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

Lyric has announced exciting highlights from the 2021/22 Season, one of which will be the Chicago premiere of Terence Blanchard’s powerful Fire Shut Up in My BonesLearn more about this bold and affecting opera, a co-production between Lyric and the Metropolitan Opera, before tickets go on sale.

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. Casting for this important production will be shared as part of Lyric's full season announcement, coming in 2021.

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. 

Composer Terence Blanchard is an award-winning jazz musician who has composed more than forty film scores and who 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. 

Librettist Kasi Lemmons is an actor and director 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. Fire is Lemmon’s first adaptation of a memoir into a libretto.

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

  • The Metropolitan Opera recently announced that Fire Shut up in My Bones will open its 2021/22 Season. The new coproduction being developed between the Met and Lyric will close Lyric’s mainstage 2021/22 Season.

  • Fire will be the second Lyric mainstage work by an African American composer. Anthony Davis’s Amistad received its world premiere at Lyric in 1997. Lyric is committed to embedding the principles of inclusion, diversity, equity, and access throughout our company, and in the stories and communities that we represent on our mainstage each season.

  • 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 forthcoming The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto (HarperCollins, February 2021).

Photos: Eric Woolsey / Opera Theatre St. Louis