It took my mother to help me recall the details of when I went to see my first opera in elementary school. A select few straight A students at Saint Bartholomew were ushered to our box seats at The Academy of Music in Philadelphia. We were there to see Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida. A rare and first-time experience for these young, gifted, and Black native Camden scholars. Butterflies danced in my belly as I watched the figures glide across the stage and sing in an unfamiliar language. I finally got over the fact that I left my glasses home and could barely see their faces. The clear visual just didn’t matter. Because the emotion, the art, and the story — made up in my 8-year-old mind — took me over. It was the love story of an Ethiopian princess and a general. And it was glorious.
The night of Wednesday, Oct. 13th was comparably thrilling as my 13-year-old daughter Devi and I made our way to the Metropolitan Opera House at New York City’s Lincoln Center to see Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones. Of course, I was gobs more excited than she was to put on a gown and thirstily view the show through opera glasses (from my sixth-row orchestra seat). Who wouldn’t want to see the sweat on the brow of every beautiful Black person on stage at this 138-year awaited event? Yes, it has taken forever for this moment to arrive. But it has. And we are grateful and proud.
Blanchard became an immediate favorite of mine when I was initially exposed to his music in college through Spike Lee’s first films. Hearing his brilliant score — by the internationally renowned Canadian Maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin — was beyond delightful and one I could listen to for hours on end. The opera was adapted from the exquisite work of the brilliant journalist, author, and commentator Charles. M Blow’s memoir, Fire Shut Up in my Bones. Will Liverman (adult/Charles), Latonia Moore (mother/Billie), and Walter Russell III (young/Char’es-Baby) are magnificent and lead an ensemble that will captivate you as you’re whisked through the life of a man desperately coming to terms with his childhood trauma.
I settled into my seat and lost myself in the gorgeous characters and a rarely told yet universal story. “Mommy, everybody is Black,” my daughter excitedly said, above a whisper, after waking up from a quick nap during the first act. Neither of us could barely contain ourselves when actors dressed as the brothers of the distinguished Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated appeared on stage. What an epic moment. I almost regretted not shouting a loud Delta Sigma Theta Sorority call but didn’t want to scare the lovely white elderly men seated next to me. The surprises on stage kept coming because I intentionally did not read a single thing, other than a headline or two, about the show prior to attending it.
I did feel slightly uneasy when I asked my daughter what she thought the next day. The subject matter was mature, and I wondered how it may affect her.
“What did you think of the opera?” I asked her the next day as she entered the door from school. I was careful to give us some time to process the moment, the magic, and the significance of the night.
“I really liked it mommy,” she said with a smile as she hugged me, then looked into my eyes before kissing my cheeks.
Mission accomplished. She was introduced to another way that our stories can be shared with the world. And that’s all I wanted, for us to celebrate an evening of history and for the next generation to be exposed to a lovely art form — just like me nearly 45 years ago. But this time, the vision was even better. It was in color.