“At the Metropolitan Opera, we’re not so used to composers and librettists being present, let alone being alive for years,” said Peter Gelb, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, at last night’s season-opening gala dinner. “So this is a very special night.”
It was indeed. Yesterday evening marked the return of what’s widely considered the world’s best opera house after a pandemic hiatus that caused all the theaters within Lincoln Center to shut their doors. It goes without saying that this city had been sorely missing its opera.
The night will also be remembered as the first time an opera from a Black composer was staged at the Met. Terrance Blanchard, the famed musician and frequent Spike Lee collaborator (the director sat proudly in the audience), saw his riveting Fire Shut Up in My Bones unfold on the stage, a remarkable addition to the Met’s repertoire. The three-act opera, with a libretto by Kasi Lemmons, is based on the troubling memoirs of renowned journalist Charles M. Blow, whose childhood was marred by poverty and sexual abuse—resulting in crippling shame and confusion that stole his innocence.
The production, which featured an all-Black cast, was heavy but not without moments of joy and poignance. Taking the lead were Walter Russell III (whose performance belied his 13 years of age), Will Livermann, Angel Blue, Latonia Morre, and an orchestra led by Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
The historic performance drew out a starry guest list that included Alan Cummings, Grace Gummer and Mark Ronson, Drew Barrymore, Marisa Tomei and Marco Calvani, Camille A. Brown, Cynthia Rowley, and more. All took their place in the opera house dressed up (and masked up) in black-tie attire.
Following the performance, select showgoers made their way to a gala dinner that helped to raise over $3.3 million for the Met. The new production aside, there was a lot to marvel at: Inside the theater, Rashid Johnson’s Mosaics—on loan for the occasion—helped to add a contemporary flourish near the permanent Marc Chagalls. Outside, on the Lincoln Center plaza, dining tables were sprinkled beneath twinkling lights and set with baskets of Southern produce in a nod to Gibsland, Louisiana, the opera’s setting. And then, of course, there was the fashion! Laverne Cox wore a vibrant-hued gown which photographed wonderfully as she danced for the cameras. Renée Flemming looked the part of an opera diva in crimson, and Don Lemon flashed the satin lining of his operatic coat.
A dinner of roasted salmon was served, and midway through the meal Gelb spoke to the audience, giving everyone yet another opportunity to shower Blanchard’s work and all its players with applause—most notably, the man responsible for the entire event, Mr. Charles M. Blow. “Thank you, Charles, for allowing your life-changing story to animate our house,” Gelb said, ending things on a cheeky note: “You’ll be happy to know that this season, you’re joining the ranks of other noble but troubled protagonists being represented on our stage including Hamlet, Orpheus, and Akhnaten—it’s all about the company you keep!”