Lyric Opera of Chicago is proud to present the Chicago premiere of Fire Shut Up in My Bones, a new opera from six-time Grammy Award winner Terence Blanchard and Kasi Lemmons, based on the memoir by New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow.
The opera follows young Charles, a “child of peculiar grace,” on his inspirational journey to becoming a man. We are taken through the turbulent 1970s in rural Louisiana, where Charles faces a chaotic home life and self-doubt on his path towards college and ultimately to self-acceptance. It is an opera that looks and sounds like America, as seen through the lens of Black culture and told by Black storytellers.
Fire Shut Up in My Bones brings together an extraordinary collection of talent—composer Terence Blanchard, one of the most influential figures in American jazz, whose score is a fusion of opera, jazz, gospel, and other musical traditions; first-time librettist Kasi Lemmons, a celebrated screenwriter and film director; and a topflight cast including many of America’s most brilliant singing actors, including Will Liverman, an alumnus of Lyric’s Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center. When the opera had its New York premiere at the Metropolitan Opera last year, it instantly became the must-have ticket for the fall. Chicago audiences will soon discover why.
Blanchard’s dramatic and heartfelt music combines with Lemmons’s elegant and poignant libretto to set the stage for James Robinson and Camille A. Brown’s cinematic direction and Brown’s dazzling choreography to create a singularly profound and moving experience. Fire Shut Up in My Bones is an opera for today.
- Iconic jazz trumpeter and composer brings a dense and diverse soundscape to opera. A living legend in the jazz world, Terence Blanchard has won six Grammy Awards. His second opera, Fire Shut Up in My Bones opened the 2021/22 season at the Metropolitan Opera (as a co-production with Lyric), causing a sensation. Blanchard is also highly regarded for his more than 60 film scores and is noted for his 30-year collaboration with director Spike Lee; his work for Lee has earned him two Oscar nominations (BlacKkKlansman in 2019 and Da 5 Bloods in 2021). His most recent album, Absence, featuring his band the E-Collective and the Turtle Island Quartet, was released last year by Blue Note Records and pays homage to his mentor, the legendary jazz musician Wayne Shorter.
- A bracing and poetic libretto. The acclaimed screenwriter and director of films such as Eve’s Bayou and Harriet (both of which feature musical scores by Terence Blanchard), Kasi Lemmons brings her unique storytelling gifts to opera for the first time. Her rhythmic text lends intimacy to the opera’s broader themes and fluidly captures the spirit of Charles’s voice from Blow’s memoir. In one of her libretto’s many innovations, Lemmons personifies the ideas of destiny and loneliness, who appear as characters who challenge and comfort Charles.
- Based on the gripping, best-selling memoir of an esteemed columnist. The opera is adapted by Blanchard and Lemmons from the 2014 memoir of the same name by Charles M. Blow, a longtime New York Times Opinion columnist and current anchor for the Black News Channel. In his book, Blow traces the arc of his life from his troubled childhood to his formative experiences in college to his journey to becoming one of the most respected public figures in the country.
- A familiar face marshals the opera’s unique musical forces.Conducting the production is Daniela Candillari, who has recently led Lyric’s chamber performances of Fellow Travelers (2017/18 season) and An American Dream (2018/19 season). Candillari is the third woman to conduct at Lyric this season, following Karen Kamensek (The Magic Flute) and Eun Sun Kim (Tosca). In this production, the Orchestra is augmented by a jazz quartet who play some of the score’s most indelible melodies.
- Creative team features Camille A. Brown in dual roles. The production leadership includes co-directors James Robinson and Camille A. Brown, who also co-directed the Met’s production and are making their Lyric debuts. The design team features set designer Allen Moyer, costume designer Paul Tazewell, lighting designer Christopher Akerlind, and projection designer Greg Emetaz. Camille A. Brown has also won great acclaim for her choreography of the show, which features 10 dancers performing an array of dance styles. Highlights include the haunting dream ballet in the second act and the electrifying step dance, set at Charles’s fraternity, that opens the opera’s third act.
- A Chicago homecoming for star Will Liverman. In the central role of Charles, Will Liverman proves why he is one of the brightest rising stars in opera. An alumnus of Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center, Liverman calls Chicago home and has been at Lyric in roles such as Dizzy Gillespie in Charlie Parker’s Yardbird (2016/17 season). His album Dreams of a New Day—Songs by Black Composers with pianist Paul Sánchez, released by Chicago-based label Cedille Records, is nominated for a 2022 Grammy Award for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album. He is also an active composer of new music; his chamber opera The Factotum, commissioned by Lyric and written with DJ/producer King Rico, is a comedy set in a Black barbershop on Chicago’s South Side. The opera’s first workshop in 2020 was chronicled in a documentary feature available for viewing on Lyric’s website.
- An impressive roster of co-stars. Starring alongside Liverman is a formidable group of accomplished singers: Latonia Moore in her Lyric debut as Charles’s mother, Billie, a role she sang to thunderous acclaim at the Met; Brittany Renee in her Lyric debut in the roles of Destiny, Loneliness, and Charles’s girlfriend Greta; Chauncey Packer, reprising his role as Spinner, Billie’s womanizing husband, in his Lyric debut; andChris Kenney, an alumnus of Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center, who returns in the pivotal role of Chester, Charles’s abusive cousin.
- Only six chances to see the show all of Chicago will be buzzing about: March 24, 27m, 29, April 2, 6m, and 8. (The performance on March 29 was recently added to the schedule due to extraordinary demand.) See complete performance dates and times here.
- Performed in English with easy-to-follow projected English titles above the stage.
- A running time of 3 hours, including one 30-minute intermission.
- Content advisory: Fire Shut Up in My Bones addresses adult themes and contains adult language.
- A co-production of Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Metropolitan Opera, and LA Opera. Commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera. Originally commissioned by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, co-commissioned by Jazz Saint Louis.
- Lyric requires that all audience members provide a valid photo ID and proof of full vaccination against the COVID-19 virus and, when eligible, a booster shot. For updated information about Lyric’s ongoing health and safety protocols visit lyricopera.org/safety.
- Photos are courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago unless otherwise noted.
On the evening of Friday March 25th, Terence Blanchard will be at the Chicago Humanities Festival with conductor Daniela Candillari and former Chicago Tribune Howard Reich to discuss the process of adapting this acclaimed musical. The program will also include a special performance by soprano Whitney Morrison.
As the groundbreaking opera Fire Shut Up in My Bones comes to our city, there will be a behind the scenes look hosted by CHF and the Lyric Opera of Chicago. This intimate evening features a conversation with famed jazz musician and composer Terence Blanchard and conductor Daniela Candillari; moderated by former jazz, classical and opera critic for the Chicago Tribune Howard Reich. These artists will explore the process of adapting New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow’s acclaimed memoir about his childhood in the South into an opera that sounds like America, centering on the Black experience in this country as few operas have done before.
This program includes a performance by soprano Whitney Morrison, accompanied by pianist William C. Billingham.
This program is presented as part of the Stanek Endowed Music Series and in partnership with Lyric Opera of Chicago.