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How are Black composers shaping opera? | The Stream

Al Jazeera, 12 Oct 2021
It was a history-making moment for composer Terence Blanchard when the curtain rose at the famed Metropolitan Opera House in New York City earlier this month. For the first time in the company’s 138 years, an opera by a black composer swelled through the hall.

Following the opening performance of ‘Fire Shut Up in My Bones’, Blanchard walked onto the stage where he received a seven-minute standing ovation. But for Blanchard and others, this watershed moment is about much more than just “firsts”. It’s also seen as a reclamation by African-American artists. After all, Black artists have been composing and performing works of opera since the beginning of the 20th century.

Long before George Gershwin’s ‘Porgy and Bess’, famed Ragtime composer Scott Joplin wrote ‘Treemonisha’. Although it wasn’t until 1972 that Joplin’s opera made it to the big stage at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Others, including Harry Lawrence Freeman, known as America’s first Black opera composer, and Shirley Graham Du Bois found success on Broadway and regional theatres.

In this episode of The Stream, we sit down with Blanchard and other black artists to discuss his historic moment and we’ll look back at the contributions made by those before him.

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