Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (an Arts and Education Council grantee) is internationally recognized for excellence in opera performance, but this spring, they have been focused on inviting the community into their work with the world premiere of “Fire Shut Up in My Bones”.

A powerfully redemptive memory story, “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” traces the tale of young “Charles Baby” growing up in the tiny town of Gibsland, Louisiana — a place where slavery’s legacy is closely felt, reverberating in elders’ stories and in a near constant wash of violence. “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” is based on the autobiography by The New York Times columnist Charles Blow.

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis hosted jazz trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard and filmmaker Kasi Lemmons (“Eve’s Bayou”) for a series of public events earlier this year, where the pair discussed the creation of their world premiere opera, engaged in community conversations around equity and representation in the arts and provided unique perspectives on landmark projects from across their careers.

These conversations open up a community dialogue that allows for opera to be more inclusive and accessible.

At a community conversation at Wells Fargo, Andrew Jorgensen, general director of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, shared his perspective on bringing this opera to life.

“Taking up Charles Blow’s memoir – this incredibly powerful story of abuse, of race and one man’s journey to find forgiveness and self-acceptance – is the heart of what great opera can be, and it resonates in the world that we live in today,” Jorgensen said. “Opera does not have to be a museum piece that reflects the stories and experiences of the 17th and 18th century.”

Lemmons’s conversation with Dr. Jonathan Smith, vice president for diversity and community engagement at Saint Louis University, covered a range of topics including race, her artistic inspirations and the process of adapting a memoir into a libretto.

The series invites the community into this world premiere as it develops and gives audiences the opportunity to engage with artists and opera in general.

Blanchard, on St. Louis on the Air in March, said, “I’ve had a great time and great experience working with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. They’re very passionate people, very committed, and the thing that they do that I love the most is they reach out to the community.”

“Fire Shut Up in My Bones” opens June 15. There will be in-season programs featuring Blow, Lemmons and Blanchard. To purchase tickets and learn more, visit opera-stl.org. ARTS Card members save 50% in sections II and III on June 19 and 21. For more details click here