Russell Thomas and Deborah Nansteel are the featured soloists for June 6 concert led by Resident Conductor Lina González-Granados

(Los Angeles) May 8, 2024 — On June 6, LA Opera will present the world premiere of a major new commission: the orchestral song cycle Fire and Blue Sky by Emmy-winning composer Joel Thompson and librettist Imani Tolliver.

Fire and Blue Sky was created for tenor Russell Thomas, LA Opera's Artist in Residence, who bares his past in an unvarnished and honest story of hurt, healing and self-discovery. A probing reflection on painful memories that reverberate into the present day, the concert work follows a mother and son in their journey of hope and healing. Russell was just a regular kid growing up beneath the shade of the Miami palms, but everything changed when a family member let slip that he was conceived following an assault.

Mezzo-soprano Deborah Nansteel stars opposite Thomas, joined by the LA Opera Orchestra under the baton of Resident Conductor Lina González-Granados.

"Fire and Blue Sky is a deeply personal work about my own origin: a mother and child bound, for better or worse, by trauma and trying to figure out how to navigate a coexistence," said Thomas. "I connected with Imani Tolliver from her own writings about being a survivor of childhood sexual violence. We had extensive discussions getting to know each other and what she created is simply brilliant and emotional without reveling in the trauma. Joel Thompson is perhaps one of the best composers of lyric music and I chose him for his ability to create a beautiful atmosphere through his music."

The evening will also feature an orchestral suite from Joel Thompson’s acclaimed first opera, The Snowy Day, a blissful celebration of childhood joy.

Performance and Ticket Info
Fire and Blue Sky will be presented at 7:30pm on Thursday, June 6, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90012).

Tickets begin at $17 and are on sale now. Tickets can be purchased online at LAOpera.org, by phone at 213.972.8001, or in person at the LA Opera box office at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90012). For disability access, call 213.972.0777 or email LAOpera@LAOpera.org.

More information about the production is available at LAOpera.org/Fire.

Click here to download photos of the artists.

About Composer Joel Thompson
Joel Thompson’s compositions incorporate a wide range of influences into a sound that is uniquely his own, from Afro-Caribbean rhythms, to Black American jazz, gospel, and blues, to Rachmaninoff and Ravel. He wrote his acclaimed first opera, The Snowy Day, with librettist Andrea Davis Pinkney, based on the barrier-breaking 1963 Caldecott Medal-winning children’s book by Ezra Jack Keats. The opera was commissioned by Houston Grand Opera and premiered in 2021. The Snowy Day was produced earlier this year by Portland Opera and will be seen next season at the Minnesota Opera.

In 2022, he became Houston Grand Opera’s first-ever full-time composer-in-residence, a five-year residency.

Thompson's choral work, Seven Last Words of the Unarmed, which commemorates the lives of seven Black men killed at the hands of police or authority figures, won the 2018 American Prize for Choral Composition. Thompson won an Emmy Award for a documentary about the work in 2017.

His works have been performed by esteemed ensembles such as the New York Philharmonic, Kansas City Symphony, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Master Chorale and Los Angeles Master Chorale.

About Librettist Imani Tolliver
Imani Tolliver is an award-winning poet, artist, educator and producer. She is the author of Runaway: A Memoir in Verse.

She received a Certificate of Congressional Recognition by the U.S. House of Representatives for her work as the Cultural & Fine Arts Supervisor for the City of Buena Park and a Certificate of Recognition by the City of Los Angeles for her work as a promoter, host, and publicist in support of the literary arts in Southern California.

Rooted in social justice, she has curated and produced a wide portfolio of arts and cultural programming that celebrates, reflects and amplifies the voices of diverse communities. These programs have included art festivals, poetry readings, concerts, community theater, youth theater, and special events for large municipalities in Southern California.

About Tenor Russell Thomas
American tenor Russell Thomas uses his signature elegance and intensity to create vivid character portrayals on the world’s most important stages. Highlights of his 2023/24 season, include his role debut as Parsifal with Houston Grand Opera along with performances of Radamès in Aida with Lyric Opera of Chicago, Cavaradossi in Tosca at London's Royal Opera House, Calàf in Turandot with LA Opera, and Alvaro in La Forza del Destino with the Norwegian Opera.

He has enjoyed a string of operatic triumphs in key Verdi roles, including appearances as Otello at LA Opera, Canadian Opera Company and Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Ernani at Lyric Opera of Chicago, Manrico in Il Trovatore at Munich's Bavarian State Opera, Radamès in Aida at LA Opera and Houston Grand Opera, Stiffelio at Opera Frankfurt, and Don Alvaro in La Forza del Destino at Deutsche Oper Berlin and Opéra National de Paris. He most recently returned to the Metropolitan Opera as Don Carlo and as Rodolfo in La Bohème.

Thomas made his LA Opera debut in 2015 as Pollione in Norma, subsequently returning as Cavaradossi in Tosca, the title roles in The Clemency of Titus, Oedipus Rex and Otello, and Radames in Aida. He will appear as Calaf in Turandot from May 18 through June 8. During the 2020/21 season, he began his tenure as Artist in Residence at LA Opera, where he plays a substantial role in artistic planning and casting. In addition to hosting and curating the company’s After Hours recital series, he has spearheaded new training programs designed to serve outstanding singers from historically Black colleges and universities and Los Angeles public high school students from underserved communities.

About LA Opera
Los Angeles is a city of enormous diversity and creativity, and LA Opera is dedicated to reflecting that vibrancy by redefining what opera can be. Through imaginative new productions, world premiere commissions, and inventive performances that preserve foundational works while making them feel fresh and compelling, LA Opera has become one of America’s most exciting and ambitious opera companies.

In addition to its mainstage performances at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the company explores unusual repertoire each season through the LA Opera Off Grand initiative, featuring performances in a variety of venues throughout Los Angeles. The LA Opera Connects initiative offers a robust variety of educational programming and community engagement offerings that reaches people throughout every corner of Los Angeles County. The company also offers a multitude of online content via its LA Opera On Now digital offerings, which launched in 2020. Learn more at LAOpera.org.

LA Opera Media Contact
Marlene Meraz
Director of Communications
mmeraz@laopera.org
213.972.7554

Fire and Blue Sky was commissioned by LA Opera.

LA Opera Orchestra generously underwritten by Terri and Jerry Kohl.

LA Opera is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the greater Los Angeles community.