The true story of black gay boxer Emile Griffith punches al the right places.
The Metropolitan Opera is renowned for its exceptional productions, and one of the most intriguing among them is undoubtedly “Champion.” This boxing opera, composed by Terence Blanchard, tells the story of Emile Griffith, a welterweight boxer who rose to fame in the 1960s. With a libretto by Michael Cristofer, this gripping production features powerful performances, striking visuals, and a musical score that blends classical and jazz influences.
The story of “Champion” is a true one, based on the life of Emile Griffith. The opera takes us through the boxer’s journey, from his humble beginnings in the Virgin Islands to his rise to fame as a professional fighter. Griffith is shown as a complex character, struggling with his sexuality of being a gay man and the pressures of the boxing world. In a poignant moment, he reveals that he never intended to become a boxer – it was simply something he was good at.
The production features an exceptional cast, including Arthur Woodley as Emile Griffith, Denyce Graves as Emelda Griffith, and Alfred Walker as Howie Albert, Emile’s trainer. The singers deliver powerful performances that capture the emotion of the story, particularly during the climactic fight scene. The ensemble cast also provides strong support, with the boxers in the ring conveying the tension and brutality of the sport.
Visually, “Champion” is stunning. The set design by Riccardo Hernandez is minimalist yet effective, with a ring at the center of the stage surrounded by a few key props. The lighting design by Christopher Akerlind enhances the mood of each scene, shifting from warm and nostalgic in the flashbacks to stark and harsh in the fight scenes. The projections by Elaine McCarthy add an additional layer of depth, providing context and atmosphere throughout the production.
What sets “Champion” apart from other operas is its musical score. Composed by Terence Blanchard, a renowned jazz musician and film composer, the score blends classical and jazz influences to create a unique sound. The orchestra, conducted by George Manahan, brings Blanchard’s vision to life with precision and nuance. The music supports the emotional weight of the story, with soaring melodies and complex harmonies.
One of the most impressive aspects of “Champion” is its ability to engage both opera and non-opera audiences. The story is accessible and relatable, regardless of one’s familiarity with the art form. The use of jazz elements in the score also makes it appealing to a wider audience, bridging the gap between classical and popular music.
“Champion” premiered at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in 2013, and was later produced at the Washington National Opera and the Los Angeles Opera. Its Metropolitan Opera debut in 2017 was a momentous occasion, marking the first time an opera by an African American composer had been performed at the prestigious venue. The production was met with critical acclaim, with reviewers praising its powerful storytelling and innovative musical score.
“Champion” is a must-see production for anyone interested in opera, theatre, or sports. It tells a compelling story with heart-wrenching moments, and features a cast and crew at the top of their game.
“Champion” closes on MAY 13th. Tickets can be purchased HERE.