“Blue,” in its D.C. premiere by The Washington National Opera, elegantly makes use of a centuries’ old art form to tell a 21st century story. It is one with national repercussions, but that unfolds in intimate spaces—a hospital room, a small bedroom, a pastor’s office, and a family’s dinner table.
…elegantly makes use of a centuries’ old art form to tell a 21st century story…A musical and dramatic triumph…
When The Mother (Briana Hunter, mezzo-soprano) falls in love with The Father (Kenneth Kellogg, bass) and conceives a child (Aaron Crouch, tenor), The Girlfriends (Ariana Wehr, soprano; Katerina Burton, soprano; Rehanna Thelwell, mezzo-soprano) share in her deep joy. However, when The Mother reveals the baby’s gender, The Girlfriends respond with a stern warning that 21st century America is no place to raise a black boy. Years pass, and The Son becomes a teenager who battles with his father, a police officer, as he struggles with the state of the world and his place in it. The Father, whose friends (Camron Gray, tenor; Jonathan Pierce Rhodes, tenor; Christian Simmons, bass-baritone) felt envy at the birth of a son, now feels the fear foreseen by The Girlfriends so long ago. Youthful and unafraid, The Son is too consumed with outrage at the world’s injustices to see the danger that surrounds him.
Vocal talent abounds. Hunter’s rich mezzo-soprano was the ideal match for Kellogg’s powerful bass, and the intensity of Crouch’s flawless tenor brought his youthful character to life. Conyers’ warm baritone served to highlight his character’s attempts to comfort the grieving father. The Washington National Opera Orchestra, under the direction of Joseph Young, dazzled with an unusual score that included strumming piano strings and a hair-raising violin passage that followed the opera’s silent start.
Donald Eastman’s set features an image of the towering brownstones that line the streets of Harlem as the backdrop to a simple set of tables and chairs that are gracefully arranged and rearranged as the narrative unfolds. Jessica Jahn’s costumes include police uniforms, The Reverend’s clerical vestments, and brightly colored outfits for The Girlfriends, reflecting their friend’s excitement—and serving as a powerful contrast with the mourning clothes they appear in during the second act.
An opera in two acts, “Blue” was written by Tony Award-winning composer, Jeanine Tesori with libretto by Tazewell Thompson. It premiered in 2019 at the Glimmerglass Festival and was awarded “Best New Opera of 2020” by the Music Critics Association of North America. A musical and dramatic triumph, “Blue” is certainly destined to take its place as a significant contribution to American opera as well as the fight for racial justice.
Running time: Two hours and 15 minutes with one 25-minute intermission.
“Blue” runs through March 25, 2023 at The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theatre, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here. Masks optional.