6 time Grammy winning musician and two-time Oscar nominated film composer Terence Blanchard started playing piano and trumpet when he was 9 years old.
"There was always music in the house. I thought nothing of it," he recalled. "My grandmother used to play the piano," added Blanchard.
But it was his father who turned him onto opera at a young age.
"My dad is the one who loved opera. He had a passion for it. He had all of the RCA recordings that I couldn't touch because the albums were in the wax papers in the boxes. I thought, 'wow that's fancy.' My dad would say don't touch those. He'd sit down and watch PBS and make me listen to the melodies," he said, laughing.
Blanchard soon started composing movie soundtracks for the likes of Director Spike Lee in the late-1980s. Now, he's bringing the unique opera "Fire Shut Up In My Bones" to the Lyric Opera.
"I arrived for rehearsal in Chicago last week. Just sitting in that hall and hearing that orchestra with the live voices, it's an amazing place. It's like one of those things where you say 'that's why it's the Lyric. That's what everyone's talking about," he smiled shaking his head.
Blanchard adapted New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow’s memoir about his childhood in the South into an opera that he says sounds like America. It centers on the Black experience in this country. Blanchard says it's about a young man's struggle to overcome trauma and the poverty of rural Louisiana and forge his own path.
"It's a universal story. To think that Blow went through what he did, you want to present this story to hopefully heal some people. If this guy came through this, he's no different from you, you can come through this. This is the first reason I wanted to do this story. The Louisiana culture is also something I wanted to bring to the stage. It's where I came from," said Blanchard
Blanchard says the score is a mix of opera, jazz, gospel and other traditions. He calls it an opera for first timers.
"When I debuted this opera in St. Louis, the point was to broaden the audience. This opera is in English to get people interested in the genre. We're doing an opera in Jazz with my background. It's been broadening the audience," Blanchard said.
"Fire Shut Up in My Bones" made history in the fall as the first opera by a Black composer to open New York's Metropolitan Opera's season. Blanchard says he's excited to bring his work to Chicago.
"I'm thrilled to bring this production here. Audiences here are smart. You can't BS them. The thing about Chicago, they either love you or hate you here," he said, laughing.
As he sits in the seats of the historic Lyric Opera and looks around, he said he can't believe where his life and career has taken him.
"I always thought I was going to be in the NFL," he said. "Music was always there because I had a talent for it but this was nothing I ever envisioned in my life, I still pinch myself. I don't know how I got here. This part of my musical career is a bit baffling. It's been amazing to experience because the opera part just happened all of the sudden."
He admits, his father ended up having a huge influence on him and would be proud to see his work presented on the historic Lyric Opera stage.
"If my dad were here right now, I'd have to chain him to the chair. If he were around great talent like this, oh man, it would be amazing. When I debuted my first Opera, I stopped and started thinking about my dad and I can hear him right now. "Told ya"." he smiled.
"Fire Shut Up In My Bones" stars Chicago native Baritone Will Liverman and will be at the Lyric through April 8th.
"I think this is an opera for today. I hope people come with no preconceived notions of what it's supposed to be. I just want people to have a good time," Blanchard said.