January 01, 2022

Get to Know: Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones

Terence Blanchard and Kasi Lemmons’s powerful Fire Shut Up in My Bones recieves its much-anticipated Chicago premiere this spring at Lyric. Learn more about this bold and affecting opera and see the stunning new co-production between Lyric, the Metropolitan Opera, and Los Angeles Opera come to life, March 24 through April 8.

Baritone Will Liverman as Charles in The Met's 2021 co-production of Fire Shut Up in My Bones.

Based on the memoir of the same title by American journalist Charles M. Blow, Fire Shut Up in My Bones explores themes of sexual identity and masculinity centered on a defining moment in Charles’s life. It tells a profound story about a young man’s journey to overcome a life of trauma and hardship. At the age of seven, Charles is molested by an older cousin, and the opera begins with its protagonist intending to kill his cousin in an act of revenge. Throughout the opera, Charles is visited by powerful female spirits, Destiny and Loneliness, and later meets Greta, a college classmate he falls in love with and in whom he confides. When Charles discovers that his cousin has returned to their Louisiana hometown, he races home from college to confront his past. Memories and shadows surround Charles as he strives to move beyond a cycle of violence and forge a brave new path. 

Soprano Latonia Moore (center) as Billie confronts her philandering husband Spinner in The Met's 2021 co-production of Fire Shut Up in My Bones.

This haunting, powerful, and tender coming-of-age story has been acclaimed as "stunning" (Essence), "riveting" (Chicago Tribune), and "exquisite" (The New York Times) after its premiere at Opera Theatre of St. Louis in 2019. 

Grammy-winning composer Terence Blanchard is one of the most influential and celebrated jazz musicians of our time. He has composed more than forty film scores and has performed on more than fifty. He is a frequent collaborator with filmmaker Spike Lee and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score for Lee’s 2018 film, BlacKkKlansman. He served as the artistic director for the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz and the Henry Mancini Institute at the University of Miami. 

Composer Terence Blanchard (center) and librettist Kasi Lemmons (front, left) join the cast and creative team behind The Met's 2021 premiere of Fire Shut Up in My Bones.

Librettist Kasi Lemmons is an actor, director, and screenwriter best known for her roles as Ardelia Mapp in Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs and as Bernie Walsh in 1992’s Candyman. Lemmons made her directorial debut in 1997 with Eve's Bayou, and more recently directed the critically acclaimed Harriet, about abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Both films featured original scores by Terence Blanchard. Fire is Lemmon’s first adaptation of a memoir into a libretto.

Walter Russell III as Char'es-Baby in The Met's 2021 co-production of Fire Shut Up in My Bones.

Here are some other important things to note about the opera and Lyric’s production:

  • The opera is based on the riveting memoir by Charles M. Blow, a journalist and columnist for The New York Times and political commentator on CNN and MSNBC. He was The New York Times graphics editor for eight years and also served as National Geographic magazine’s art director.

  • Charles Blow’s 2014 memoir was on the New York Times Bestseller list, received a Lambda Literary Award Winner, and was long-listed for the PEN Open Book Award. He is the author of The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto (HarperCollins, January 2021).

  • Lyric's production features baritone Will Liverman, a Ryan Opera Center alumnus whose new opera The Factotum will premiere in Lyric Opera of Chicago's 2022/23 Season. The rest of the cast includes soprano Latonia Moore, soprano Jacqueline Echols, tenor Chauncey Packer, and baritone Chris Kenney, who is also an alumnus of the Ryan Opera Center.

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.

Photos: Ken Howard/The Metropolitan Opera