It was named the Best New Opera of 2020 by the Music Critics Association of North America and was ready to rock the nation’s capital before the pandemic unfortunately shut it down.
This week, the Washington National Opera finally gets to stage the D.C. premiere of the powerhouse production “Blue” at the Kennedy Center. It runs from March 11 through March 25.
“It’s a beautiful show that explores the highest of highs and lowest of lows of the human experience,” mezzo-soprano performer Briana Hunter told WTOP. “We see a family and community embrace new life into the world and what happens when that light is snuffed out too soon.”
Hunter plays the mother of a Black teenager (Aaron Crouch) who is murdered by a police officer in present-day Harlem. Things are further complicated by the fact that the victim’s father (Kenneth Kellogg) is also a police officer, a proverbial Black man in blue, hence the title.
“It takes something that is a daily experience in today’s life unfortunately and puts it on that operatic scale,” Hunter said. “One of the devices used is making them archetypal characters, so no one has a name specifically. It’s just The Mother, The Father, The Son, it’s almost Biblical. … It’s a way for you not to be able to distance yourself from the story. It could be you.”
The music is composed by Tony Award winner Jeanine Tesori, while the libretto is composed by NAACP Theater Award winner Tazewell Thompson. They were inspired by Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me” and James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time.”
“She wrote an incredibly intelligent, beautiful, vast, all-encompassing score and Tazewell’s words are just so beautiful,” Hunter said. “It’s just really lush and incorporates so many influences, from contemporary influences to old ones. You’re gonna hear notes from Stravinsky or composers of that ilk … as well as modern-day songs and jazz influences.”
Visually, set designer Donald Eastman and costume designer Jessica Jahn create the atmosphere of the 21st century Harlem, starting in the year 2000 and then 2020.
“Donald Eastman has definitely put us in that New York setting,” Hunter said. “With the backdrop, you’re going to see outlines of apartment windows and things you’d see out a New York City window. … Don’t expect like a cinematic rendering of New York, but you’re definitely going to have those elements — and the costumes Jessica Jahn designed are so spot-on.”
She hopes that folks of all political stripes will come see it, whether your flag reads “Black Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter,” because this is a very sensitive, complex topic.
“We see repeatedly our children, brothers and sisters being executed at the hands of police,” Hunter said. “It confronts the common argument that there are good cops, too. … I hope this show provides a space for us to meet on a human level and actually have deeper conversations and hopefully more productive conversations around the issue of police brutality.”