Review: Blanchard-Lemmons' FIRE SHUT UP Makes Another Splash at the Met

Ryan Speedo Green Delivers Stellar Performance in the Starring Role in Robinson-Brown Production

By: Apr. 11, 2024
Review: Blanchard-Lemmons' FIRE SHUT UP Makes Another Splash at the Met
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It was tough separating the opera from the event when FIRE SHUT UP IN MY BONES opened the first post-Covid pandemic season at the Met. Back then, in September 2021, FIRE made history as the first opera by a Black composer, Terence Blanchard with his librettist Kasi Lemmons, to make its way to the Met stage. This week, it returned to show that contemporary opera can have “legs” on the big stage of the company.

When I say “legs” in referring to this work, it definitely has more than one meaning.

Most importantly, it had the opportunity for it to prove that the opera, based on the book by Charles M. Blow, which garnered so much praise at its premiere, was not a flash in the pan, a one-time phenomenon. In the past—and in the present as well—new music doesn’t often have a chance for us to hear it again soon enough.

Contemporary works, as well as lesser-known older ones, that we hear in the concert hall and opera house don't usually have a second chance to make an impression on us. They have their big season and then disappear back where they came from, the score back on the shelf, the scenic design in the warehouse.

With BONES (and later this spring at the Met, THE HOURS by Kevin Puts and Greg Pierce), a contemporary work is still in our consciousness from the last time we heard it, fresh and alive, before it has had a chance to be forgotten and a revival simply becomes another “first impression.”

Blanchard’s jazzy, richly lyric score anchors the evening through the Met Orchestra under Evan Rogister, while giving the singers ample opportunities to shine. That includes the glorious baritone Ryan Speedo Green, who is a powerful presence, vocally and dramatically, from the moment he comes on stage, in the central role of Charles; and treble Ethan Joseph as his younger self, Char’es Baby, who knew how to portray “a boy with a peculiar grace” and could hold his own in his duets with Green.

There is also soprano Latonia Moore as his mother, Billie, who is key to her son’s life and the opera itself; and soprano Brittany Renee in a trio of roles that are the crossroads of Charles’ life coming out as a gay man: Destiny, Loneliness and Greta (who might have been called Rejection). Getting ready to retire, Donald Palumbo shows he still has a strong grip on the forces of the Met’s fine chorus, who were in peak form.

Lemmons’ libretto gets somewhat bogged down in the storytelling of Act I, as it lays out the whys and hows of Charles’ problems. It is only in Act II that things really start moving. That’s where the other meaning of “legs” comes in: through the wonderful choreography devised by Camille A. Brown, who has the co-director credit with James Robinson and she deserves all the accolades she’s gotten for her work here, for she helps the evening truly come alive.

It is the dream (nightmare?) ballet sequence Brown has devised for the start of Act II, of Charles’ guilt about his gay desires, where the story manages to thrust forward. (Most dance sequences in traditional operas seem only to bog the action down). The big number, which brings down the house, is when the main character, Charles, rushes a college fraternity, and the brothers lead an elaborate, energetic step dance. Unlike so many directors who make their way to the Met stage, these artists act like they belong there.

The production is Allen Moyers’s scenic design, aided immeasurably by Greg Emetaz’s projections and the lighting by Christopher Akerlind, is cinematic in style and never seems out of place in a work that asks hard questions and demands a great deal from its physical environment.

FIRE SHUT UP IN MY BONES will be performed at the Met through May 2. For more information and tickets, see the Met’s website.

Caption: (l to r) Brittany Renee, Ryan Speedo Green, Latonia Moore and Ethan Joseph

Credit: Marty Sohl/Met Opera


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