Champion: An Opera in Jazz

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Terence Blanchard’s ‘Champion: An Opera in Jazz’

A groundbreaking work combining the disciplines of opera and jazz,Terence Blanchard’s Champion: An Opera in Jazz tells the real-life story of world champion boxer Emile Griffith, a man haunted by memories of his past who struggled to reconcile his sexuality in a hyper-macho world. Produced by SFJAZZ in conjunction with San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle,Champion is a visually stunning production features elaborate staging and video elements with a jazz trio, orchestra and chorus, bringing out the full glory of Blanchard’s soulful score as it illuminates a tragic story that remains acutely relevant today. Tormented by the death of opponent Benny Paret following their 1962 bout for the welterweight title, Griffith spent his life questioning himself and a society that would accept his accidental killing of a fellow athlete, but not his sexuality. The opera features a libretto by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Michael Cristofer and features renowned bass Arthur Woodley reprising his role as the title character. Far more than one of jazz’s most prodigious trumpeters,  Blanchard has carved out a brilliant career as an A-list composer. He premiered Champion at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in June 2013, and has substantially re-worked the piece for this exclusive string of performances on the Miner Auditorium stage, the first since the premiere. (Excerpt taken from a piece written for the SFJSZZ Center.)

Champion

The Press takes notes,  while the fight goes on.

 

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”. —Emile Griffith

Warrior Challenges His Friend – Beijing, China

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Peking Opera School

The warrior challenges his friend:

sticks for swords, young bodies swoop and lunge.

Play boots stomp on a pink Oriental rug.

Boys in workout gear,

black beards hooked over their ears

posture, eyebrows furrowed.

Teenaged girls are frivolous females,

fingers pointing, eyes dancing, white sheets

swirling.

Buoyant and tumbling, the loyal monkey

arranges himself on a lacquered stool,

his face clown white.

Fierce eyes, quick gestures,

gongs, drums and clappers

of hardwood and bamboo;

two men somersault,

a fight in the night.

 

Small as the stage is,

a few steps bring you far

beyond heaven.

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