WASHINGTON, D.C. — On the nightly news a camera pans in for a tight closeup of a Black mother surrounded by her family and her community. She is grieving the loss of her son at the hands of the police. In this contemporary opera Blue takes us on a journey from the cradle to the grave.
Three years to the day the Washington National Opera’s Blue was first scheduled to debut at the Kennedy Center, it finally has. On March 13th 2020 everything shut down, the building went silent and the only sounds heard in the storied theater complex were the security guards roaming the vast structure. This March 13th marked the opera’s premiere and what a triumphant moment it was – a historic night for Librettist, Tazewell Thompson, he as director of a host of operas, and Composer Jeanine Tesori, she of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musicals Shrek The Musical, Fun Home, and Caroline, or Change. Blue features an all-Black cast including Black conductors, Joseph Young and Jonathan Taylor Rush.
To say Blue is the most exquisitely honed modern opera I have ever seen, is an understatement. It is modern Shakespearean tragedy at its finest with a story as relevant and relatable as if it popped out of today’s headlines. Thompson’s words express pure poetry in the urgent reality of a family whose personal experiences seesaw between both sides of the most polarizing issues of our day – the continuing shroud of racism and the demand for Black justice.
Blue, as in men in blue, signifies the color of a policeman’s uniform and The Father (Kenneth Kellogg) in this story is a cop working the beat as a rookie in New York’s Harlem neighborhood. His wife, The Mother (Briana Hunter), is a local restaurant owner. The couple joyfully awaits the birth of their baby. While pregnant The Mother’s three close friends warn her, “We talked, argued and debated. Thou shalt not bring forth no Black boys into this world.” Each woman knows the dangers that lie ahead for Black boys. Conversely, The Father’s friends express their envy that he’s having a son and ask how he feels. “I feel like the first man on the moon,” he replies. Later we hear him voicing the words of “the talk” every Black parent gives to their sons.
There are tender and even funny moments of The Father learning to hold his baby and of the relationship between The Mother and her stalwart trio of “sistahs”. We see his parents believing the future immeasurable for their child and later meet The Son (Aaron Crouch) as a teenager rebellious and disdainful of his father’s profession. On the surface it appears to be the eternal generational conflict, but to the son, his life has so much more meaning when he becomes an activist – protesting injustice in the Black community and the brutality of law enforcement. There are harsh words between his policeman father and son and the music swells to reflect the tension.
Blue is not only a showcase for African American talent but features several impressive singers who are either alumni or current members of the Cafritz Young Artist Program. Outstanding and indelible is Aaron Crouch, whose performance was brilliant. I plan to follow him on social media and go to the ends of the earth to witness his next performance.
Blue expresses an aching poignancy in every note and line – one that sent my heart fairly leaping out of my chest in concert with the emotion of the music. Many in the audience were moved to tears at the beauty of the words and music blending mellifluously. I promise you there is a hopeful ending, one you will long for and hold fast.
Highly recommended whether you are an opera aficionado or never cared a fig for opera.
Additional Cast Members – Joshua Conyers as The Reverend; Ariana Wehr as Girlfriend/Congregant/Nurse; Katerina Burton as Girlfriend/Congregant; Rehanna Thelwell as Girlfriend/Congregant; Camron Gray as Policeman/Male Congregant; Christian Simmons as Policeman/Male Congregant.
Costume Designer Jessica Jahn; Set Designer Donald Eastman; Sound Designers Kai Harada and Haley Parcher; Lighting Designer Robert Wierzel.
With the Washington National Opera Orchestra.
Performance dates – March 11th, 13th, 19th, 22nd, and 25th. In the Eisenhower Theatre at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC. For tickets and information visit www.Kennedy-Center.org or call the box office at 202 467-4600.