— Soraya Nadia McDonald, The Undefeated
The Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA) bestowed its 2020 Award for Best New Opera to composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson for their vivid opera Blue. Honoring an opera premiered in either the United States or Canada, it is the only such award in the U.S., and one of the few in the world that recognizes both composer and librettist.
The MCANA Committee stated, "Blue, an all-too-timely story of one family's devastating loss — the teenage son of a black police officer is killed by a white police officer — is given universal resonance by Jeanine Tesori's gripping, accessible music and Tazewell Thompson's poignant, unflinching libretto. Blue was selected as the recipient of this year's award in mid-March, and we at MCANA are proud to be announcing the award now, in this difficult time, when many of its planned productions around the country had to be canceled, and because incidents like the one at the center of the opera continue to occur. We hope that this important work will see many more performances in the future."
The Glimmerglass Festival commissioned Blue and gave its premiere in July 2019. The 2020 performances by Washington National Opera (March), Lyric Opera of Chicago (June), and Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival (July) were cancelled or postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Lyric Opera of Chicago rescheduled Blue for January 2021; Minnesota Opera will present it in February 2021.
Michael Andor Brodeur wrote about the impactful social relevance of Blue and the MCANA award in The Washington Post when the award was announced.
The New York Times described Blue as "powerful — as well as sadly timely…Ms. Tesori has written a strong, yet subtle score that avoids the obvious and exudes a personal voice. Mr. Thompson has written one of the most elegant librettos I've heard in a long time." The Wall Street Journal wrote, "Ms. Tesori's deeply affecting and disturbing music has just the right weight and gravity for the story. Mr. Thompson's unflinching libretto avoids political posturing yet clearly exposes the opera's underlying predicament."
Tesori responded to the award: "I am thrilled to receive the Best New Opera award from the MCANA. Blue celebrates the African-American family, and the consequences of possibility denied. While it is my hope that this work is presented world-wide, I also pray for the day that it does not seem, as it does now, ripped from the news of our daily lives. I thank the MCANA for this honor."
Thompson observed, "I am honored to be the recipient of the MCANA Award. I wrote Blue from a passionate need and responsibility to tell the personal family story behind the numbing numbers of unarmed African Americans killed by white police officers. To garner the prize from such a highly accomplished and prestigious jury of judges is overwhelming. To share this distinction with my brilliant collaborator, Jeanine Tesori, makes it especially sweet."
Jeanine Tesori photo by Rodolfo Martinez; Tazewell Thompson photo by Fabian Obispo