On October 16th, Deerfield Academy’s Music Department took around 50 students and faculty to New York City for the premiere of Fire Shut Up in My Bones, giving students and faculty a chance to witness the Met Opera’s first performance of a piece by a Black composer.
Terrence Blanchard, the mastermind behind the piece, is a well-established American Jazz composer, renowned for composing over forty film scores and performing in more than fifty. He has received two Academy Awards nominations for composing the musical scores for the films BlacKkKlansman and Da 5 Bloods. Furthermore, from fourteen nominations, he has received six Grammy Awards.
Fire Shut Up in My Bones is a three-hour long adaptation of a 2014 memoir by Charles M. Blows. With three acts and two intermissions, many were touched by the opera’s sensuous and profound narration of a young man’s journey to overcoming a life of trauma and hardship. The Opera’s 2019 world premiere at The Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has been praised by The New York Times as “bold and affecting” and “subtly powerful.” David Salazar of Operawire called it “a masterpiece” and Gabrielle Ferrari of Parterre reflected that “Blanchard’s score is richly colored and beautifully orchestrated.”
The trip was made possible by a special Deerfield-endowed fund called the Mcleod Opera Fund, which permits members of the Deerfield community to see various performances at the Met Opera. For the past two years, community members have not been able to go as a result of the Opera closing down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The endowed fund continued to receive donations over the Opera’s hiatus, allowing for a larger group of students to attend a more premium performance this year.
The bus headed for New York City after 8:00 A.M., arriving at the Lincoln Center at around noon. Students were then encouraged by the Director of Music Thomas Bergeron to explore the center before the Opera’s opening at 1:00 P.M., who described the building as “architecturally magnificent” and “filled with amazing art.” Nicole Xing ‘22 commented, “I think a big part of what made this specific opera stand out to me was the fact that I believe it’s the first opera ever written and composed by a Black man to be shown in the Met [Opera].”
Xing added, “I think it is very unfortunate how art by people of color are incredibly under-represented in the States, especially in areas that are generally exalted to be the judges of fine art. It’s 2021, and the fact that this is the first time the Met has showcased an opera written by a Black person is just insane to me, therefore it’s really important that we come out and show our support.”
When Iris Wong ‘23 was asked if the Opera was important for everyone, including those not attending, she answered:
“I think it’s definitely important. It doesn’t have to be something that everyone has to watch, as some people like opera, some don’t, but I believe that it is crucial to be aware of the positive changes made by highly-regarded institutions, such as featuring stories from a diverse variety of voices. I’ve been trying to spread the word myself too.”