Wednesday, February 9, 2022

What Blue Means to Me

 Artists Reflect on this Groundbreaking Opera

From left: Joshua Stewart (The Son), Briana Hunter (The Mother), and Kenneth Kellogg (The Father). Credit: Philip Newton
The cast members of Seattle Opera's upcoming production of Blue shared with Seattle Opera the impact that performing this poignant new opera has had on their lives, both personally and professionally. This is the second of two posts on Why Blue Matters, in the artists' own words.

is the 2
020 winner of Best New Opera from the Music Critics Association of North America, created by librettist Tazewell Thompson (five NAACP Awards, plus two Emmy nominations) and composer Jeanine Tesori (Tony-winner known for Fun Home). Seattle Opera's Blue runs Feb. 26 & 27 and March 2, 5, 9, 11, & 12, 2022 at McCaw Hall. Tickets & info at

“I absolutely relate my real relationships with my friends to my relationship with The Father in Blue. I'm a huge sports fan and my closest friends and I go to sporting events all the time. We have wonderfully deep conversations. I am fortunate that I can pull from real life events and apply them to this opera. For instance, my wife and I are expecting (we are VERY EXCITED) and my friends gave me some incredible advice. They teased me some as well. My real-life experiences happen in the show!”

–Joshua Conyers, Policeman 3/Congregant 3

“I feel pretty much every emotion singing these roles. I really try to bring as much fun and lightheartedness but also sincerity as possible when I’m singing The Nurse. Partly because I know what’s coming, but partly because I get to share a great, comedic moment with the audience. Singing Girlfriend 1 pushes me every time I do it. The vocal range is kind of extreme but so is the emotional range. The first week of rehearsals for the premiere, my twin sister told me that she was going to have a baby. A Black boy. So, I have felt and continue to feel all those emotions as myself. As The Girlfriend in Act 1 and an aunt, I have the same hopes and wishes for my nephew as I have for The Son.”

–Ariana Wehr, The Nurse/Girlfriend 1/Congregant 1

From left: Ellaina Lewis (Girlfriend 2/ Congregant2), Ariana Wehr (The Nurse/Girlfriend 1/Congregant 1), Briana Hunter (The Mother), and Cheryse McLeod Lewis (Girlfriend 3/ Congregant 3). Credit: Philip Newton

“As an opera singer, I speak through many different characters—some iconic and heroic, even god-like. But with the contributions of new works like Blue into the mainstream of modern American Musical Theater, today's iconic figures are now being drawn from the lives of those more accessible to us. I believe Blue shines a light on the heroes who walk amongst us. Friends, family, extended communities of individuals who lift us up and support us. Each member empathizes with the unimaginable emotional turmoil inflicted upon this simple Black American family. Blue does not attempt to answer the longstanding complexities of race and violence that our nation has been grappling with for decades. Rather, it is an attempt to place us together in the same room of humanity, face to face, so that we may address these issues head-on...together.”

–Gordon Hawkins, The Reverend

“There are several scenes in Blue that make me proud. One occurs when I'm not even on stage, actually. The scene where The Mother talks about her love for The Father with her girlfriends is so touching. I mean, hearing a Black woman express her love for a Black man on the opera stage is absolutely stunning to me. Moreover, Jeanine Tesori’s musical setting is absolutely beautiful. It makes me proud to be a show husband. The hospital scene is another joyful scene. When I'm introduced to my son for the first time, I literally get flashbacks of when my actual son was born. Even though the baby is a prop—a doll baby—when I look in its eyes, I see my son. I relive all those emotions and feelings each time we perform the scene.”

–Kenneth Kellogg, The Father

From left: Camron Gray (Policeman 1/Congregant 1), Kenneth Kellogg (The Father), Korland Simmons (Policeman 2/ Congregant 2), and Joshua Conyers (Policeman 3/ Congregant 3). Credit: Philip Newton

“My favorite scene in the opera is the opening scene because it grabs you from the opening and takes you on a journey with The Mother and Girlfriends 1, 2, and 3. You really get to know them and the inner dynamics of their group and individual relationships. I think this scene grounds the entire opera in a true-to-life way. We all descend from women. Each of The Girlfriends represent the different faces of mothers, aunts, cousins, and sisters many of us know. This village of women brings the opera to life from beginning to end by empathizing each character and their role in the community. That is the magic of Blue—community and family.”

–Camron Gray, Policeman 1/Congregant 1

“Yes, I think the closeness is the hardest part of performing in Blue. It strikes a nerve for me as a reminder of the few times that I have had close encounters with police. It strikes a nerve for me as a reminder of the men in my family who have been incarcerated and who have struggled to live life outside the walls of a jail. It strikes a nerve for me as I remember protesting, here in Seattle, in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder. I cannot help but bring these stories with me onto the stage, in hopes that I can help create a space for the audience (and me) to continue rethinking the ways that we police Black and Brown bodies.”

–Korland Simmons, Policeman 2/ Congregant 2

“It is an honor to portray the special bond that Black women experience in our closest friendships. It is a special sisterhood that feels like family.”

–Cheryse McLeod Lewis, Girlfriend 3/ Congregant 3

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