Lyric introduces BLUE to Chicago
In June, Lyric will present the Chicago premiere of Blue, by composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson. Lyric is planning an array of public programs to bring audiences further into issues that are central to this extraordinary new opera, which focuses on the senseless violence affecting one Black family.
“Blue is about the realization of a family’s greatest fear for their son – that someone will take his life because he’s a black male in America,” says Crystal Coats, Lyric’s interim director of Lyric Unlimited. “And that’s exactly what happens – he’s a teenager who’s shot by a white police officer.” Also essential to the plot is that the boy’s own father is a police officer – a black man in blue. We never find out why the son was shot, “but that’s less important than the fact that it happened,” adds Coats, “and that it happens to black people in America on a regular basis.” At the same time, it’s essential in thinking about Blue to acknowledge “the entire life of the son. He was the firstborn, the parents celebrated his birth, nurtured him, they made plans for him, he grew into a teenager, and he died. But he had a life, and we don’t want to dismiss it.”
The activities planned in association with Blue are meant to reflect that life. Lyric’s goal is to create multiple opportunities to connect to the relevant and timely issues presented in this opera. Lyric will offer a combination of live events, digital media, and interactive projects.
One exciting project is Thoughts on Parenthood, a collaboration between Lyric and Chicago-based social justice artist/photographer Tonika Johnson, who is best known for her award-winning “Folded Map Project.” For Thoughts on Parenthood, Lyric has partnered with community organizations, city departments, and cultural institutions across the city of Chicago to solicit feedback from parents on their experiences raising children. From the respondents, Tonika will select a few to interview and photograph. Those portraits will be shared on the Lyric website. “At its heart, this opera is about the experience of two parents,” says Coats. “This project is an opportunity for our audience to compare the experiences of parents from demographics across the city.”
Any Chicagoan who identifies as a parent is invited to participate in a short survey to capture stories about their experience. For the purposes of this survey, a “parent” is defined as anyone who has taken legal and/or social responsibility for a child. The goal is to include as many unique stories of parenthood as possible, so if you consider yourself a parent, we encourage you to participate!
In addition to Thoughts on Parenthood, Lyric is planning a Community Welcome Reception to kick off Blue public programs, panel discussions, and additional online resources. Among the community organizations involved in these activities are the Rebuild Foundation, Chicago Children’s Museum, Heartland Alliance, and the Chicago Public Library System.
It’s important for Lyric to be telling these stories of the Black experience in America,
says Coats. “Especially through an art form like opera that can allow for nuance as well as drama. For an issue that is directly impacting all of us in Chicago, opera is as well suited for telling the relevant stories of today as it was 200 year ago.”