January 19, 2022

A timely story of struggle comes to life at Lyric

Opera composers have long looked to literature for inspiration. From novels and plays to biographies and historical accounts, there are few things as magical as seeing your favorite story come to life before your eyes. This March, Lyric is proud to present the Chicago premiere of Terence Blanchard and Kasi Lemmons’s contemporary opera, Fire Shut Up in My Bones. The source for this extremely moving work is New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow’s widely acclaimed memoir of the same name. Published in 2014, the book scaled the charts, being named one of the best books of the year by Publishers Weekly, Shelf Awareness, Buzzfeed, Bookpage, and The Root. Telling the story of his turbulent upbringing in 1970’s Louisiana, the opera Fire Shut Up in My Bones offers a revealing look at the Black experience in this country as few other operas have done.

Add depth and nuance to a night at the opera by reading the New York Times bestseller before you see the story move from page to stage. Here are a few discussion questions to enhance your experience and kick start conversations with friends:

  • As a child, Charles often felt different from other boys and developed survival skills to cope with the loneliness — charming adults and developing his wit and intellect. Why do you think opera librettist Kasi Lemmons chose to personify Destiny and Loneliness through characters in the show?
  • The book and opera both begin with Charles driving home, hell-bent on revenge. In the book, however, it was his cousin Chester who made the phone call to a college-aged Charles; whereas in the opera, his mother Billie tells him his cousin is visiting. How do you think the delivery of this news affected the character’s emotions?
  • Were the sets and costumes what you envisioned while reading? Why or why not?
  • When a book is adapted for stage or screen, judicious cuts have to be made. Were there any specific moments or characters from the memoir that you were surprised did not appear in the opera?

Charles M. Blow, New York Times Opinion columnist and author of The Devil You Know: A Black Manifesto (2021) and Fire Shut Up In My Bones (2014).

If you have a book club or group that may be interested in attending a performance of Fire Shut Up In My Bones, groups of 8 or more receive discounts on opera tickets, opportunities for pre-show dining or reception, plus flexibility and premium customer service to support itinerary planning. Bookstores can also request flyers, bookmarks, or posters to display at your location. For more information, contact Group Sales at 312.827.5720 or [email protected].

March 24 – April 8, 2022

Fire Shut Up in My Bones

Fire Shut Up in My Bones

New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow’s widely acclaimed memoir is the source for this extremely moving story of his traumatic youth in Louisiana. What an amazing collection of talent — composer Terence Blanchard, one of the most influential figures in American jazz; librettist Kasi Lemmons, director of such remarkable films as Harriet and Eve’s Bayou; and a topflight cast including many of America’s most brilliant singing actors. Fire Shut Up in My Bones is an opera for today, revealing the Black experience in this country as few other operas have done.

Header photo: The 2019 world premiere of Fire Shut Up In My Bones at St. Louis Opera. Credit: Eric Woolsey

Other photos: Beowulf Sheehan for Air Mail