NEW YORK — There's a line in the middle of Act I of composer Terence Blanchard and librettist Kasi Lemmon's "Fire Shut Up in My Bones" that sat in my head like a caption throughout the show's premiere at the Metropolitan Opera on Monday night.

It’s uttered by Uncle Paul (heartily sung on Monday night by Ryan Speedo Green) as he instructs his nephews how to properly till the fields of their new home in the small town of Gibsland, La.

“See how da ground pack hard and smooth? You gotta broke it up. You gotta disturb the earth for things ta grow!”

Tough to turn, too, is the turf of the opera stage, packed down so hard and smooth over the centuries that you’d barely know there’s fertile soil below — and, as demonstrated Monday night, potential for a rich harvest.

“Fire Shut Up in My Bones” originated as a co-commission of Opera Theatre of St. Louis and Jazz Saint Louis. And as most headlines about the show will tell you, it’s the first Met production by a Black composer in the company’s 138 years.

It’s a historic context, but last night it was a full-on vibe. You could see it reflected in the diverse faces of the audience, the fashions festooning the lobby, the programs listing the all-star, almost all-Black cast. But it was most apparent when the chandeliers rose to the ceiling, the house went dark and the masked and vaccinated audience (at 99 percent of the Met’s 3,800-seat capacity) abruptly went wild.

The cheer was long and loud, a thrilling consensus to take in the moment. Certainly, it was part standard-issue “Hooray! The start of the season!,” and more than certainly, the 18-month intermission forced by the pandemic contributed significantly to the enthusiasm. At the core of this roar, however, was a fire all its own — a cathartic, formless, collectively breathless “finally.

Adapted from the best-selling memoir of New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow, “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” recounts Blow’s upbringing in rural Louisiana as the youngest of five boys to a (newly) single mother, the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of an older cousin and the inner turmoil that ensues and trails him into adulthood.

The role of Charles was split between two performers, the powerful baritone Will Liverman — who in 2023 will sing the lead in a Met revival of Anthony Davis’s “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X” — and the young dynamo Walter Russell III, who plays Charles as a boy, affectionately and diminutively referred to by everyone in the neighborhood (i.e. the chorus) as “Char’es-Baby.”

For much of the opera, the two Charleses circle each other, singing each other’s lines, echoing each other’s expressions and gestures, and blurring the past and present into one. It’s a feat helped along by a simple but ingenious set design by Allen Moyer, which uses a massive square structure as both setting and frame, moving us through Charles’s memories and delving into his psyche.

The set also seemed to help amplify Liverman, who despite a remarkable, richly nuanced performance, was here and there overwhelmed by the orchestra. Despite this, he shined throughout, deftly capturing the caged anguish that has tormented him since he was a boy — “a boy who couldn’t cry.”

Charles is visited by apparitions of his own internal crisis — Destiny and Loneliness, both beautifully sung by soprano Angel Blue (who also sings the role of Charles’s love interest later in life, Greta). It’s hard to imagine a singer more suited to moving through roles in the same story as Blue — her tone is captivating and rich, and she sang many of the opera’s finest moments, including “Peculiar Grace,” one of the show’s most powerful arias.

And being a “mama’s boy,” Charles and Char’es-Baby both orbit around Billie, the mother of the Blow boys, sung in a show-stealing star turn by soprano Latonia Moore, who brought equal measures of grace and force to the role, and provided an emotional center of gravity that kept the family — and the opera — well-anchored.

Liverman, Blue and Moore led an equally stellar supporting cast. Tenor Chauncey Packer, a south Alabama native, played Billie’s philandering husband, Spinner, his voice pulled into a rubbery purr that proved suitably sleazy. Soprano Briana Hunter made a compelling Met debut as Ruby — one of Spinner’s “good-time women.” Tenor Chris Kenney also made his Met debut as Chester, the visiting cousin who sexually abuses the 7-year-old Char’es-Baby, and whose villainy earned applause cut with a crowd-wide grumble at curtain call. And bass-baritone Donovan Singletary brought the house down as the Pastor, leading a congregation that swiftly expanded into the rows.

Blanchard — a multiple Grammy winner, acclaimed trumpeter and bandleader, and Oscar-nominated composer of dozens of film scores (including 17 of Spike Lee’s films) — met the history-making moment by weaving a complex braid of musical idioms: A jazz rhythm section was incorporated into the orchestra, led by an ebullient Yannick Nézet-Séguin; the chorus emerged from the wings as a gospel choir in Act II; and occasionally the singers would slacken key lines into arresting blue notes.

In the hands of Lemmons, a celebrated screenwriter and director whose work includes “Eve’s Bayou” (1997) and “Harriet” (2019), the themes of Blow’s deeply personal memoir become lithe poetry. At times, recitative passages were syllabically crowded, their cadences a bit overburdened. But by and large, the libretto accomplishes a similar feat as Blanchard’s score: intense intimacy on a grand scale.

James Robinson and Camille A. Brown’s co-direction was sure and solid, keeping the pace lively, the moods and colors shifting, and the surprises coming. Brown, who is making an additional bit of history as the first Black director on a main-stage Met production, also served as choreographer and is behind one of the show’s most breathtaking stretches — a “Peculiar Grace” ballet, in which a dozen dancers turn the stage into one of Charles’s traumatic dreams — a beautiful nightmare that stuck with me long after the curtain fell.

In many ways, “Fire” honors the contours and conventions of traditional opera, but its finest moments spring from its divergences.

For one thing, it’s not often that an opera offers such an incisive critique of masculinity — particularly Black masculinity — and the many ways that manhood’s many rules and strictures shape (or stunt) desire and identity. More often than not, masculinity is the unspoken catalyst of the action in opera: the justification of brute force, the base of jealousy, the root of rage. “Fire” turns the unspoken into its central subject — and it digs deep.

There are other moments that you’ve probably never seen on the opera stage: the bloody feathers and stained aprons of a chicken processing plant; the operatic dispatch of the word “heffa”; the soulful wails of offstage orgasms; and a short list of choice phrases that we can’t reprint here.

But the most powerful moment in “Fire” opens Act III, when the freshman Charles rushes a fraternity at Grambling, a historically Black university in Louisiana. Before a brutal hazing, the brothers of Kappa Alpha Psi take the stage for a traditional step show, which at Lincoln Center, felt anything but traditional, and triggered an extended standing ovation.

As Brown notes in her essay for the program, step dances have been an integral piece of Black culture for centuries, extending back to the traditional social dances of West Africa. In post-slavery America, step is a core element of the communities formed by Black fraternities, many of which were “intentionally created as safe spaces when white Greek-letter organizations would not let Black men and women join them.”

When I describe this sequence as groundbreaking, I mean it twofold. In one sense, Blanchard and his team have created something that has never been seen or heard on the Met stage. But in another, in seizing this moment so fully — intentionally creating a safe space for Black culture and expression on a stubbornly exclusive stage — “Fire” claims the space that it’s owed.

As the step crew’s stomping feet pounded the boards, shook the stage and rattled the room, it was hard to see the gesture as anything short of breaking new ground, turning the turf, disturbing the earth so that things can grow. It’s a defiant, tender and vital work of art, and a watershed moment for American opera.

And yet, for all of its beauty, force and grandeur, the real promise of “Fire” is profoundly simple — it feels like a starting point for something new, a refresh of where opera can take us.

It’s as if Uncle Paul can see past the edge of the fields and the Met stage when he tells Char’es-Baby, and anyone else who can hear him, “It’s your garden now.”