June 06, 2024

Get to know: Tesori/Thompson's BLUE

The 2019 work Blue presents the moving story of ​​a Black middle-class couple in Harlem, whose lives are shattered when their teenage son is shot by a white police officer. Compounding the heartbreak is the fact that the Father is a so-called "Black in Blue" — he serves on the very same police force. Tony Award-winning composer Jeanine Tesori's moving music brings to life Tazewell Thompson's probing, sensitive libretto. A co-production of Lyric, The Glimmerglass Festival, and Washington National Opera, Blue was named the Best New Opera of 2019 by the Music Critics Association of North America, and will be on stage at Lyric November 16 to December 1, 2024.

The timing of the composition and premiere of the work proved uncannily prescient, coming as it did just before the reckonings with racial injustice and examinations of law enforcement begun in 2020. The two-act opera opens when the Mother gathers her Girlfriends to celebrate the impending birth of her son. There is joy, but also notes of caution as the women discuss the dangerous lives of young Black men. Before long, we meet The Son as a teenager, full of creativity and idealism, and bridling at his parents' authority. His death, which takes place offstage, becomes all the more tragic because the family had been together in their kitchen only a short time before. After the tragedy, the Father and Mother and their community search for solace amidst powerful feelings of guilt, regret, and loss.

The vocally and theatrically formidable bass Kenneth Kellogg will make his Lyric debut as the Father, a role written expressly for him. Kellogg sang the role in its world premiere at Glimmerglass, and has subsequently performed it internationally at Dutch National Opera and English National Opera. Opposite him will be two other outstanding American artists — mezzo-soprano Zoie Reams, a Chicago native who sang Ragonde/Le Comte Ory at Lyric in the 2022/23 Season (and who also appears in this season's Rigoletto), as The Mother, and baritone Norman Garrett, who had major roles in Lyric's Proximity, The Factotum (2022/23 Season), and Fire Shut Up in My Bones (2021/22 Season), as The Reverend. Also making their debuts will be librettist Tazewell Thompson, who will direct, and Joseph Young, who will conduct the Lyric Opera Orchestra. Composer Jeanine Tesori's latest opera, Grounded, opens the Met's 2024/25 Season, though she is perhaps best known for enormous successes on Broadway including Thoroughly Modern Millie, Kimberly Akimbo, Fun Home, and Caroline, or Change.

Simultaneously contemporary and accessible, and rich with vivid flashbacks, Blue was quickly hailed as a new American classic. The Wall Street Journal described the opera as "wrenching and remarkably original," and the creative forces assembled for this production at Lyric promise a performance of heartbreaking power.

Kenneth Kellogg as the Father in Blue at The Glimmerglass Festival.




Lyric Opera of Chicago presents Blue, by Tony-winning composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson, the poignant tale of a Harlem family shattered by tragedy. The moving production stars bass Kenneth Kellogg and acclaimed artists Zoie Reams and Norman Garrett in this anticipated Chicago premiere.

Photos: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival