Jeanine Tesori (b. 1961)

Libretto by Tazewell Thompson

Director, Tinuke Craig

Conductor, Matthew Kofi-Waldren

20 April – 4 May 2023 at the London Coliseum (6 performances)

Under 21s can get free opera tickets to all ENO performances at every level of the theatre, and 21-35 year olds can get discounted opera tickets. Tickets for everyone begin at £10.

This April, the English National Opera (ENO) presents the UK premiere of Blue by American composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson.

Commissioned in 2015 for the Glimmerglass Festival and premiering in 2019, this ‘powerful’ (New York Times) contemporary piece sung in English addresses issues around race and injustice. Blue won the Music Critics Association of North America Award in 2020 for Best New Opera and debuted in Europe at Dutch National Opera in November 2022.

Blue asks ever-relevant questions of race, duty and the extent to which loyalty can hold before breaking. In Harlem, New York, an activist son clashes with his police officer father in this gripping and tragic story, which places the repercussions of police brutality on black families and communities at the centre of the opera.

A multi-Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist, Tesori is one of the most honoured female theatrical composers in history, working across musical theatre, film and opera. The librettist is award-winning director, playwright and actor Tazewell Thompson, a Harlem native who drew on news stories, his lived experiences, and the work of novelists James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates to develop Blue between 2015 and 2016.

Making her operatic directorial debut is ‘fast-rising’ (the Guardian) star of British theatre Tinuke Craig, whose previous successes include a ‘blazing’ (The Stage) production of The Colour Purple at Leicester Curve and Birmingham Hippodrome, Jitney at The Old Vic, and recently, Trouble in Butetown at the Donmar Warehouse.

The score, performed by the award-winning ENO Orchestra, melds blues, jazz, musical theatre and hymns, making this an ideal first opera. Leading them is Matthew Kofi Waldren, former ENO Mackerras Fellow (2016-2018) and one of the UK’s most collaborative conductors, working regularly with all the country’s major opera companies.

As The Mother, British soprano and former ENO Harewood Artist Nadine Benjamin makes a role debut, lending her ‘rich, glowing voice’ (the Guardian) to the role. Benjamin returns to the ENO following 2022’s La bohème.

Joining her in his ENO debut is American baritone Kenneth Kellogg as The Father. He is the originator of this role, having performed it at six opera houses including Dutch National Opera, Washington National Opera, the Glimmerglass festival and Seattle Opera where he was praised for ‘brilliantly reprising’ (Seattle Times) it. He has starred in the short documentary Blue: The Father, exploring what it means to be a black father and police officer in America.

Making his role debut as The Son is South African tenor and current ENO Harewood Artist Zwakele Tshabalala. This is his second engagement at the London Coliseum this season, having sung the Tenor Angel in It’s a Wonderful Life. Tshabalala was previously Hot Biscuit Slim in the ENO Studio Live production of Paul Bunyan at Alexandra Palace in 2019, where he ‘demonstrated a properly huge voice’ (Seen and Heard).

The Reverend is sung by tenor Ronald Samm. This is the Trinidad and Tobago-born British tenor’s second ENO role this season, following his ‘great cameo’ (Daily Telegraph) as Uncle Billy in 2022’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

American soprano Chanáe Curtis sings Girlfriend 1/Nurse. British soprano and ENO Chorus member Sarah-Jane Lewis is Girlfriend 2/Congregant 2. German mezzo-soprano and current ENO Harewood Artist Idunnu Münch is Girlfriend 3/Congregant 3.  

The cast is completed by British tenor and ENO Chorus member John-Colyn Gyeantey as Policeman 1/Congregant 1. South African tenor Rheinaldt Tshepo Moagi is Policeman 2/Congregant 2. American baritone Joshua Conyers is Policeman 3/Congregant 3.

Set and costumes are by Alex Lowde, and lighting is by James Farncombe. Video is by Ravi Deepres and sound is by Yvonne Gilbert.

Supported by Cockayne – Grants for the Arts.