Kenneth Kellogg, Briana Hunter, Aaron Crouch, Gordon Hawkins; Washington National Opera Orchestra/Roderick Cox
Pentatone PTC 5186 967 (CD/SACD) 121:45 mins (2 discs)
Blue was premiered at The Glimmerglass Festival* in 2019 – a year before George Floyd’s murder spotlit the ongoing scourge of police brutality towards young Black men across America. The timing lends an appalling prescience to the story of this opera, and its outrage that Black communities ‘have been here before’.
A young Black couple against the odds raise a teenage Son until their worst nightmare is realised at his fatal shooting by a police officer. The twist is that the Father is himself a cop, running the daily gauntlet of life as a Black man who dares to don the ‘blue’. Shaped as a series of dialogues, Tazewell Thompson’s libretto is eviscerating in its fury and grief, and the agonising conflicts experienced by people torn apart by racist violence. Yet it’s equally, painfully full of tenderness, love and humour. The contrasts are beautifully matched in Jeanine Tesori’s score, which moves from lush warmth to splintered dissonance in a heartbeat, straddling art and vernacular styles with subtlety and verve.
The cast’s performances are both moving and cogent in their refusal to accept the toxicity thrust upon them. Kenneth Kellogg, Briana Hunter and Aaron Crouch are eloquent as Father, Mother and Son, a trinity supported by three Girlfriends and three Policemen who morph into a church congregation led by Gordon Hawkins’s dignified Reverend. Conductor Roderick Cox brings luminosity to a finely honed Washington National Opera Orchestra.
*Editor’s Note: The original version of this review incorrectly stated that Blue was premiered in Washington DC. Amended here with apologies on 25 Jan 2023.