Arts & Culture

4 UK Alumni Take the Stage in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s ‘Fire Shut Up in My Bones’

From left, Kenneth Hamilton, Reginald Smith Jr., Benjamin Preacely (center), La'Shelle Allen and Christopher Kenney.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 7, 2022) For the last two weeks, the vocal talents of four University of Kentucky opera alumni have been featured on stage in the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production of “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” — a modern opera that is quickly becoming known as a cultural phenomenon.

“Fire Shut Up in My Bones” is Grammy Award-winning jazz musician and composer Terence Blanchard’s adaptation of Charles M. Blow’s moving memoir by the same name. Featuring filmmaker Kasi Lemmons’ libretto, “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” tells a poignant and profound story about a young man’s journey to overcome a life of trauma and hardship. The production challenges audiences with contemporary topics of race, spirituality and sexuality, musicality rooted in jazz and stunning movement — distinguishing the piece from many traditional opera productions. 

The four Wildcats lending their voices as part of the cast and chorus of “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” in Chicago include contralto La'Shelle Allen, Kenneth La’Ron Hamilton, baritone Chris Kenney and baritone Reginald Smith Jr.

In addition to the alumni, Benjamin Preacely, son of UK School of Music lecturer Michael Preacely, portrays the child version of the main character, Charles, in the production.

"We are so proud of our students who are performing in this production at the Lyric Opera of Chicago" said Everett McCorvey, director of UK Opera Theatre. "'Fire' has taken the world by storm and many companies are considering producing this work, so it's very exciting that our alumni are performing at both the Metropolitan Opera of New York and now at Chicago Lyric. In many cases, especially for new contemporary opera productions, companies will hire the performers who debuted the role. We are always proud of our students' successes, and thrilled to see them thriving in this field and promoting the art of opera."

Last fall, six UK alumni, including Chris Kenney, made history by performing “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. This marked the Met’s staging of its first opera by a Black composer. Read more here.

UK Opera Theatre is part of the School of Music at the UK College of Fine Arts. The school has garnered a national reputation for high-caliber education in opera, choral and instrumental music performance, as well as music education, music therapy, composition and theory and music history.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.