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18 June 2020

Music Critics Association of North America Names Jeanine Tesori and Tazewell Thompson's Blue Best New Opera of 2020

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Briana Hunter as the Mother and Kenneth Kellogg as the Father in Glimmerglass Festival's 2019 world premiere of Blue
Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

THE MUSIC CRITICS ASSOCIATION OF NORTH AMERICA has announced that it has given its 2020 Award for Best New Opera to composer Jeanine Tesori and Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

The story of an African-American man wrestling with his own identity as a police officer after the death of his activist teenage son by another officer, Blue was originally commissioned by the Glimmerglass Festival and received its world premiere performances there in July 2019. The work featured bass Kenneth Kellogg as the Father, mezzo Briana Hunter as the Mother, baritone Gordon Hawkins as the Reverend and tenor Aaron Crouch as the Son. 

Reviewing the world premiere of Blue in Cooperstown, NY, for OPERA NEWS, Fred Cohn wrote: “[Blue] presents a situation so impossibly melancholy that no plot twist, no deus ex machina, can possibly dispel the sorrow. Blue here becomes not a conventional opera but a ritual—a memorial service in which the audience, as much as the characters onstage, forms the congregation. As the premiere performance ended, the audience’s sobs threatened to cover the music itself. We were all mourning a national tragedy.” 

The work was slated to receive additional showings this spring and summer at Washington National Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival—all performances that were canceled or postponed in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Lyric Opera of Chicago has rescheduled performances of Blue for January 2021, and Minnesota Opera plans to present the work in February 2021.


The MCANA award, which annually honors an opera premiered in either the United States or Canada, is the only such award in the U.S. and one of the few in the world that recognizes both a work’s composer and its librettist. The MCANA committee that awarded the prize to Blue consisted of Heidi Waleson, opera critic of The Wall Street Journal; George Loomis contributor to the Financial Times and Musical America; Arthur Kaptainis, writer for The Montreal Gazette and La Scena Musicale; John Rockwell, former critic and arts editor of The New York Times and co-New York correspondent of Opera (UK); and Alex Ross, music critic of The New Yorker. The committee completed its deliberations and selected Blue as the Best New Opera on March 12, months before the nationwide protests instigated by the police killing of George Floyd.

In a statement, the committee said: “Urgent and heartbreaking, Blue examines the joys and fears of an African-American couple trying to raise and protect their son in a dangerously polarized world. In its exploration of race, violence, and forgiveness, Blue places timely issues at the forefront of modern opera and invites audiences to the emotional epicenter of their impact.”

“I am thrilled to receive the Best New Opera award from the MCANA,” Tesori said in a statement. “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.”

“I am honored to be the recipient of the MCANA Award,” said Thompson. “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." spacer 

More information can be found at the Music Critics Association of North America. A conversation between Briana Hunter and Ariana Wehr about Blue and the opera industry can be found at

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