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‘Fire Shut Up in My Bones’ Review: A Met Milestone Returns

The Metropolitan Opera premiere of “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” on Sept. 27, 2021, was a momentous event. Doubly so: “Fire” was the company’s first staged opera after an 18-month pandemic closure, and it was, after 138 years, its first work by a Black composer.

The opera, with a score by Terence Blanchard and a libretto by Kasi Lemmons, took on some of the grandeur and excitement of that moment. The raucous fraternity step dance that opens the third act brought down the house.

That step dance still stopped the show on Monday evening, when “Fire” returned to the Met. Two and a half years later, the work is a test case. The company has sharply increased its diet of contemporary operas — some of which, including “Fire,” sold very well as new productions. But how will these operas perform when they’re brought back, without the same promotional push?

On Monday, at least, the audience seemed robust and, as it was during the initial run, notably diverse. And “Fire” remains a heartfelt piece, emanating a touching if vague sadness. But without the exhilarating sense of occasion it had at its Met premiere, the opera’s shortcomings were clearer.

Based on the New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow’s memoir of his turbulent upbringing in Louisiana, “Fire” is a progression of episodes — some upbeat, some forlorn. It takes the form of a search: The lonely Charles, his psyche wounded as a child by his cousin’s sexual abuse and his mother’s real but distracted love, looks for belonging and healing.

He tries church, fraternity membership, his siblings, a woman, another woman, but none offer what he’s seeking; all want him to be different than he is. Only after a hasty, therapy-speak conclusion in the final minutes, presided over by an ethereal choir and the voice of his younger self, can he finally accept himself and sing, “Now my life begins.”

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