Last month, the renowned Metropolitan Opera performed Fire Shut Up In My Bones, composed by Terrence Blanchard with libretto by Kasi Lemmons. This marked the first time The Met has performed an opera by a Black composer in their 141-year history! This event made headlines.
Meanwhile, in Portland, Oregon, another Black composer was making their own headlines. Critically acclaimed jazz pianist and composer Darrell Grant premiered his site-specific jazz chamber opera, Sanctuaries, featuring libretto by Anis Mojgani, a two-time National Poetry Slam Individual Champion and Oregon Poet Laureate. Performed in an outdoor venue, Sanctuaries is the story of the Albina district of Portland, which has become unrecognizable thanks to gentrification. This is a story that is familiar in so many communities across the United States, as Black residents living in already redlined areas become victims to density development, an inflated real estate market, and rising property taxes. In these communities where change seems sudden, although born out of years of urban planning, the voices of Black residents are often inaudible and ignored. Grant and Mojgani gave breath and life to these stories through a European art form but purely rooted with Black culture’s gift of jazz and spoken word.
Produced by Third Angle New Music, we hope that Sanctuaries will find its way into numerous cities where the voices of displaced Black communities might find their stories also being told. We give a standing ovation to Darrell Grant for his innovation and commitment to using the art form of opera to explore critical issues of our time. Both Blanchard and Grant have introduced new communities to established art forms and established audiences to new voices. Bravo!