In its 138-year history, the Metropolitan Opera has never staged an opera by a black composer – until now. After 18 months of pandemic-related cancellations, the Met opened its 2021 season in September with a performance of Terence Blanchard's Fire Shut Up In My Bones. A second opera by a black composer – Anthony Davis's X: The Life And Times of Malcolm X – is due to be staged at the Met in 2023.


Fire Shut Up In My Bones, which has an all-black cast, is based on the memoir of New York Times journalist Charles M Blow. The story follows Blow's upbringing in poverty-stricken segregated Louisiana in the 1970s, enduring sexual abuse to become a successful columnist and writer.


This might only be his second opera, but Blanchard is no stranger to composing, having previously been nominated for two Academy Awards for his film scores to Spike Lee's films BlacKkKlansman and Da 5 Bloods. As well as composing, Blanchard is a Grammy-winning jazz trumpeter. There are jazz references throughout Fire Shut Up In My Bones, with Blanchard referring to the work as 'an opera in jazz'.

The Met's music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin has been leading the house orchestra and principal soloists – including baritone Will Liverman and soprano Angel Blue – in the production, which is anticipated to run until the end of October. A jazz quartet is embedded into the orchestra. Joining the singers on stage is 16 dancers, choreographed by Camille A Brown, who co-directs the production along with James Robinson, with whom she also created the Met's recent, hugely successful staging of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess.


UK audiences will be able to watch this historic Met performance in cinemas via the Metropolitan Opera's HD Live programme from 23 October.

Terence Blanchard's Fire Shut Up In My Bones will be staged at The Metropolitan Opera until 23 October 2021.

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Freya ParrDigital Editor and Staff Writer, BBC Music Magazine

Freya Parr is BBC Music Magazine's Digital Editor and Staff Writer. She has also written for titles including the Guardian, Circus Journal, Frankie and Suitcase Magazine, and runs The Noiseletter, a fortnightly arts and culture publication. Freya's main areas of interest and research lie in 20th-century and contemporary music.