiki. The sets were very simple consisting of frames augmented by projections that were better than any previously used by the company.

The Met’s vast resources and extraordinary production values were responsible for some of the opera’s success. How the opera would work in a smaller house and with lesser singers and players is difficult to access. But it was first performed in St Louis in a much smaller theater. I think the work’s quality is sufficient allow it success in most venues, provided the right singers are engaged.

I know I’ve carped about this before, but Garty Halvorson’s video direction had too many really close close-ups.

In summary, I think Blanchard’s opera is a keeper. It should be brought back ASAP. If the Met can restage Akhnaten, they should do Fire… on a regular basis. If you missed the show, or even if you were at the first telecast, don’t skip the encore this coming Wednesday. Hopefully, it will be done to the end.

FIRE SHUT UP IN MY BONES Oct 23, 2021
Terence Blanchard-Kasi Lemmons

Charles……………………..Will Liverman
Destiny/Loneliness/Greta………Angel Blue
Billie………………………Latonia Moore
Uncle Paul…………………..Ryan Speedo Green
Spinner……………………..Chauncey Packer
Char’es-Baby…………………Walter Russell III
Chester……………………..Chris Kenney
Evelyn………………………Brittany Renee
Pastor/Kaboom………………..Donovan Singletary
Verna……………………….Denisha Ballew
William……………………..Cheikh M’Baye
Nathan………………………Oleode Oshotse
James……………………….Ejiro Ogodo
Robert………………………Judah Taylor
Foreman……………………..Norman Garrett
Chicken Plucker/Adult William….Terrence Chin-Loy
Ruby/Woman Sinner…………….Briana Hunter
Young Lovely…………………Marguerite Mariah Jones
Bertha………………………Cierra Byrd
Adult Robert…………………Calvin Griffin
Adult Nathan…………………Errin Duane Brooks
Pledge………………………David Morgans Sanchez
Nash………………………..Chase Taylor
Women: Denisha Ballew, Christine Jobson, Jasmine Muhammad, Kimberli Render, Nicole Joy Mitchell, Karmesha Peake

Orchestra Rhythm Section:
Bryan Wagorn, Piano
Matt Brewer, Bass
Adam Rogers, Guitar
Jeff Watts, Drums

Conductor……………………Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Co-Director………………….James Robinson
Co-Director………………….Camille A. Brown
Set Designer…………………Allen Moyer
Costume Designer……………..Paul Tazewell
Lighting Designer…………….Christopher Akerlind
Projection Designer…………..Greg Emetaz
Choreographer………………..Camille A. Brown
Video Director………………. Gary Halvorson