Tesori: Blue / Kellogg, Hunter, Crouch, Cox, Washington National Opera
Washington National Opera presents Blue, a contemporary opera on racial injustice in the US today, with a libretto by Tazewell Thompson set to music by Jeanine Tesori. Blue tells the tragic story of an African-American police officer whose son is killed by a fellow officer during a protest. Strongly resonating with the Black Lives Matter movement, the piece is equally groundbreaking thanks to its intimate and layered portrayal of African-American family life on the operatic stage. Historically and musically, Blue compassionately tells a story that is at once painful and identifiable to so many of us.
The Music Critics Association of America named Blue the “Best New Opera” of 2020, while the Financial Times praised it as “an exceptionally strong new opera about race in America”, and hailed Tesori’s music as “eclectic, but assuredly so, full of beauty and eloquence.” The piece is sung by an excellent cast of vocalists, including Kenneth Kellogg as The Father, Briana Hunter as The Mother, and Aaron Crouch as The Son, while The Washington National Opera Orchestra is led by rising star conductor Roderick Cox. Jeanine Tesori is one of the most important American composers of today, with a diverse catalog for musical theatre, opera, film, and television. Tazewell Thompson is an internationally acclaimed director, playwright, teacher, and actor. Washington National Opera is among the leading US opera houses, and has the mission to present stories that reflect the America of today.
The libretto is...strong, compact, of-the-moment, and true to racial realities...Tesori’s score is moving in the best way. The recording boasts the same five principal artists as the first productions: bass Kenneth Kellogg (the Father), mezzo-soprano Briana Hunter (the Mother), tenor Aaron Crouch (the Son), baritone Gordon Hawkins (the Reverend), and soprano Ariana Wehr (Girlfriend 1/Congregant 1/Nurse).
Blue embodies the essence of great opera: It unites a deeply moving story with music that stirs the passions and touches the heart. There’s no filler, no moment where composer or librettist lingers too long or self-indulges. It’s a stunning achievement that deserves a permanent place in the repertory.
--San Francisco Classical Voice (Jason Victor Serinus)
If opera can be the barometer of the present, Blue is the opera for our times. Jeanine Tesori’s harmony and natural lyricism afford tension and release — a natural fit for Tazewell Thompson’s tragic storytelling that is occasionally tempered by lighthearted relief. The score, which never devolves to fodder for a sung play, serves as a vehicle of sweeping lyrical expression for the singers, each channeling the pain, anger, and uncertainty the libretto puts them through.
--I Care If You Listen (Esteban Meneses)
In a historically and culturally significant confluence of events, three ‘Black' operas premiered in the summer of 2019: Anthony Davis and Richard Wesley's The Central Park Five (at the Long Beach Opera), Terence Blanchard and Kasi Lemmons's Fire Shut Up in My Bones (at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis), and Blue (at The Glimmerglass Festival), the latter the creation of librettist Tazewell Thompson and composer Jeanine Tesori...awarded the Music Critics Association of North America 2020 Award for Best New Opera, [Blue] is the first of the three to be available in a physical form...
Vocal and instrumental forces come together eloquently in this superb realization by the Washington National Opera. Thompson's libretto is moving and panoramic, and Tesori's music is stylistically diverse yet always pointedly connected to the text. With his stentorian delivery, bass Kenneth Kellogg brings the father vividly to life, as do mezzo-soprano Briana Hunter as the mother and tenor Aaron Crouch the son. Fleshing out the vocal parts memorably are baritone Gordon Hawkins as the reverend, and three pairs of female (Ariana Wehr, Katerina Burton, Rehanna Thelwell) and male (Joshua Blue, Martin Luther Clark, Christian Simmons) singers as girlfriends and police officers; finally, the Washington National Opera Orchestra under the direction of conductor Roderick Cox supports the singers with deeply engaged playing. Recorded in June 2021 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Opera House, Blue boasts exceptional sound quality.
Pentatone honours Tesori and Thompson's two-act creation with a handsome physical presentation that houses two CDs and in-depth booklet (containing commentaries and libretto) within a sturdy six-panel package. The label's catalogue includes stellar releases of repertory works, but Pentatone demonstrates admirable advocacy for contemporary work in its programming too, Blue a prime illustration.
Blue is polyphonic, expressive, and timely but above all multi-dimensional... The full spectrum of human experience—despair, romance, joy, redemption, forgiveness, etc.—is encompassed by this thought-provoking, life-affirming creation. It's an opera that in a perfect world would be on every major opera company's short-list of works under consideration for future presentation.
Release Date: March 25, 2022
Catalog Number: PTC5186967
Number of Discs: 2
Period: 21st Century
Composer: Jeanine Tesori
Conductor: Roderick Cox
Orchestra/Ensemble: Washington National Opera Orchestra
Performer: Kenneth Kellogg