Thursday, June 13, 2013

Terence Blanchard Honors Father With Opera About Emile Griffith

Baritone Aubrey Allicock will play Emile Griffith.
"Jazz composer Terence Blanchard couldn't have imagined how timely his opera about a gay boxer would become when he accepted a commission three years ago. Blanchard's Champion with a libretto by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Michael Cristofer is based on the life of former world welterweight and middleweight champion Emile Griffith. Its world premiere at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis on Saturday comes just weeks after NBA center Jason Collins became the first active male pro athlete from one of the four major North American team sports to come out as gay. Griffith's greatest triumph came in a nationally televised welterweight title bout in 1962 when he knocked out Benny 'The Kid' Paret by battering him with 17 punches in seven seconds, sending his rival into a coma. Paret died 10 days later. At the weigh-in, the Cuban-born Paret had angered Griffith by using an anti-gay Spanish slur. Thirty years later, Griffith was beaten and nearly killed after leaving a gay bar near Times Square."

The composer (above) hopes to build
a bridge between jazz and opera.
"The 51-year-old Blanchard agreed to undertake the biggest musical project of his career in part to honor his father who could not realize his dream of being an opera singer in an era when companies didn't hire male black singers. His father performed with amateur opera groups, and Blanchard grew up listening to opera recordings at his New Orleans home. Blanchard knows his father would have been 'overjoyed' to see that his son had written an opera performed by a largely African-American cast, including Denyce Graves as Griffith's mother, Arthur Woodley as old Emile and Aubrey Allicock as young Emile. An 11-year-old from St. Louis, Jordan Jones, plays Emile as a boy." [ Source]

For more information about the production, visit the official website for Opera Theatre of St. Louis.

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