A Champion’s Opera

Boxer Emile Griffith

Opera companies’ announcements of their next season is like early Christmas for me, and the end of summer provides a mini-offering of season announcements from the summer opera festivals.

The Opera Theater of Saint Louis is one such summer opera festival, and a pretty adventurous one at that; their recently announced 2014 season includes a newly commissioned opera, part of a series initiated by this season’s world premiere…

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature&v=Oe-KTfFqqwc&w=350&h=300]

Champion, an “opera in jazz” by Terence Blanchard was based on the true story of Caribbean-American boxer Emile Griffith, a champion welter- and middleweight infamous for beating a 1962 opponent to death.  Griffith’s sexuality had been called into question by his opponent, and he was later severely beaten outside a gay club in 1992, ultimately admitting in a 2005 interview that he’d had relations with both men and women.  Gotta love this poignant quote from Ron Ross’ 2006 biography:

I keep thinking how strange it is … I kill a man and most people understand and forgive me. However, I love a man, and to so many people this is an unforgivable sin; this makes me an evil person. So, even though I never went to jail, I have been in prison almost all my life.

It’s a tragic story, so a natural for the opera, but shortly after the opera’s run the story now has a coda; Griffith died on July 23rd of this year from complications from dementia.

As for composer Blanchard, here’s an interview with him from Opera News on Champion; he’s primarily an instrumental jazz composer and performer, with samples available on his site, and here’s his latest CD, Magnetic, available on Amazon.

(Also, this is my first ever use of a “Sports” tag…  Might be the last too…)


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