Welcome to a special edition of the AVA Opera Blog. We are pleased to feature AVA Board Member Randy Apgar as a guest writer. Mr. Apgar attended the Met Opera’s opening night performance of “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” and is sharing his experience on returning to live opera.
The Metropolitan Opera, on the occasion of its opening after nearly two years of silence due to Covid 19, was an exciting and spirited place to be: to be and to be seen. Standing on the Lincoln Center Plaza prior to the opening, the elegance and camaraderie, the selfies, and the videos typical of “opening night” were in full force, but this year there was also an excitement that stirred the air, a special feeling of celebration, of accomplishment, and an anticipation of a night that would be like no other, and we were not disappointed.
The crowds were jovial and kind, and inside the Met, the excitement continued. People genuinely wanted to be together this evening, to witness a first in the Met’s history: an opera, the first written by a Black composer to be produced on the Met’s stage in its 138 year history. Composed by Terence Blanchard, “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” was about to begin. Black-tied gentlemen and elegant ladies dressed in gowns of every color of the rainbow slowly found their seats. The excitement only grew as the magnificent chandeliers of the Met slowly ascended to the ceiling indicating that the show was about to begin. And then, all at once, where there should have been silence, there rose a jubilant and thunderous roar of applauding and cheering that filled the house to capacity. It was a show of respect for Opera and for the Met. It was the pent-up need to once again have Opera back in our lives, and to do so with friends and family at our side.
The show was now about to begin. All stood for the National Anthem, and perhaps it was just my imagination, but as I looked around, I sensed the Anthem was being sung by everyone with a greater sense of pride, power and determination, perhaps a reflection of accomplishing a need in Opera at the Met, for so long lost, but now had found its rightful place. We all seemed to be in celebration.
“Fire Shut Up In My Bones” recounts Charles M. Blow’s upbringing in rural Louisiana as the youngest of five boys to a dirt-poor mother, the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of an older cousin and the inner turmoil that ensues and trails him into adulthood. The actors and actresses in this Opera showed a personal and professional dedication to each of their roles so that we in the audience understood what life was like to so many at that time, and indeed, today.
In many ways, as quoted in the Washington Post, “Fire” honors the contours and conventions of traditional Opera, but its finest moments spring from its divergences.” One example, and there are many, is when the men of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, to which Charles has pledged in college, performs a traditional Step Show which triggered an extended standing ovation from the audience.
Of course, I was most interested in the performance of Latonia Moore, one of AVA’s most prominent graduates. Again as quoted in the Washington Post, “Latonia brought equal measure of grace and force to the role of Billie and provided emotional center of gravity that kept the family — and the Opera — well anchored”. And as referenced in the Met’s Playbill, “Charles’s mother Billie . . . has music that must express her great love for her family while simultaneously showing her inability to express that affection. In this, her music recalls the most complex and nuanced characters in the operatic repertory.”
I feel these quotes of Latonia speak so highly of Latonia as a person, and also of AVA, and the demands for perfection that are put upon each of our graduates when they are Resident Artists. I remember Maestro Macatsoris saying many times, and I paraphrase, that an artist must “feel” the role that he or she is playing. She or he must “be” that person on stage in order to convince the audience that what they are hearing and seeing comes from deep inside. Latonia, like so many of our AVA graduates on the great Opera stages of the world today, knows exactly how to interpret sincerely a role that is convincing, real, and targets the emotions of all of us. Brava Latonia, and the cast of “Fire”!