“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.”Emile Griffith
Music by Terence Blanchard
Libretto by Michael Cristofer
Champion: An Opera in Jazz, in 2 Acts and 10 scenes was co-commissioned by the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Jazz Saint Louis, first performed in June 2013. A groundbreaking work combining the disciplines of opera and jazz, Terence Blanchard’s Champion: An Opera in Jazz (2013) 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. Co-produced by Opera Parallèle and SFJAZZ, Champion’s visually stunning production features full staging and video elements with soloists, a jazz trio, orchestra and Gospel chorus, bringing out the full glory of Blanchard’s soulful score as it illuminates Griffith’s triumphs and struggles, which are still broadly and powerfully 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 bisexuality. The opera features a libretto by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Michael Cristofer and premiered to widespread critical acclaim at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in June 2013, even becoming one of five finalists for the International Opera Award in 2014.
Read the reviews of Opera Parallèle’s production at SFJAZZ HERE!
WHEN: February 19-28
WHERE: SFJAZZ Center, Miner Auditorium
OPEN REHEARSAL: February 13, 3pm
Hall of Culture, 3rd Floor
AAACC (African American Art & Culture Complex)
762 Fulton Street (at Webster), San Francisco
Emile Griffith: Arthur Woodley
Young Emile Griffith: Kenneth Kellogg
Little Emile Griffith: Moses Abrahamson/ Evan Holloway
Emelda Griffith: Karen Slack
Howie Albert: Robert Orth
Kathy Hagan: Michelle Rice
Benny ‘Kid’ Paret: Victor Ryan Robertson
Luis Rodrigo Griffith: Andres Ramirez
Sadie Donastrog Griffith: Chabrelle Williams
Cousin Blanche: Aisha Campbell
Ring Announcer: Mark Hernandez
Man in a Bar: Bradley Kynard
Speed Bag Performer: Joe Orrach
Chorus: Reporters, Photographers, Hat Makers, Men at the Boxing Gym, Caribbean Paraders, and Drag Queens
Real artists are originals who have a calling. The majority of people in the music world are often mere marketing confections or showcase acts, but not real artists. Acts can have hits, but usually their time in the spotlight is short-lived. Real artists have a vision and follow it for the long term, creatively expressing themselves in abundance.
Witness Terence Blanchard who early on made a name for himself as a top-tier jazz trumpeter who has gone on to enjoy a multifaceted career both in the jazz camp and beyond. He’s not only a four-time Grammy Award winner, but he’s also established himself as one of the most influential jazz musicians and film score masters of his generation, a member of a jazz legacy that has shaped the contours of modern jazz today. With more than 30 albums to his credit, as a musician Blanchard is a multi-Grammy Award winner and nominee.
As a film composer, Blanchard has more than 50 scores to his credit, most recently, Kevin Costner’s Black or White. He received a Golden Globe nomination for Spike Lee’s 25th Hour. Other film music written by Blanchard include Oprah Winfrey’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Tim Story’s Barbershop and George Lucas’ Red Tails. Add to those achievements Blanchard’s recent success composing for Broadway (including the score for the world premiere of playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis’s The Motherf**ker With a Hat starring Chris Rock and Bobby Canavales and the Emily Mann-directed Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play A Streetcar Named Desire; his first opera commissioned by Opera St. Louis Champion (a poignant tale of welterweight boxing champion Emile Griffith with librettist Michael Cristofer); a speaking role as the musical voice of Louis the Alligator in the Disney-animated feature The Princess and the Frog; becoming the artistic director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s jazz series; and after serving as the artistic director of the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz for a decade since 2000, being named in 2015 artist in residence at the Berklee College of Music in Boston where Blanchard works with students in the areas of artistic development, arranging, and composition. He also participates in master classes around the world as well as local community outreach activities in his beloved hometown of New Orleans.
Blanchard concedes that he’s very busy these days, but adds, “I’m blessed.”
COMMENTS FROM TERENCE BLANCHARD
EMILE GRIFFITH – THE STORY
“How can you possibly be the same? How can a man endure the trauma of killing another while being told that nothing had changed?”
Click HERE to read more of the NYTimes article “Junior, The Kid, The Fight” by Dan Klores, written on the 50 year anniversary of Benny ‘The Kid’ Paret’s death.
Read an article about the documentary “Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story” and hear tidbits from producer and co-director Dan Klores. Click HERE to read the ESPN article by Michael Woods.
Scene 1 begins in Emile’s apartment in Hempstead, Long Island; Emile Griffith is struggling to get dressed. Suffering from dementia, he is confused and haunted by his past. Luis, his adopted son and caretaker, reminds him to be ready for an important meeting with Benny Paret, Jr.
Late 1950’s, Emile is a young man again in St. Thomas, the US Virgin Islands. He yearns to find his mother, Emelda, and make it big in America as a singer, a baseball player, and a designer of hats. Emile moves to New York. When he finds his mother, she is confused, not sure which of her seven abandoned children he is, but overjoyed. Hoping to find Emile a job, she takes him to meet Howie Albert, a hat manufacturer. Howie sees an opportunity: Emile is built like a boxer not a hat-maker, and he sets his sights on training Emile as a fighter. Giving up his other dreams, Emile quickly develops into a talented welterweight. Lonely and confused by his success, Emile finds his way to a gay bar in Manhattan. Kathy Hagan, the owner, welcomes Emile to a world that frightens and attracts him. Emile confides in Kathy, revealing some demons from his past. As a boy, his cruel fundamentalist cousin Blanche forced him to hold cinderblocks above his head as punishment for having the devil inside him, a punishment that made him into a man of great physical strength.
1962, Emile encounters Benny Paret at a weigh-in for their upcoming fight. Kid Paret taunts the charismatic Emile, calling him “maricon,” a disparaging Spanish word for a homosexual. Alone with Howie, Emile tries to talk to him frankly about why this word hurt him so deeply, but for Howie this is something that no one in the fight business wants to talk about. Howie leaves him and Emile wonders what it means to be a man. Emile and Paret prepare for the big fight. Paret continues to taunt Emile, who ultimately delivers seventeen blows in less that seven seconds and knocks Paret into a coma.
Back in Emile’s bedroom in the present, Emile is haunted by the ghost of Kid Paret who still questions his old opponent.
Mid- to late 1960s, Emile is enjoying a strong winning streak all over the world. Titles, trophies, and money roll in, but he remains disturbed by the death of Kid Paret. He tries living it up, and, denying his own identity, he takes a young bride, Sadie, although everyone including his mother Emelda, who remembers her own childhood back in the Islands, warns him against it.
Early 1970s, after the wedding, Emile’s luck seems to have changed. He’s now on a long losing streak and starting to display signs of “boxer’s brain,” or trauma-related dementia. Howie realizes that Emile’s days are numbered and tries to console him, but Emile rejects Howie, as well as his wife and his mother. Instead, he looks for comfort back at Kathy’s bar. Outside in the street, he is taunted by a group of thugs. They beat him violently, exacerbating his brain injuries.
Back in the present, Emile relives the nightmare of the attack. Luis tries to comfort him. “That was long ago,” says Luis. In a New York City park, Emile asks for forgiveness from Benny Jr. Luis tells Benny that since that terrible evening Emile has struggled to find peace with what he’s done and who he truly is. Back at home, the voices and memories subside. Emile Griffith, the former welterweight champ, can now take life one day at a time.
ARTHUR WOODLEY (BASS): EMILE GRIFFITH, has been acclaimed for his performances in both opera and concert. He has appeared at the Seattle Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Dallas Opera, Cincinnati Opera, San Francisco Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Portland Opera, and the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. His many roles include Porgy in Porgy and Bess, Varlaam in Boris Godunov, Bartolo in Le nozze di Figaro, the Four Villains in Les Contes d’Hoffman, Banquo in Macbeth, Nick Shadow in The Rake’s Progress, Sulpice in La Fille du Régiment, Colline in La Bohème, Leporello in Don Giovanni, Raimondo in Lucia di Lammermoor, Rocco in Fidelio, and Basilio in Il barbiere di Siviglia. Also a distinguished concert singer, he has performed with the San Francisco Symphony, National Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, New World Symphony, Dallas Symphony, Houston Symphony, Collegiate Chorale, and The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Mr. Woodley originated the role of Emile Griffith in the world premiere of Terence Blanchard’s Champion at Opera Theatre of St. Louis.
KENNETH KELLOGG (BASS-BARITONE): YOUNG EMILE GRIFFITH is an alum of the Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Emerging Artists Program. His roles in Washington have included Lord Rochefort in Donizetti’s Anna Bolenna, Leporello in Don Giovanni, Don Alfonso in Cosi Fan Tutte, Johann in Werther, and Angelotti in Tosca. He has made debuts with the Los Angeles Opera, Atlanta Opera, the Virginia Opera and Opera Tampa. Upcoming engagements include Sarastro in The Magic Flute at the Opera de Lausanne, and a return to Washington in Carmen. Other roles in growing repertoire are the title roles in Le Nozze di Figaro and Bluebeard’s Castle, as well as Don Basilio (Il Barbiere di Siviglia); Zaretsky and Prince Gremin (Eugene Onegin); Kilian and a Hermit (Der Freischütz); and Count des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon.
KAREN SLACK (SOPRANO): EMELDA GRIFFITH, EMILE’S MOTHER, possessing a voice of extraordinary beauty and great dramatic depth, Karen Slack recently sang Sister Rose in Dead Man Walking with Madison Opera and Des Moines Metro Opera, Serena in Porgy and Bess with Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Quad City Symphony, and Tosca with the New Philharmonic. Engagements for 2015 and beyond include Verdi’s Aïda with Austin Lyric Opera, her role debut as Alice Ford in Falstaff with Arizona Opera, Mahler’s 2nd Symphony with the Lexington Philharmonic, and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Back Bay Chorale. Ms. Slack made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Verdi’s Luisa Miller. Other highlights include Tosca and Leonora (Il trovatore) with Arizona Opera, the role of Cilla in Richard Danielpour’s American opera Margaret Garner with Michigan Opera Theater, and Serena in Porgy and Bess with both Washington National Opera and San Francisco Opera.
ROBERT ORTH (BARITONE): HOWIE ALBERT has sung 135 roles in London, Berlin, Rome, New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Toronto, Vancouver, Washington, Houston, Seattle, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Miami, Portland, Cincinnati, Denver, and more. He was named “Artist of the Year” by both New York City Opera and Seattle Opera. Hailed by Opera News as a “fixture of contemporary opera,” Robert Orth has participated in the world premieres and major revivals of: Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking and Moby-Dick, John Adams’s Nixon in China, Ricky Ian Gordon’s The Grapes of Wrath, Terence Blanchard’s Champion, Dominic Argento’s A Waterbird Talk, Lee Hoiby’s Summer and Smoke, and Daron Hagen’s Shining Brow. He created the title role in Harvey Milk by Stewart Wallace and Michael Korie for Houston Grand Opera, New York City Opera, and San Francisco Opera. He has appeared as a soloist with symphony orchestras throughout the United States and Europe. With Nicole Paiement, Orth has collaborated on Machover’s Death and the Powers and Dead Man Walking, and twice on Maxwell Davies’s The Lighthouse when he returns in Opera Parallèle’s production in April at Z Space.
MICHELLE RICE (MEZZO-SOPRANO): KATHY HAGAN sang the Mother (Amahl) with Monterey Symphony and Livermore Valley Opera, Emilia (Otello) with West Bay Opera and Festival Opera, and Maria in Opera Parallèle’s reading of Gesualdo. She has performed with Opera San José, Fresno Grand Opera, Annapolis Opera, and Opera Cleveland in roles such as Antonia’s Mother (Les contes d’Hoffmann), Mercedes (Carmen), Suzuki (Madama Butterfly) and the Witch/Mother (Hansel and Gretel). Ms. Rice also frequently performs as a concert soloist, most recently in Beethoven’s Missa solemnis with the Houston Camerata. Future engagements include Azucena (Il trovatore) and Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde.
VICTOR RYAN ROBERTSON (TENOR) : BENNY ‘KID’ PARET offers a versatile singing ability and style allowing him to cross seamlessly between genres. From opera repertoire to pop music, and everything in between, Robertson has delighted international audiences to critical acclaim. Mr. Robertson created the role of Benny Paret/Benny Paret Jr. world première of Terence Blanchard’s Champion in a landmark production with Opera Theatre St. Louis. This season’s engagements include Sportin’ Life in Porgy and Bess with Springfield Symphony and Spoleto Festival USA. Recent engagements include Le Capitaine and Prince Ragotski in Candide with Opéra national de Lorraine in Nancy, France; Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi with Opera Carolina; and 3 Mo’ Tenors in concert in Los Angeles, the Dominican Republic, and Houston. He also performed the role of Zoogy in Carly Simon’s ambitious contemporary opera Romulus Hunt at Nashville Opera, Nadir in Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles with Dayton Opera, and Alfredo in La traviata in concert with Atlanta Opera.
ANDRES RAMIREZ (TENOR): LUIS RODRIGO GRIFFITH, has performed with Opera Parallele as an inmate in Dead Man Walking, Uri/Gabriel in Anya17, Fabrizio in the reading of Dante De Silva’s Gesualdo: Prince of Madness, Bill and Boy 1 in the double bill of A Hand of Bridge and Trouble in Tahiti, and el Torero in Ainadamar. Other highlights include: the titular role in Candide, Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus, Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni, Macheath in The Threepenny Opera, and Mr. Erlanson in A Little Night Music.
CHABRELLE WILLIAMS (SOPRANO): SADIE DONASTROG GRIFFITH, the first Artist Diploma in Opera graduate of Rice University most recently performed the title role in Puccini’s Suor Angelica. Other performances of note include Elle in La voix humaine and La Contessa in Le Nozze di Figaro. Ms. Williams made her debut at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, creating the roles of Cousin Blanche and Sadie Griffith in the world premiere of Terence Blanchard’s Champion. While working on her master’s in Cincinnati, Ms. Williams also performed the roles of Annie in Porgy and Bess with the Cincinnati Opera and Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte,. Ms. Williams received her bachelor’s degree from Oberlin Conservatory. While there she performed the roles of Marenka in The Bartered Bride, Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, and Pamina in The Magic Flute.
AISHA CAMPBELL (SOPRANO): COUSIN BLANCHE – Jamaican-American Soprano Aisha Campbell, a native of Land O Lakes, Florida, made her operatic debut as Despina in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte at Florida State University, where she completed her undergraduate degree in 2012 under the tutelage of David Okerlund (B.M., Vocal Performance). Other operatic performances include Papagena (Mozart’s The Magic Flute), Antonia (Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann), Ajax (Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène), and Mimì (Puccini’s La Bohème). She has performed both here in America and abroad in Europe in both opera and recital, in the Ameropa Chamber Music program, and the Franco American Vocal Academy. She completed her Masters Degree at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where she studied with Catherine Cook. Most recently, she sang the part of Mary in City of St. Francis, an opera about San Francisco, by Matthew Owens. She is thrilled to be making her Opera Parallèle debut.
MARK HERNANDEZ (TENOR): RING ANNOUNCER debuted with Opera Parallèle as Motorcycle Cop/Inmate in 2015’s Dead Man Walking. Other recent credits include Mr. Parkis in West Edge Opera’s production of Jake Heggie’s The End of the Affair and Kinikilali/Ruiz in the world premiere of Lisa Scola Prosek’s The Lariat at the Thick House.
BRADLEY KYNARD (BARITONE): MAN IN A BAR is thrilled to make his debut with Opera Parallèle. Recently, Mr. Kynard premiered the role of Lazarus (Voyage of Mary Magdalene) and made his San Francisco Opera debut as Daggoo in Moby Dick. Previous roles include Peter (Hansel and Gretel) with Solo Opera, Alfio (Cavalleria Rusticana), Remendado (Carmen), and Lord Cecil (Roberto Devereux) with Pocket Opera. Other engagements include Marchese d’Obiny (La Traviata) with Opera San Jose, Chirurgo (La Forza del destino) with West Bay Opera, and Robbins (Porgy and Bess) with Mendocino Music Festival. Upcoming engagements include Prince Yamadori (Madama Butterfly) with Livermore Valley Opera and Schaunard (La Bohème) with Island City Opera. Mr. Kynard has performed with the San Francisco Opera chorus for the past eight seasons.
EVAN HOLLOWAY, MOSES ABRAHAMSON (Little Emile): from PACIFIC BOYCHOIR ACADEMY, a GRAMMY Award-winning, independent choir school for boys in grades four through eight, with seven after-school choirs for boys in pre-kindergarten through high school. Founded in Oakland in 1998 by Artistic Director Kevin Fox, PBA serves over 170 choristers a season, has released seven independent albums, tours internationally each year, and has garnered three Grammy Awards with the San Francisco Symphony. Hear, watch, and learn more at PacificBoychoir.org
conductor with the Washington National Opera and the Saratoga Summer Festival. She will be conducting at Glimmerglass Opera this summer and at the Atlanta Opera in Fall 2016.
BRIAN STAUFENBIEL (CREATIVE DIRECTOR) is an active cross-disciplinary director and designer and has helmed the staging and design for Opera Parallèle since 2007. His adventurous stagecraft has won critical acclaim for the company’s productions. This past year, Staufenbiel designed and directed the World Premiere of Angel Heart, performed at Cal Performances in Berkeley, Carnegie Hall in New York City, and Festival del Sole. He shared a residency at Banff with composer Luna Pearl Woolf to create an original theater piece premiered in Montréal. Upcoming engagements include directing in both Minnesota Opera and the LA Opera.
MICHAEL CRISTOFER (LIBRETTIST) is a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright, filmmaker, and actor. He says of Champion, his first opera libretto, “For me, Emile’s story not only asks the question of what it means to be a man, it asks what it means to be a human being.”
LAURA ANDERSON (STAGE MANAGER) In addition to her work with Opera Parallèle, Laura Anderson’s recent projects include productions with Rork Music, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and TEDx Berkeley. She is the stage manager for the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music and the Philip Glass Days and Nights Festival. Anderson was the production stage manager for the live performance portion of the Emmy-nominated Twin Cities Public Television documentary, Parables, featuring the opera of the same name by Robert Aldridge and Herschel Garfein. She holds a doctorate in opera studies from the University of Minnesota.
MATTHEW ANTAKY (LIGHTING DESIGNER) For nearly 30 years Mr. Antaky has created and collaborated on installation, scenic and lighting designs for all of the performing arts including dance, opera, theater, and music. Mr. Antaky’s credits include more then 50 opera productions and countless dance company projects. With Opera Parallèle he created both the scenic and lighting designs for Ainadamar, The Great Gatsby, Four Saints in Three Acts, and Wozzeck, as well as the lighting designs for Orphée, Mahagonny Songspiel /les mamelles de Tirésias, Anya17, Dead Man Walking, and The Heart of Darkness. Mr. Antaky is an eight-time nominee and four-time recipient of the Isadora Duncan award for outstanding visual design. Please visit his website for more information.
CHRISTINE CROOK (COSTUME DESIGNER) began designing costumes for Opera Parallèle in 2011 with Orphèe. Other Opera Parallèle credits include Dead Man Walking, Mahagonny Songspiel / Les mamelles de Tirésias, Anya17, Four Saints In Three Acts, The Great Gatsby, Ainadamar, and Trouble in Tahiti. She also designs for theatre, dance, and opera all over the Bay Area and is a proud company member of Shotgun Players and Just Theater. Other recent credits include Antigonick, Our Town, and Twelfth Night with Shotgun, Alban Berg’s Lulu with West Edge Opera, and Lucia di Lammermoor with LA Opera. Christine has an MFA in costume design from UC San Diego and is the recipient of two SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Awards. She currently teaches costume design with USF, and Academy of Art University. Check out her work online on her website.
DAVE DUNNING (SET DESIGNER) comes to us from Legend Theatrical, a premier national staging, audio, and lighting company, including playing an integral role in the lighting of the Bay Bridge. He specializes in scenic design and lighting design. His credits include several of Opera Parallèle’s productions such as scenic design for Young Caesar, Orphée, Les mamelles de Tirésias/Mahagonny Songspiel, and Anya17, and lighting for Trouble in Tahiti. He is a scenic and lighting designer for theater, opera, dance, concert, corporate, and architectural projects throughout much of the Bay Area.
DAVID MURAKAMI (MEDIA DESIGNER) is a film director, writer, and theatrical multi-media designer working towards integrating emerging technologies with traditional performance on stage. Past designs with Opera Parallèle include Dead Man Walking, Trouble in Tahiti, and the American premieres of Anya 17 and Heart of Darkness. Other designs include the world premiere of Luis Valdez’ Valley of the Heart, Little Prince, and Peter Pan. Murakami received his Master’s degree from UCSC, and has been featured at the Maker Faire and several international film festivals. He is delighted to be continuing his trespass across media with Opera Parallèle.
KEISUKE NAKAGOSHI (RESIDENT PIANIST/ ACCOMPANIST), a native of Japan, earned a Bachelor of Music in composition and a Master of Music in chamber music from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he studied composition with David Conte and piano with Paul Hersh. In 2005 he was selected to represent the Conservatory for the Kennedy Center’s Conservatory Project, a program featuring young musicians from major conservatories across the United States. Nakagoshi has performed to acclaim on prestigious concert stages across the United States, including the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, and Davies Hall in San Francisco. He has received training from some of the most celebrated musicians of our time – Emanuel Ax, Gilbert Kalish and Menahem Pressler. He recently made a solo debut with San Francisco Symphony on Ingvar Lidholm’s Poesis with Herbert Blomstedt conducting. Nakagoshi is currently Pianist-in-Residence at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, as well as a member of the Grammy nominated piano duet ZOFO.
JOE ORRACH (CHOREOGRAPHER) international performer, writes, directs, and choreographs physical theatre. US Air Force Welterweight Champion, Orrach made his Broadway debut tap dancing on the corner of 72nd and B’way. He has performed with Savion Glover, Gregory Hines, Jimmy Slyde, and the Cookie Monster. In 2015, his original work STReeT/FeaT premiered at Theatre Jean-Villar, Paris. Orrach teaches acting at East Bay Performing Arts Center, Richmond, heads Walnut Creek Civic Arts’ acting department and received Dance Studio Life’s 2015 Generous Heart Teaching Award. Through Joe Orrach Performance Project, a 501(c)(3), Orrach collaborates with artists worldwide. Currently, he is developing new work with Michelle Dorrance and jazz pianist Matt Clark. Orrach has an MFA from USC.
JEANNA PARHAM (WIG AND MAKE-UP DESIGNER) began her career in San Jose where she designed for many South Bay theaters. Since moving to San Francisco, in addition to Opera Parallèle, she has been creating designs for the American Conservatory Theater, Opera San Jose, TheatreWorks, Broadway by the Bay, and the University of California, Santa Cruz Opera Theater. Ms. Parham is also the head of the Wig and Makeup Department for the San Francisco Opera.