I could not wait to see Fire Shut Up in MyBones, the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s premiere of Terence Blanchard and Kasi Lemmons’s new opera. Only four performances remain for this latest in Lyric’s continuing long-term focus on developing and presenting new work on its mainstage. Performances are Tuesday, March 29 at 7pm; Saturday, April 2 at 7:30pm; Wednesday, April 6 at 2pm; and Friday, April 8 at 7pm. Don’t miss it!
It is a very exciting new co-production between Lyric, the Metropolitan Opera, and Los Angeles Opera. Dealing with difficult issues, the production’s sensitivity energy and beauty make this an amazing experience. See the Trailer.
American journalist Charles M. Blow’s memoir Fire Shut Up in My Bones is the basis for the opera. With libretto by Kasi Lemmons and music by world famous musician and composer Terence Blanchard, the story of seven-year old Char’es baby is told. Although at its’ core, the focus is on Charles’s struggle to overcome an incident in which he is molested by an older cousin along with other trauma in his life, it is paralleled by his mother’s struggle to find a place of dignity for a black woman.
As the opera begins its protagonist is intending to kill his cousin in an act of revenge. Throughout the opera, Charles is visited by powerful female spirits, Destiny and Loneliness, and later meets Greta, a college classmate he falls in love with and in whom he confides.
The story is also told in dance with fantastic choreography by co-director Camille A. Brown throughout the second and third act.
Learning that his cousin has returned to their Louisiana hometown, Charles races home from college to confront his past. It is his memories and shadows that surround Charles as he strives to move beyond a cycle of violence and forge a brave new path.
Fire Shut Up in My Bones brings together an extraordinary collection of talent, including the composer Terence Blanchard, one of the most influential figures in American jazz, whose score is a fusion of opera, jazz, gospel, and other musical traditions, and Kasi Lemmons, a celebrated screenwriter and film director, whose bracing and poetic libretto skillfully adapts The New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow’s memoir for the stage. The production is conducted by Daniela Candillari and co-directed by James Robinson and Camille A. Brown, with Brown also providing the opera’s electrifying choreography.
The topflight cast includes many of America’s most brilliant singing actors, including Will Liverman, an alumnus of Lyric’s Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center, in the central role of Charles; Latonia Moore in her Lyric debut as Charles’s mother, Billie. Brittany Renee keeps her three roles distinct in the roles of Destiny, Loneliness, and Charles’s girlfriend Greta in her Lyric debut; Chauncey Packer as Spinner, Billie’s womanizing husband, in his Lyric debut; and Chris Kenney, also an alumnus of Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center, who returns as Chester, Charles’s abusive cousin. And keep an eye out for Benjamin Preacely as Char’es-Baby making his Lyric debut.
For me, the standouts were the gorgeous voices and fabulous music enhanced by the Lyric orchestra conducted by Daniela Candillari, remarkable staging, sets, costumes, beautiful voices, and the pairing of the young and older Charles. Above all, it is the story that is complex, compelling, beautiful and uplifting that holds my attention.
The pre-opera film about the creative process of bringing Fire Shut Up in My Bones to Lyric, featuring composer Terence Blanchard and star Will Liverman can be seen here and it is very enlightening and enjoyable.