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Interview with Czech President Petr Pavel; Interview with "New Cold Wars" Author and The New York Times White House and National Security Correspondent David Sanger; Interview with "Fire Shut Up in My Bones" Composer Terence Blanchard. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired April 18, 2024 - 13:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.


REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): I think providing lethal aid to Ukraine right now is critically important.


AMANPOUR: The house speaker risks his job to get help to Kyiv, and I ask a key European leader, Czech President Petr Pavel, if it's a game changer or

too little, too late.

And agony and despair after a strike on a refugee camp kills more children in Gaza. We bring you a harrowing report.

Then --


DAVID SANGER, WHITE HOUSE AND NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": The world right now is a series of vacuums that one great

tower or another is going to fill.


AMANPOUR: -- "New Cold Wars." National security reporter David Sanger talks to Walter Isaacson about America's struggle to defend the West.

Plus --


TERENCE BLANCHARD, COMPOSER, "FIRE SHUT UP IN MY BONES": One journalist asked me, he said, did you think your opera is going to inspire young

people to sing opera? And I'm like, bro, man, people of color have been singing opera for generations.


AMANPOUR: -- at the Met. I sit down with Terence Blanchard, the first black composer to bring a piece to that stage in its 138 years.

Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

It's make or break moment for Ukraine, as the U.S. Congress looks closer than ever to finally pushing through its long stalled aid package. House

Speaker Mike Johnson is risking his job to get that money to Kyiv, moving forward with the vote despite an uproar from a couple of MAGA aligned

lawmakers who are threatening to oust him.

The package includes billions of dollars for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, plus, additional money for humanitarian relief. President Biden says he

would sign it into law immediately.

Without U.S. support, Ukraine has had to rely on other allies, including the Czech Republic, which has pioneered an effort to buy ammunition for

Kyiv from third countries. Last week, President Zelenskyy met with Petr Pavel in Vilnius. Since his election just over a year ago, he's been one of

the most outspoken European leaders on countering Russian aggression. Warning that if Ukraine fails, so will we. He's a former top NATO general,

and he joined me from Prague to discuss all of this.

President Pavel, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: So, you really stood out when you called for, you know, the Europeans and you were going to organize a million and a half shells

ammunition for Ukraine. As yet, it has not happened. Where do you stand? Where does Europe stand on what they can provide Ukraine?

PAVEL: Well, this initiative was launched because we realized that the Czech Republic and other countries don't have enough own resources on stock

to give it to Ukraine. And that's why we started looking elsewhere wherever this equipment or ammunition was available. And to raise enough money,

enough support, we addressed our allies, our partners to join us in this initiative to acquire as much ammunition for Ukraine as necessary.

Up to now, we have identified more than 1 million rounds around the globe. There are other initiatives ongoing. So, hopefully, they will lead to the

provision of necessary equipment to Ukraine on time.

AMANPOUR: So, when you say you've identified, have you procured them? Have you bought them?

PAVEL: So far, we have bought three 300,000 rounds. For the remainder, the negotiation is ongoing. And obviously, it takes some time with all of the

partners who are providing sources, the financial resources, as well as with the countries providing the ammunition.

AMANPOUR: Mr. President, I just want to say a recent report from the E.U. Countries don't seem to be buying this stuff together. Even though the

E.U., and I recall, you know, making a big deal about joining forces, buy this ammunition together, support Ukraine.


Apparently, you've -- you know, the governments have purchased about 350 million pounds worth, or euros worth of ammunition, via the European

Defence Agency, but the agency is offering 1.5 billion. But still, it's not being procured. Why not? What's the holdup?

PAVEL: Well, first, if you identify the ammunition in a country that doesn't wish to be known from quite obvious reasons with regard to their

relations to Russia, such a negotiation is quite confidential.

So, the more nations, the more actors in this endeavor, the worst for the case. That's why we're trying to keep it confidential, to negotiate

directly with the smallest possible number of actors.

AMANPOUR: OK. But you probably have heard that the defense secretary in the United States, Lloyd Austin, has said that Russia is beginning to make

incremental gains. It's moving on to the front foot and it's beginning to, you know, really press its advantage now, that for instance, Ukraine

doesn't have the American aid.

What -- do you -- how much of a difference will it make for you and your effort and for Ukraine if the House passes this aid bill on Saturday night?

PAVEL: Well, we all hope that this bill will be passed on Saturday because U.S. assistance, U.S. help to Ukraine cannot be replaced. Europe is doing

increasingly more and more. European nations are taking responsibility. But the United States still provide at least a 50 percent of it. So, that's why

we all count on a right American decision.

AMANPOUR: So, this week, the prime minister of your country, the Czech prime minister, was meeting with President Biden and also with the house

speaker, Mike Johnson, on this issue. I just want to play a little bit of how he described the situation.


PETR FIALA, CZECH PRIME MINISTER: In 1968, I was a little boy. In 1968, I saw Russian tanks in the streets of my town. And I don't want to see this

again. So, we must continue to support Ukraine as long as possible.


AMANPOUR: So, that was, you know, bringing history to play. And I wonder whether, you know, the prime minister got a good answer -- obviously from

Biden he did, but from the House. Do you know?

PAVEL: Well, from what I know, that the meeting of our prime minister with President Biden and also in the Congress were successful in terms of

passing our arguments. Of course, our prime minister did not receive any promise because it can't be done. So, we all hope that the vote will be

good and that will -- the bill will pass on Saturday.

AMANPOUR: What do you make of some of the Senators even, you know, not just the Congress people who are in the sort of Trump, what we call the MAGA

group of Trump Republicans in Congress. Senators like J. D. Vance of Ohio, who has been, ever since the Munich Security Conference, essentially,

making a case that Ukraine doesn't matter.

PAVEL: Well, I believe that Ukraine is equally important for Europe as it is for the United States and the rest of the world. Because it's not just

about the defense of sovereign country and its territory, it's about the principles. And these principles matter for the United States the same way

as for us.

If Russia succeeds in Ukraine, then the whole transatlantic community will not be trusted anymore, because we are talking about protecting our values,

but we are not doing enough to protect them in practice.

Moreover, there are countries watching closely what is going on in Russia. If Russia prevails with its attitude to pushing its interests by force, all

countries that are watching will be inspired. Starting with China, with a number of countries in Africa, Middle East, and Asia. I believe that it is

crucially important that we all deliver all necessary assistance to Ukraine for it to prevail and to push Russia back.

AMANPOUR: Mr. President, you have said that it's in China's interest to prolong the status quo war in Ukraine. Do you still feel that, and what do

you mean by that?


PAVEL: I mean, that for, you know, China, the war in Ukraine is an open textbook. China is testing the West's reaction to different situations and

arguments. And, of course the longer the war takes, the more influence China gets even in Russia and in a number of other countries.

Russia is becoming more and more dependent on China. And that state of things is quite convenient for China. That's why I believe that China

doesn't have a direct interest to end up the conflict soon.

AMANPOUR: And, Mr. President, you must be seeing these reports that say that Russia is being very successful in its, you know, historic propaganda

efforts to sort of twist the intentions and to influence the intentions of American lawmakers and maybe even American people to distance themselves

from helping Ukraine.

PAVEL: We have our own experience with Russia, or at that time, Soviet Union. But unfortunately, for us and for the world, current Russia is not

much different from a former Soviet Union in pursuing their interests by force.

Russian president many times suggested that those who are powerful would do what they can. All of the rest will do what they have to. I think we don't

want to live in a world where only those who are powerful will design the rules. And that's why we're all trying to maintain rules based

international order, respect to the norms, to U.N. Charter. That's why we are supporting Ukraine, because this is the world in which we want to live.

AMANPOUR: And now you can see that there's a whole another war on our doorstep. Potentially, Iran, Israel, obviously the war that's been going on

in Israel and Gaza. And so, I want to ask you to reflect on what happened when allies came to the aid of Israel, to the defense of Israel, in the

face of an Iranian missile barrage.

Israel is not a NATO country, and that was noticed and commented on by the Ukrainian president, who's asking, well, we've been asking you to secure

our skies and to help us also defend against these Russian, and Iranian, by the way, projectiles. Here's what he said.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Well, after yesterday's attack, I want to ask you a question, is Israel part of NATO or

not? Here's the answer. Israel is not a NATO country. The NATO allies, including NATO countries, have been defending Israel. They showed the

Iranian forces that Israel was not alone. And this is a lesson. This is a response to anyone, on any continent, who says, you need to assist Ukraine

very carefully so you don't engage NATO countries in the war.


AMANPOUR: You know, as a former, you know, chief of staff of your armed forces, a former NATO general and a senior official, what do you make of

that? I mean, there is a double standard, right?

PAVEL: On one hand, I fully understand President Zelenskyy's frustration. On the other hand, if that Iranian attack was not pushed back, if there was

no coronation among a number of actors to prevent serious damage in Israel, I think that was an effort to prevent another war.

Because if that attack was not announced up front, if that attack caused a lot of damage and casualties, we might have seen the outbreak of a new war.

And no one wants such a new war to happen in such a difficult environment such as Middle East.

AMANPOUR: And, Mr. President, finally, you know, this new war, there was already the war going on between Israel and Gaza, have these taken

significant attention away from defending Ukraine, or can the alliance do both things at the same time?

PAVEL: I think we don't have a luxury to take the crisis one by one. If they happen at the same moment, we have to deal with both at the same time.

And the principles are still the same. We should condemn the aggression, but we should also do our best to avoid civilian casualties and to bring

the parties to the table as soon as possible.

AMANPOUR: President Petr Pavel of the Czech Republic, thank you so much for being with us.

PAVEL: Thank you for the opportunity.

AMANPOUR: And now to Israel and Gaza, more than six months into the war and negotiations for another ceasefire and hostage return appear to be going

nowhere. Qatar, who's been mediating now says it'll review its role after criticizing outside politicians who it says are undermining it.


Meanwhile, more bloodshed in Gaza. In a strike on a refugee camp this week, at least 14 people were killed, including eight children, according to

hospital officials. Correspondent Jeremy Diamond has this report and a warning, it is extremely difficult to see.


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A moment frozen in time. The bodies of at least four children splayed around the foosball table.

Laughter and shrieks of joy silenced in an instant. Blood now marking where they stood only minutes earlier.

Shahid (ph), no way. Shahid (ph), my beloved, her cousin screams from behind the camera. Ten-year-old Shahid (ph) is one of those children. Her

bright pink pants unmistakable in the arms of the man carrying her away.

With her family's consent, CNN has decided to show Shahid (ph) in life and death, in order to give a face to this war's deadly impact on children.

At al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, those who can still be saved arrive alongside those who cannot. Amid the chaos, Shahed's (ph) pink pants dangling as a

doctor confirms what is tragically obvious. But Shahid (ph) is not alone. She's one of eight children who died on that crowded street in Al-Maghazi.

The hospital says they were killed in an Israeli airstrike. By publication time, the Israeli military said only that the incident is under review.

One after another, their small bodies arrive at the hospital's morgue, and into the arms of grieving parents. His eyes swollen and red, the father of

nine-year-old Lujain (ph) recounts his daughter's last moments, playing foosball with her friends.

This is my eldest daughter he says, a drone strike hit them while they were playing. They are all children.

Hours earlier, Yusuf (ph) was one of those children, playing alongside Shahid (ph) and Lujain (ph) when he was suddenly killed in a war he did not

choose. His mother still clinging to her son.

Neither does this boy who cannot believe his brother is dead. He is still alive he cries, don't leave him here.

Amid the outpourings of grief, there is Shahid (ph), her bloodstained pink pants once again, impossible to miss.

Dear God, what did they all do one man cries? What did they all do?


AMANPOUR: Mad with grief as we see in that report from Jeremy Diamond. And as such dark images emerge every day from Gaza, Ukraine and other disaster

zones, it can be difficult to find the light. Sometimes music can be a bomb, and later in the program we bring you the groundbreaking Terence

Blanchard, the first black composer at the Met.

But first, threats to the international world order. David Sanger is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. And in his latest book, "New Cold Wars,"

he explains America's volatile rivalry with two great powers, China and Russia, and tells Walter Isaacson how this happened and what America got

wrong after winning the old Cold War.


WALTER ISAACSON, HOST, AMANPOUR AND CO.: Thank you, Christiane. David Sanger, welcome to the show.


ISAACSON: Over the past weekend, Iran sent a whole fleet of drones and missiles to Israel in retaliation for Israel's attack on its commanders.

What is Biden doing now to stop escalation?

SANGER: Well, first, let's start with the attack the Iranians ran itself. It was notable for two things. One was, it was the first time since the

Iranian revolution we have seen a direct attack on Israel from Iranian territory. That lifts one of the big taboos that has existed for a long

time, which is no exchange directly.

And I think the biggest worry to come out of it, you know, fortunately casualties were low. There was tragically one young girl who was injured by

shrapnel, badly injured, but there were no deaths from this. But there was the death of a restraint. And the restraint was the attack from one

territory to another.


The second big lesson that came out of it was the Iranians are learning from the Ukraine war just as we're. They started with a swarm of drones.

They then had cruise missiles and ballistic missiles following up that could move much faster.

I think the Iranians have emerged from last weekend with a few important lessons that they need to move their weapons closer to Israel if they're

going to be effective, and they need to go invest heavily in hypersonic and faster weapons. And my fear, Walter, is that they may think from this, that

if they can't get through the shield that the Israelis put up, they may have to invest more in nuclear weapons and rev up the nuclear project. We

have not seen evidence of that yet, but it would be too early.

ISAACSON: Well, you know, China and others helped us on that nuclear deal. What are they doing now? And can we try to stop somehow Iran from getting a

nuclear weapon?

SANGER: So, it's a critical point because during the 2015 nuclear negotiations that were run during the Obama administration, Russia and

China sat on the same side of the negotiating table as the United States and the European Union.

If those negotiations started up now, and I think there's almost no chance that they would, you wouldn't see them sitting on that side. The Russians

are now getting their drones from Iran. China, Russia, Iran together are forming a key part of what the Iranians call the axis of resistance. That's

a big change in just nine years And it's part of the dynamic of these new Cold Wars that I described.

ISAACSON: Wait, wait, wait. Let's talk about this big change because it's huge. And the fact that that all three of our major adversaries in the past

10 years have joined forces, meaning Iran, Russia, and China. Any realist would have said, let's not let that happen. Let's keep them from joining

forces. Were we making a big mistake, especially pushing China into the arms of this axis of resistance to us?

SANGER: Well, I argue in the book, Walter, that we made a fundamental mistake that goes back 30 years. We were making a good faith effort to try

to integrate China and Russia into the western economy. And I argue that we spent 30 years diluting ourselves. Some with bad intelligence, some with

just wishful thinking into believing that in the end of the day, China would not risk its economic future and its export market of the United

States, that Russia would not risk the revenues needed from oil and gas in order to pursue territorial gains or in order to crack down in ways that

they knew would separate them from the West.

We fundamentally got that wrong, for very different reasons in both countries, but we weren't listening to Putin when he said in Munich in 2007

that there were parts of the old Russian empire, meaning Peter the Great's empire that needed to be restored. We didn't react fast enough when he

annexed Crimea, a part of Ukraine, and then the German's chancellor, Merkel, signed the Nord Stream 2 deal the next year, 2015, right after

Crimea, which gave a new form of revenue to the Russians for gas exports.

So, what was Vladimir Putin supposed to conclude other than we would scream a lot about Ukraine if you want to take the entire country, but we wouldn't

do much. And in China, we made parallel mistakes. Did we push them together? I'm not sure we did, but it is clear that they are today doing

what Nixon and Kissinger were trying to prevent in the mid '70s.

ISAACSON: So, in the House of Representatives this week, you got Ukraine aid Israel, Taiwan, everything all bundled up in a mess. How is Biden

trying to get this resolved with the House of Representatives? And what do you think could and should happen?

SANGER: So, the initial theory about how they were going to get aid for Israel and for Ukraine and for Taiwan and get some money for the border was

put it all in one bill, on the theory that there would be parts of it that everybody would hate, but that they'd all vote for it to get the part they


And now, what you're seeing the speaker do is try to cut those apart and try to put together coalitions on each and every one of these, which is

interesting, may work, but it requires him to get everything right each time, or you're going to get Israel aid and no Ukraine aid, or Ukraine aid

and no Taiwan, or, you know, whatever it's going to be. Actually, Taiwan's probably the easiest one of these three.


On the left, the president's got to worry about progressives who want restrictions on aid Israel, although I think you can make a very reasonable

case. So, we put restrictions on all kinds of aid, including telling the Ukrainians that they cannot fire U.S. arms into Russia, for example. So, it

wouldn't be that big a stretch to say, you cannot use American 2,000-pound bombs in a dense urban area like Gaza.

In -- the hardest piece of this, it may well be Ukraine, where you've got a rump group of Republicans who basically want to send no aid at all, they're

finished with this. And there, you just are in a philosophical difference about what it would -- what message it would send to the world if the U.S.,

after declaring to the Ukrainians, we are with you for as long as it takes, suddenly changes the message to, we were with you for two years, but now,

we've run out of money.

ISAACSON: We're reading this week a lot about the Russian disinformation campaigns and how long they've been authorized. It's something you've been

reporting on for a long time. And I'm going to read something you read you wrote about their online disinformation campaigns just recently. Russian

operatives are laying the groundwork for what could be a strong push to support candidates who oppose aiding Ukraine or who call for pulling the

United States back from NATO.

Has this effort by Russia impacted our politics and impacted the politics in the Congress this week?

SANGER: It's really hard to tell, Walter, because the Russians are so much more sophisticated about this than they were in 2016. So, what are they

doing now? They are simply grabbing things that Americans themselves turn out, Americans have First Amendment rights, and amplifying those and

creating that echo team, in the hope that by being more subtle about it, all they are doing is amplifying the words of people who have First

Amendment rights to have their views, whether you agree with them or do not agree with them. It's a much more sophisticated and harder to catch kind of


And what I found really interesting as I was working on the book and having done a previous book on cyber, is that the Chinese who had basically done a

lot of hacking but had never really been in serious information operations in the United States were beginning to replicate what they were learning

from the Russians. And it will be interesting to see what the combined effect of Russian and Chinese disinformation, misinformation, or just

amplification could be.

ISAACSON: Your previous book on cyber and cyber warfare made it feel like in the 21st century. That's the way we're going to fight wars. What's

stunning to me is the Ukraine war is fought the way it was 100 years ago. It's a World War 1 trench warfare. Why have there not been more cyber-

attacks in this case?

SANGER: Well, they have been, but they have been of a nature that's a little harder to see. You know, when you're watching the war in Ukraine

what you see is the missile that goes through the power plant. And the previous book, "The Perfect Weapon," made the argument that cyber was a

terrific short of war weapon, because it's hard to attribute, it's hard to see, and it's a way of taking something out of a country without going to

full-scale war.

This has been the first time that we have. I've seen a full-scale war between two very cyber savvy countries, Russia and Ukraine, where there was

a significant cyber capability both on offense and defense. And of course, the Russians, as I've described in "The Perfect Weapon," which is now from

five years ago, used Ukraine as their testing ground for cyber. They did again.

And in the opening of the book, you see not only what the White House is seeing in the opening days of the war, but what Microsoft is seeing, and

they send up a flair saying, cyber-attacks have begun on Ukrainian government agencies. And that makes its way up to Jake Sullivan, the

national security adviser, as a warning that the kinetic war was about to begin.

General Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said at one point in this colorful way, I'll clean this up, because he speaks army, but he said, you

know, we thought at first this was going to be a pure cyber war. Then we thought it was a World War II tank war, and then we discovered it was a

blanking World War I French warfare. And the answer is, it's all three, Walter. It's 1914, it is 1941, and it's 2022 to '24.


ISAACSON: Now, the big news this week is that President Biden is looking to put huge tariffs on Chinese steel. How does that fit in? That seems to push

China even further towards the Russian-Iran access. Why are we in this confrontation with China right now?

SANGER: I'm not sure that the steel part of this fits his own China strategy. What he keeps saying is, I don't want a Cold War with China. He

said it at his U.N. speech, his first year in office. But he has never lifted a single tariff that Trump put on, and he has imposed some export

controls on China. That are preventing China from getting the most sophisticated chips, particularly chips that would help them with

artificial intelligence. That makes sense to create a bit of a of time and gap for the U.S. to catch up.

The steel tariffs, which he is describing, seem to be -- to me, to be more classic protectionism and an election year gambit. And, you know, you're

seeing that even with non-adversaries. The president has made it clear he doesn't want a Japanese firm to invest in U.S. steel. Well, there's no

closer ally we have in the world than Japan. Their prime minister was just getting a state dinner the other day.

And so, that's what happens when politics interferes, I think, with the good judgment of what makes sense and what does not.

ISAACSON: With this announcement of potential new tariffs, it follows a theme in your book, which is that somehow or another the Biden

administration is continuing a lot of the Trump administration's policies when it comes to China, especially on protectionism. Is that right?

SANGER: They have certainly continued a number of the steps that President Trump took. And as I said, the sanctions are the most obvious among them. I

think they have wrapped it into a much more sophisticated and well- developed Indo-Pacific strategy in which they have brought Australia into the fold by -- with a deal that will essentially allow the Australians to

produce American and British designed nuclear submarines, not nuclear armed, but nuclear powered, and one in which they are bringing allies

together who have not worked together before, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines.

In Washington last week, we saw the first meeting between the Philippine leader and the Japanese prime minister with the Americans sort of guiding

it along the way. And this is an effort to try to create closer to China's shores a grouping that is not quite a NATO but is a made for purpose

alliance to show a common front against Chinese expansionism. I think that makes sense in a way that the Trump policy never did.

You'll remember Trump would cut any deal with China. He once told Xi Jinping, I'm not going to complain to you about what you do in Hong Kong,

cracking down on free expression, jailing dissidents, if it looks like we can get a trade deal. You're not hearing that from Joe Biden. But a lot of

the techniques that Trump used, including tariffs, you're not seeing reversed.

ISAACSON: This book shows the real complexities and the dangers we now face, especially with three major adversaries aligned against us, U.S.

being against Russia, China, and Iran. How does this end? How would you break out of this impasse we're now in?

SANGER: Well, the first lesson of the book and its complexity is, we're not in your old Cold War. The old Cold War was a one-on-one contest between the

United States and the Soviet Union, and it was primarily a military and nuclear contest. This involves two major adversaries, some minor ones or

less capable ones, Iran included, but also North Korea, and a number of countries that are sitting on the sidelines trying to make bets difficult

to do.

You know, the other day, there was a fascinating investment that Microsoft made in a company called G42 in the United Arab Emirates. And while this

looked like an effort by the United States to invest in A.I. in the Middle East, what it really was, was an effort to try to box the Chinese out of

the Middle East.


That's the new territory, and it is now rather than it's -- you know, whether there would be a domino theory of ideology spreading, the question

is, who's going to control the key technologies of the coming decades?

The only way I know to do that, Walter, is to be both aggressive and thoughtful about how the U.S. government helps marshal private enterprise

to do this. This Microsoft deal was basically conceived of by the administration, although the U.S. is not formally a party to it.

And you're going to need to see a lot more of that. I know there's an aversion to industrial policy, but the fact of the matter is that the world

is right now is a series of vacuums that one great power or another is going to fill. And if you decide That we don't want the U.S. involved in

this, we just want to go build big walls and pull back, then what you're essentially saying is, I don't care who fills those vacuums.

And my guess is that's probably not a policy that over time is going to work out with.

ISAACSON: David Sanger, as always, thank you for joining us.

SANGER: Thank you, Walter.


AMANPOUR: And next, to breaking ground in the world of opera. When it first premiered at New York's Met in 2021, "Fire Shut Up in My Bones" set a new

record. It was the first work by a black composer to be performed at the legendary Opera House in its 138-year history. Grammy Award winning

musician Terence Blanchard adapted the memoir of New York Times columnist Charles Blow. It's a very personal, often heart wrenching story.




AMANPOUR: And now, it's back at the Met where I sat down with Terence Blanchard to discuss why he wants to be a turnkey, not a token.


AMANPOUR: Terence Blanchard, welcome to our program.


AMANPOUR: It's great to have you, particularly in the midst of this rave hit reperformance of this opera. What, first of all, inspired you to take

the story of Charles Blow and make it into an opera?

BLANCHARD: I think the first thing that got me was the whole sense of being other. You know, I wasn't sexually assaulted as a kid, but I know what it's

like to be different in your neighborhood. And to see everything that he went through, to -- and to become this amazing success story, I think it

was really important.

You know, because I feel like the project itself could help a lot of people. And I think it already has because when we did it at first, you

know, there were a lot of people who came to see it, saw what he went through and they see how he's such a brilliant writer, they really got

inspired about how strong his perseverance is.

AMANPOUR: So, obviously, Charles Blow, as we've said in the introduction to you, is the New York Times columnist.


AMANPOUR: Who grew up in the south, and had a very, you know, difficult and, as you say, violent childhood, including sexual abuse. I want to ask

you about writing, because we've got some clips. Here's one piece. Charles, what I wanted to say.




AMANPOUR: Tell us what it's about and how you went around writing it.

BLANCHARD: Charles, what I wanted to say. is one of the culminating scenes where he's gone through everything in his life. He's been sexually

assaulted. He's trying to figure out who he is. He's trying to find his way through life. He's starting to understand that maybe he's -- he is

attracted to men, but he's dating women.

And this scene really is probably one of the most emotional scenes for me because he's really becoming vulnerable with his girlfriend, Greta. And at

the same time, she's been dating someone else and she's starting to really explain it to him. And he thinks that she's leaving him because he told her

about the abuse. But no, but she's been dating someone the entire time.

And it's just a heartbreak of a scene for me every time I see it, you know, the way the actors perform it, it's amazing because there's one portion of

the scene that I think really gets me, where he grabs her and says, please don't leave me. You're the only thing that's been keeping them at bay.





BLANCHARD: And that, to me, is like a very vulnerable but powerful moment.

AMANPOUR: Interestingly, you said just earlier that you believe a lot of people can learn and be helped by this.


AMANPOUR: How do you mean, and what have you noticed in the audience for this opera?

BLANCHARD: Well, you know, one of the things that I experienced with Charles when we did it the first time in St. Louis, you know, I didn't let

him come to rehearsals. At the time, I thought it was a great idea, but then when we got to the night of the premiere, I'm like, what was I


But I walked over to him afterwards, and I say, are we OK? You know, and he goes, oh, yes. He says, that just made me realize I'm not that person

anymore. And then he wrote a column about it. And then that started to spark a lot of debate.

But when we were here, when we premiered it here, I was standing right out in the lobby, talking to some people, and a guy walked up to me in tears,

and he said, thank you. I'm a survivor.


BLANCHARD: Then he walked away. And that, to me, was one of the reasons why we do this. Because I know that there are a lot of people out there

suffering, and a lot of times they don't want to talk about these issues, especially when it comes to family members, you know. But this story,

hopefully, will help people deal with those issues.

AMANPOUR: So, you know, Terence, you're an incredibly accomplished musician, performer, producer, et cetera. But it is the first time in 138

years of the Mets history that a black composer is bringing a piece to this stage. How do you reflect on that?

BLANCHARD: It's been an amazing thing to experience because, obviously, it's a huge honor. I don't take anything away from that. But the thing that

I've been saying is that I need to put an asterisk by my name because I may be the first, but I'm not the first qualifier.

AMANPOUR: What do you mean by that?

BLANCHARD: Well, I saw a ledger here where William Grant Still's name was in the ledger three times where he was rejected.

AMANPOUR: Remind us who he is, for those who don't know.

BLANCHARD: William Grant Still is one of our greatest African-American composers who created a lot of great works. And he wrote an opera called

"Highway One," which I had heard prior to coming here for rehearsals. I heard it in St. Louis. Didn't know it was William Grand Steel. Like when

I'm listening to it, I'm going, man, this is amazing. This is like current. And it was written in the '30s.


BLANCHARD: And when I looked at the response to all the comments, it was -- it broke my heart because it said, doesn't understand what it takes to

write real opera. Well, he was creating a whole new language inside the operatic world and people really didn't get it.

You know, and so, for me, you know, I take it as a huge honor to be the first, but I'm standing on their shoulders.

AMANPOUR: You even mentioned, I think, Scott Joplin.

BLANCHARD: Scott Joplin's "Treemonisha," you know. Yes, there's so many people, and I'm glad to see Anthony Davis got a chance to do X here,

because he had written it in the '80s, and it wouldn't be performed here.

AMANPOUR: Tell me about the audiences, because I've read that they are much more black and African-American than usually fills this hallowed space.

BLANCHARD: Well, that's been a beautiful thing about having the production here, you know. We've had probably one of the most diverse audiences that

the Met has ever seen. And the beautiful thing about that is that they're not only just coming to Fire, but they've been buying tickets to other



BLANCHARD: So, it's been sparking an interest in opera. And the thing that I've been saying to the opera world in general is that, you should start to

realize there's a huge demographic of people out there that's been overlooked for generations, you know, and they've been showing up in large


AMANPOUR: Because most people, frankly, do not think of black operas, right?


AMANPOUR: African-Americans creating opera.


AMANPOUR: It's usually the old white guys of Europe who are the -- you know, the canon and have remained so for, you know, several hundred years.


AMANPOUR: What would you say to people who are just surprised? I mean, it's different opera.

BLANCHARD: Right. Well, the thing is, it's not just the composers, but the performers as well. There's one who journalist asked me, he said, do you

think your opera is going to inspire young people to sing opera? And I'm like, bro, man, people of color have been singing opera for generations.

You know what I mean?

A lot of the things that we're doing right now, gaining coverage, educating the public to what's been going on. That's why I appreciate you having me

on the show, because this means a lot, not only to me, but just in general to the people who are involved in this, because there are other composers

who have done stuff, but nobody has ever heard their work.

One of the principles in the first production of "Fire," Will Liverman has written an opera. You know, and he's trying to gain traction with his work.

There are people out there who have stories to tell.

And the thing that I've been saying too, and I really mean this, I don't want to be a token, I want to be a turnkey. There needs to be women, there

needs to be people of other backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds, telling stories, because that's what the public, I really feel, wants to see.

AMANPOUR: You've said "Fire" several times, obviously that's a shortening of the full name of the opera.

BLANCHARD: "Fire Shut Up in My Bones."

AMANPOUR: Exactly.



AMANPOUR: So, tell us about the meaning of the title.

BLANCHARD: Well, you know, it's the whole idea behind this burning anxiety to like really scream about who you really are, you know, and you try to

keep that down because society tells you you're different, you know.

One of the things that Charles said, and just in passing, to Kasi Lemmons, who's the woman who wrote the libretto, he said I once was a peculiar

grace. And he just -- it was a throwaway line, but Kasi heard it and she said, you know what, that's actually really powerful.


BLANCHARD: And that became one of the main themes of the opera. You'll hear it throughout the opera maybe like three or four times.

AMANPOUR: You have -- you're a trumpeter. You've worked on scores for films, notably a lot of Spike Lee. What's different between that? And what

of that world do you bring to this world?

BLANCHARD: Well, what I bring to this world is my sense of drama from the film world, and writing for orchestra. Writing for orchestra is not a

thing, it's not a huge issue for me. I've been doing it for a number of years. What's been challenging is writing for voice because all of the

voices are different. All of the registers are different, even though they're labeled the same, you know, soprano, tenor, whatever, and trying to

find the best ranges for them. That's been a challenge.

The other thing that's interesting about doing opera versus doing film, film -- when I get to film, it's done. It's all cut together and

everything's edited and put together. Here, it's all about what's in my mind, how I wanted a certain scene to be paced, you know. And then, there's

constant music. So, I've been describing this thing that we call musical air, when you need to just have silence, but need to have space for people

to move around.

AMANPOUR: And it could change each night?

BLANCHARD: Oh, it changes every night. And that's the thing that I love too, because one of the things about these African-American singers in the

operatic world, a lot of them either grew up in a church, sang jazz or sang R&B. And when it came time -- when it comes time to sing Puccini, Wagner,

or any of those guys, they have to turn that off, turn it away.

But what we've been saying in my production is that we want you to bring all of that culture back because this is a current story.

AMANPOUR: So, do you -- I mean, do you bring, gospel soul? I mean, all the stuff that that is part of your heritage into this?

BLANCHARD: Oh, definitely.

AMANPOUR: It's a whole mix?

BLANCHARD: It's a whole mix. I mean, there's actually a church scene in here with the guys, they have a lot of fun with it, you know, and you can

see the chorus, they go right back to church, man. It's like Sunday morning.

AMANPOUR: And it must be a bit of a foot stomping favorite with the crowds?

BLANCHARD: The audience loves it. The chorus has so much fun with it. I think they want to extend the scene.

AMANPOUR: And it's not unusual in an opera, in a metropolitan opera house, right?


AMANPOUR: I mean, there's participation from the audience?

BLANCHARD: Right, right. It's not the usual thing. And also, we have a step sequence in the opera that always gets a standing ovation every night. And

the interesting thing about that is that, you know, the reason why, I think, that that gets that resounding reaction is because people are seeing

their culture on the stage at the Metropolitan Opera House. And I think for some people who really don't understand that, they don't understand the


AMANPOUR: Go back to your childhood a bit. You talked about inspiration and what you'd heard. But your father was fond of opera.

BLANCHARD: My father --

AMANPOUR: Didn't he used to sing it around the household?

BLANCHARD: Oh, my father loved opera. He was an amateur baritone. There was a guy named Osceola Blanchet, C-H-E-T, who taught my dad and some other

African-American males in New Orleans Opera. And they would always rehearse at Mr. Blanchet's house on Wednesday nights. I'll never forget it. And I

thought those were some of the most unusual dudes on the planet.

And when my father would be at home, you know those records that you were never allowed to touch? You know? He would pull those out and when he would

start playing his records, man, you would hear doors slamming in my house because everybody was like, oh, there he goes.

AMANPOUR: There he goes again, singing that stuff.

BLANCHARD: Yes, yes.

AMANPOUR: And did you burst into opera at home at a young age or not?



BLANCHARD: I mean, you know --

AMANPOUR: Do you sing?

BLANCHARD: No. I always tell a story, man. They put me in the choir for one Sunday at church and they heard me sing. They said, don't he play the tron?

He can praise the lord. Go get your horn, baby, and come back and praise the lord by giving him a horn.

AMANPOUR: Yes, yes. You do it the better way.


AMANPOUR: Did your parents think that being a musician was a gainful way to be employed? Did they want that for their child?

BLANCHARD: No. I grew up in a household full of educators. You know what I mean? My aunt taught high school, all of my other cousins and stuff in

other parts of Louisiana, they were all educators. So, for me, the thing that I kept hearing, which I hated, was you need something to fall back on.


BLANCHARD: And for me, I always looked at that as admitting failure. And I never wanted to think about that. So, I just took a chance. And I'll never

forget, I had a conversation with my dad. We had a big argument about something and he called me up and he said, I'm proud of you. And I'm like,

what do you mean? He said, if you would have listened to me, you probably would have stayed in New Orleans and not followed your career, and you

probably wouldn't be as happy as you are doing what you're doing.


AMANPOUR: Is there another version planned for elsewhere?

BLANCHARD: Yes, it's getting ready to go to D.C. And then later on, it's going to go back out to San Francisco. And it started in St. Louis. That

was the first place that we did it. But you know, it's been an amazing thing to witness because the thing that I love is with each production, the

vocalist, they just get deeper and deeper into the characters.

AMANPOUR: You do a lot of -- you know, a lot of genre crossing. And of course, the big topic of musical genre crossing conversation is Beyonce and


BLANCHARD: Oh, right.

AMANPOUR: Yes, yes, yes. "Cowboy Carter."

BLANCHARD: Yes, yes, yes.

AMANPOUR: And some people say, what? How can you? And it's really popular. Obviously, it's soared to the top and it's wonderful.




AMANPOUR: Commentary on that and on maybe people thinking you've got to stay in your lane, whoever you are?

BLANCHARD: Well, the thing that's always amazed me is when you try to explore different things, people have a problem with it. And I don't

understand it. Because there's a natural curiosity about music in general. And Beyonce's always been that way.

You know, I did a commercial with her years ago, which we did a Pepsi commercial together where she sang "Carmen." She came in and sang "Carmen."

And did a great job. And I've seen her shows live where she would sing operatic arias during her show.

You know, so, she's has -- she's always had a natural curiosity for music in general. So, when somebody told me that she was doing a country album,

I'm like, figures, it just makes sense, you know, and let's see what's going to happen after that. She'd be going to a totally different direction

after that, but that just makes sense.

And I don't understand why people are upset about it. They should be praising her for her musical prowess and acumen, you know, to be able to do

it. Not only do it, but do it in such a way that's respectful of the genre and do it on a high level. I mean --

AMANPOUR: You know, you're here at an incredibly important time. There's so much political division, not just between parties, but between races.

BLANCHARD: Oh, I know. I watch the show all the time.

AMANPOUR: Well, we talk about it all the time.


AMANPOUR: And obviously, music has a history of being part of movements, including the civil rights movement, et cetera. Do you have a thought on

the importance of music today in 2024 in the midst of this really difficult division that we're all living?

BLANCHARD: Music is probably, and art is probably more important now than anything. You know, you got to remember, you know, when, when "Champion"

first premiered here, it was come, it was the first thing that opened the Met after the pandemic. We had just gone through the whole George Floyd

scenario and, you know, people were still -- you know, the interesting thing about the George Floyd thing, for me, was that some of my friends who

are white finally got a chance to see what we have been talking about for generations. They never really understood it.

And coming here at the Met, this is one of the places where all of those different walks of life can come in here and experience something on the

same plane. Now, you know, this happens that being all-black cast for "Fire Shut Up in My Bones," but this story could be told by anybody, you know.

And when people come in here, I don't think people realize it's an all- black cast. I don't think that's the first thing that comes to your mind. What comes to your mind is that this is a coming-of-age story with a guy

who was sexually assaulted by a family member. And I see so many people of different walks of life relate to the story and that, hopefully, they can

carry out into their daily lives. And I think -- that's one of the reasons why I think music and art is more important now than ever.

AMANPOUR: Give me some of your experiences playing and how music has been - - you know, you've noticed it being a kind of uniter?

BLANCHARD: One of the funny ones for me, at least, was when "Champion," my first opera, went to the Kennedy Center. I come out on the stage for -- you

know, to take my bow, and I looked down and there's New Gingrich at the channel, and I'm like, oh, OK, hey. You know?

Then another time, I played at the American Embassy in Russia, and the ambassador told me at the time, he said, man, he said, you've probably done

more for American-Russian relations than anybody, because there were some old oligarchs here who came to your show and really enjoyed the music. And

that part of it speaks to just what we were talking about earlier, the power of music, how it can break down people's inhibitions and, you know,

hopefully, get to the core of some issues.

You know, because deep down, I tend to believe -- and it's just because of my spiritual background, I just tend to believe we're more alike than we're

different, you know, and it's just hard for us to kind of admit that sometimes.

AMANPOUR: Terence Blanchard, thank you so much indeed.

BLANCHARD: Thank you. It's an honor.



AMANPOUR: And what a great message of Terence Blanchard to end on.

That is it for now. If you ever miss our show, you can find the latest episode shortly after it airs on our podcast. Remember, you can always

catch us online, on our website, and all-over social media.

Thank you for watching, and goodbye from London.