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The public is bombarded with media coverage about the aftermath of the police shooting of a young Black man. Family and friends are anguished and want answers. There are protest cries for justice. The home life and family relationships before a killing are not clearly known. Audiences grapple with this tragic but all-too-common event in “Blue,” an opera at the Kennedy Center until March 25.
Composed by Jeanine Tesori, with the libretto and lyrics by Tazewell Thompson, “Blue” is a beautiful yet heartbreaking story unfolding in a production presented by the Washington National Opera (WNO). With the father a police officer, and the mother a business owner, the production is in English with projected English titles.
“It’s an extremely powerful journey through many different emotions,” said Jonathan Taylor Rush, one of the conductors of the opera, during a pre-performance lecture. “From happiness to satisfaction to conflict, anger and even grief. All of these emotions are around the story of a young Black man and the reality of the life that he has to live.”
The Father is played by Kenneth Kellogg, an alumnus of D.C.’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts. His character is happy to get along well with his fellow “brothers in blue.” We see a couple anticipating the birth of their first child. The pregnant mother, played by Briana Hunter, shares her joy with her girlfriends. During the jubilant gathering, the girlfriends express concern when they learn that a boy child is coming into the world. Shared fear about life is unsafe for young Black males.
United Family Meets Harsh Reality
Audiences feel the love with the birth of The Son (Aaron Crouch), as they witness the stages of him growing up. The years show family, friends and work colleagues enjoying their time. The Son shows teenage frustration as he articulates his feelings about his father’s profession; their arguing rarely yields an “agree to disagree” scenario.
Then the unthinkable happens, The Son is killed by a white cop. We see The Father seek solace from a preacher, The Reverend (Joshua Conyers). Their conversation does not offer comfort for the father. The Reverend has all of the right responses to the father’s grief. Then the father articulates a harmful remedy that he thinks will ease his pain.
On the day of the funeral, how does The Mother manage? The girlfriends are there to lay out the mother’s clothes while she is silent. The girlfriends sing phrases with feelings many in grief may feel with a violent death. We heard, “We are not one of God’s favorites,” and “What have we done so bad that we are still paying for it?”
The expressions of sorrow in “Blue” are reminiscent of the Biblical scripture Matthew 27:46, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
Conyers explained he wants audiences to understand that this opera means much more than watching tragedy unfold.
“This piece is not just about violence happening to Black people on stage,” Conyers said. “This piece is really about communities trying to help each other.
With brilliant performances leading the way, hope and support are witnessed on stage as Tesori’s music accelerates Thompson’s words to a deeper interpretation of the theme of the importance of community. “Blue” was named the “Best New Opera of 2020” by the Music Critics Association of North America. The opera was delayed twice due to the pandemic.
During the performance, the lyrics for “Blue” are projected above the curtain. A short documentary about the opera is available at https://youtu.be/UqYXIOCDbfU.
For ticket information, go to the Kennedy Center website, https://www.kennedy-center.org.
I appreciate this review.
But this review states:
“Thompson’s music accelerates Tesori’s words to a deeper interpretation of the theme”.
Since Thompson is the librettist and Tesori is the composer, the phrase should read:
“Tesori’s’s music accelerates Thompson’s words to a deeper interpretation of the theme.”
Great catch! Thank you! We’ve updated the story!
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