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This Summer, Opera Grapples With Race


This Summer, Opera Grapples With Race

The opera’s librettist, Kasi Lemmons — a writer, actress and film director who has worked with Mr. Blanchard on several of her films, including “Eve’s Bayou” and the coming “Harriet,” about Harriet Tubman — said that she had been drawn to Mr. Blow’s portrayal of his youth.

“He’s a character who’s very comfortable in his own skin, but the people around him are not comfortable with him,” said Ms. Lemmons, who wrote lines like:

I was once a boy of peculiar grace.

A dangerous existence for a man of my race.

James Robinson, the artistic director in St. Louis, said that the company has tried to tell a more diverse array of stories that bring in new audiences.

“A lot of these are gateway operas, for people who have never seen opera before,” said Mr. Robinson, also the director of a production of “Porgy and Bess” that will open the Metropolitan Opera’s season in September. “The old idea was get them hooked on ‘Madama Butterfly,’ and then you’ll get them for life. I was never a firm believer in that. I thought, Why not try to hook them on something new, more resonant, and then see how they like classic rep?”

Mr. Blanchard said that while he had been raised by an opera-loving father, it was not until recently that he had experienced the power of the art form live.

“Film is great, and it’s been a big part of my life,” said Mr. Blanchard, who has written powerful scores for many films, especially those by Spike Lee. “But sometimes if I’m going to the sixth screening, I’ll say, ‘Hey man, I’m going to go grab some dinner and I’ll come back and do the Q. and A. after the film is done.’ With opera it’s not like that. Every time they do ‘Champion’ I want to go to every performance, because I find something different each time. It’s a living, breathing thing that constantly evolves — and it’s beautiful to watch.”

When he was asked to write the libretto of “Blue,” Tazewell Thompson, reflected on the talks many black parents have with their children about how to safely survive encounters with the police.

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