Skip to content
Home » All Posts » Pacific grant makes Metropolitan Opera experience possible

Pacific grant makes Metropolitan Opera experience possible

Music history major Molly Westlake and her mentor/professor Sarah Waltz in the university library archives.

Molly Westlake ’22, a music history major in University of the Pacific’s Conservatory of Music has been researching Black opera in the United States. Because of COVID restrictions, her summer 2021 research on the subject was limited to reading, listening to recordings and participating in webinars. But then an opportunity presented itself to travel to New York to see the first-ever fully Black production of Terence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” at the Metropolitan Opera. The production is based on the memoir by New York Times columnist Charles Blow.

Her trip was funded by Pacific’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship and the Michael J. Hall Scholarship from the Conservatory.

Molly describes her trip to New York, how important it is to experience music in person and reflects on the changes happening in the world of the opera.

Molly: That wasn’t something that we thought was going to happen, although we knew that the Met was going to be producing “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” in the beginning of the season, about early September. I was supposed to finish my project before that. Fortunately, director of undergraduate studies Dr. Lydia Fox worked with us, for which I’m really grateful, to extend the project by quite a long time to make it possible.

It was amazing and really special. I obviously have never been to the Met before or seen a professionally produced opera on that scale. I now understand why people buy season passes because I would see anything there. The opera hall is beautiful, and the quality of the musicianship is amazing.

I think describing music is really hard when you can’t hear it. There wasn’t even any recording of “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” that you could buy, and I had funds for that. I could write about what I’d read in Blow’s memoir but not what the music was like in terms of the staging, the costumes, the pacing, the instrumentation. You don’t know how this part of the music plays into this theme or how the staging emphasizes this part of his life. But now I can because I was there to hear and see it, which is really great.

The story deals a lot with Blow’s attraction to men — he identifies as bisexual — and the guilt he felt about it as a male who grew up in south Louisiana and being a Black man as well. The opera itself was the first opera composed by a Black composer and directed by a Black director with all Black cast.

I think there’s a lot happening in the world of opera, and I think that there are a lot of people who really love opera — not just like Mozart-style opera with wigs and all but the form itself.

Opera is a storytelling device. It’s a way to tell a story with music, dancing, with sets. You can share a universal experience with an audience, and you could tell basically any story. I think what a lot of people are realizing now is that we’ve seen a lot of the same operas, and we’ve seen a lot of the same stories, and we love those but there’s also a ton of other stories that are just as interesting and just as emotionally relevant and impactful regardless of race, gender or class.

There are a lot of examples of operas that are now taking more of an activist perspective. There’s definitely a change happening.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *