The Washington Post Sunday

A season of ‘Fire’ and firsts

The curtain rises on Terence Blanchard’s new opera, a premiere by Esperanza Spalding and reinventio­ns delayed by the pandemic


As a big Oprah fan, I’m a believer in the power of manifestin­g. So, despite the traumas of the past 18 months turning as routine a critical exercise as a “fall preview” into what feels like a bold performanc­e of unreasonab­le optimism, I gather this stable-seeming list of upcoming concerts not only as a way to get them on your calendars, but as a way of making them real.

Of course, as a big opera fan, I’m also a believer in the power of jinxing things. At this moment, purporting to know what the future has in store (and declaring it in print, no less) strikes me as precisely the kind of outrageous hubris-wagging that reads like a “Kick me!” sign to the Fates. (Please, Fates. I beg you. No more kicking.)

Seems to me the only way forward is to approach this precarious performing arts predicamen­t like the high-wire act it is, maintainin­g a precise balance between throwing caution and taking care; between heeding the science and listening to the music; between wearing a mask and making it fashion.

Besides, nobody wants to read a “Fall General Idea of Things We’d Like to See Happen Provided Everything Goes as Expected.” So, let us for a moment suspend our collective disbelief and dare to look forward to something. Let us Preview, shall we? Sounds like a plan.

‘Fire Shut Up in My Bones’

After 18 months stuck in virtual limbo (and locked in very real labor disputes with its various unions), the regrouped Metropolit­an Opera returned to in-person form this month with a memorial account of Verdi’s “Requiem.” But the long-anticipate­d season truly opens with “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” Terence Blanchard and librettist Kasi Lemmons’s operatic adaptation of New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow’s wrenching 2014 memoir, and the first opera by a Black composer to be staged by the Met in its nearly 140 years. It’s also Blanchard’s second foray into opera, following “Champion,” his 2013 opera with librettist Michael Cristofer about the Black welterweig­ht boxer Emile Griffith. A decorated jazz trumpeter and composer, Blanchard also has more than 40 film scores to his credit (including “Harriet,” “Da 5 Bloods” and “BlacKkKlan­sman”). James Robinson and Camille A. Brown co-direct the powerhouse core cast of baritone Will Liverman and sopranos Angel Blue and Latonia Moore. Sept. 27-Oct. 23 at Metropolit­an Opera, New York.

‘My Lord, What a Night’

The first Black performer to sing a lead role at the Met (at the age of 57 in 1955) is having something of an overdue encore right now. Sony Classical just released the 15-disc set “Beyond the Music,” gathering over 40 years of stunningly restored recordings by the legendary contralto Marian Anderson. But if you’d rather see her in a more literal spotlight, Felicia Curry takes the stage as Anderson alongside Christophe­r Bloch as Albert Einstein in Deborah Brevoort’s “My Lord, What a Night,” a new drama based on the enduring friendship that developed between the two one night in 1937, when the Nassau Inn turned Anderson away and the physicist played host to a star. Oct. 1-24 at Ford’s Theatre.

Jonas Kaufmann

Renée Fleming shared the stage with the celebrated German tenor when he made his debut in the States playing Cassio to her Desdemona in “Otello” in 2001. Twenty years later, she invites him to feature in her “Voices” series at the Kennedy Center, which later this year will welcome Leslie Odom Jr. (Nov. 26-27) and early next year will feature Fleming herself in what may be one of the last area appearance­s of the Emerson String Quartet (with guest Simone Dinnerstei­n) before it disbands in 2023. Oct. 17 at Kennedy Center Concert Hall. kennedycen­

Marin Alsop

Alsop this year completed a historic 14-year tenure leading the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, but letting go is easier said than done (on both sides of the podium). Thus, Alsop returns for her first visit as music director laureate to lead the BSO in a program of Strauss (the suitably merry “Till Eulenspieg­el’s Merry Pranks”), Rachmanino­ff (the Czech pianist Lukas Vondracek leads the way through the second piano concerto) and a world premiere of a piece from British composer and Alsop-collaborat­or Anna Clyne, inspired by the timeless color fields of Mark Rothko. Oct. 23 at Strathmore; Oct. 24 at Meyerhoff.

Aaron Diehl and Tyshawn Sorey

Postponed from last season, this merger of musical minds — Sorey, a MacArthur-winning multi-instrument­alist and composer; Diehl, one of the boldest innovators in jazz piano (and certainly one of its only licensed pilots) — is sure to be worth the wait. One important note: For this 81st season, the Phillips Collection is restrictin­g in-person tickets to season sponsors and Phillips Chamber Society members; but for the first time, all concerts will be livestream­ed and made available for on-demand viewing. Tickets are available beginning Sept. 19. Oct. 31 at Phillips Collection. phillipsco­

‘Tomorrow I May Be Far Away’

Pianist (and host of the NPR interview series “Amplify”) Lara Downes teams with the Thalea String Quartet and the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Rita Dove for a program that blends poetry and chamber music, including works by William Grant Still, Duke Ellington, Florence Price, Nina Simone, Alvin Singleton, Quinn Mason and Kennedy Center composer-in-residence Carlos Simon. Nov. 3 at Sixth & I.

‘Come Home: A Celebratio­n of Return’

Washington National Opera’s proper season of fully staged opera won’t kick off until next spring, with the multi-project “Written in Stone” (March 5-25), the crowd-pleasing “Così fan tutte”(March 12-26) and “Carmen” (May 14-28), helmed by Artistic Director Francesca Zambello. In the meantime it has assembled an all-star homecoming of sorts, with Pretty Yende, Isabel Leonard, Lawrence Brownlee, Alexandria Shiner, David Butt Philip, Christian Van Horn and others restoring the sounds of Verdi, Rossini and Wagner to the hushed hall. Tiaras optional (but encouraged). Nov. 6-14 at Kennedy Center Opera House.

Katia and Marielle Labèque

The French siblings (who recently recorded a two-piano arrangemen­t of Philip Glass’s “Les Enfants Terribles”) join the NSO under the baton of Juanjo Mena for a performanc­e of Bryce Dessner’s “Concerto for Two Pianos,” written specifical­ly for the duo. Dessner, the Grammy-winning composer (and guitarist for the National), finds himself in good company between Schumann’s overture to “Manfred” and Brahms’s third “free but happy” symphony. Nov. 11-13 at Kennedy Center Concert Hall.


Sarah Ruhl’s 2003 play — a retelling of the Orpheus myth through the eyes of its heroine — found new life as an opera when Ruhl teamed with composer Matthew Aucoin. “Eurydice” premiered at L.A. Opera in February 2020 and was to expand its underworld across the stage of the Met (which co-commission­ed it) but for the unfolding of another slowly building global tragedy. Soprano Erin Morley sings the title role, baritone Joshua Hopkins reprises his role as Orpheus (with counterten­ors Jakub Jozef Orlinski and John Holiday trading off as his double), Nathan Berg sings the Father and Barry Banks returns, gloriously, as Hades. Nov. 23-Dec. 16 at Metropolit­an Opera, New York.

Frederick Ballentine

In the midst of his run as Sportin’ Life in the Met’s staging of the Gershwins’ “Porgy and Bess” (Oct. 31-Dec. 12), the rising Virginian tenor Frederick Ballentine makes a stop close to home to claim this year’s Marian Anderson Vocal Award, a prestigiou­s spotlight previously won by the likes of Will Liverman, Denyce Graves, Eric Owens, Lawrence Brownlee, J’Nai Bridges and John Holiday. Ballentine makes a bright addition to this constellat­ion of young stars. Dec. 7 at Kennedy Center, Terrace Theater.

‘Iphigenia: A New Opera’

Jazz legend Wayne Shorter joins forces with librettist, bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding, architect Frank Gehry and director Lileana Blain-Cruz for another reinventio­n of an overtold story with an undersung heroine — this one doubling as “an interventi­on to opera as we know it.” After making its world premiere in Boston, it opens for a limited engagement at the Kennedy Center. Not to be mythed. (Sorry.) Dec. 10-11 at Kennedy Center, Eisenhower Theater.

 ?? KATIA AND MARIELLE LABèQUE ?? TOP: Terence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” is the first opera by a Black composer to be staged at the Metropolit­an Opera in New York. ABOVE: Sisters Katia and Marielle Labèque will perform Bryce Dessner’s “Concerto for Two Pianos.”
KATIA AND MARIELLE LABèQUE TOP: Terence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” is the first opera by a Black composer to be staged at the Metropolit­an Opera in New York. ABOVE: Sisters Katia and Marielle Labèque will perform Bryce Dessner’s “Concerto for Two Pianos.”

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