THE GRIPPING TRUE STORY OF A PRIZEFIGHTING BOXER IS TOLD IN
“CHAMPION: AN OPERA IN JAZZ”
From the Grammy- and Pulitzer Prize-winning, Oscar-nominated team of composer Terence Blanchard and librettist Michael Cristofer.
Boston Lyric Opera returns to first full staging in a theater since 2019
May 18, 20 and 22 at the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre
The true story of six-time world champion prizefighter Emile Griffith is told in Boston Lyric Opera’s (BLO) new production of Champion: An Opera in Jazz by Grammy Award-winning composer Terence Blanchard (Fire Shut Up in My Bones), with a libretto by Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Cristofer. The contemporary opera is brought to the stage by acclaimed theater director Timothy Douglas and award-winning conductor Kwamé Ryan, and will be presented for three performances on May 18, 20 and 22 at the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theater. Tickets are available now.
Champion chronicles Griffith’s sweeping life story, from his beginnings in the Virgin Islands to his athletic success in America, through passionate love affairs and a tragedy that changed his life. The story is told as memories from an older Emile with dementia who is on a journey to redeem himself from the fight that left his opponent Benny “Kid” Paret dead.
Champion’s story alternates between the story of the physically strong yet gentle Young Emile, who finds success in St. Thomas as a women’s hatmaker with a raucous social life before being recruited by an American boxing promoter, and an older Emile whose post-boxing life includes a long-time male companion who helps him navigate mental and physical decline, and a search for redemption.
Griffith’s rise as a champion athlete ran parallel with his complex personal life; he married a woman, had sexual relationships with men, and openly frequented gay bars in 1960s New York. Whispers about Griffith became public when his opponent Benny “Kid” Paret taunted him in front of the media at a pre-match weigh-in. Enraged, Griffith dominated Paret in a brutal fight, landing a rapid series of 17 blows that ended the match and put Paret in a coma. Paret died of a brain injury soon after.
“The story of Champion is one of a desire to find a sense of belonging,” says Acting Stanford Calderwood General & Artistic Director Bradley Vernatter. “The details may be unique to Emile Griffith, but it is the story of many. Terence Blanchard’s score is a mix of styles, one that is uniquely American, and reveals the warmth of Emile’s story, and the complexities of his life.”
The cast of Champion: An Opera in Jazz includes returning artists and company debuts:
- Brian Major (playing Emile Griffith) who makes his BLO debut;
- Markel Reed (Young Emile) who makes his BLO debut;
- Tichina Vaughn (Emelda Griffith, Emile’s mother) who makes her BLO debut;
- Chabrelle L. Williams (Cousin Blanche/Sadie Griffith) who sang the lead role, Milica, in BLO’s Svadba and originated this role in the World Premiere cast of Champion at Opera Theater of Saint Louis;
- Jesus Garcia (Luis Rodrigo Griffith) who starred in BLO’s most recent productions of The Barber of Seville and La Bohème;
- Todd Thomas (promoter Howie Albert), who makes his BLO debut;
- Stephanie Blythe (Kathy Hagen), who makes her BLO debut with this performance and was recently cast in the Metropolitan Opera’s 2023 production of Champion;
- Neal Ferreira (Ring Announcer) a BLO Emerging Artist alumnus and veteran of many BLO productions, including the 2018 production of Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti; and
- Nicholas LaGesse (Man in the Bar/Young Man), a BLO Emerging Artist.
Boston Lyric Opera’s Champion: An Opera in Jazz will be performed Wed., May. 18 @ 7:30PM, Friday May 20 @ 7:30PM and Sun., May 22 @ 3PM at the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theater, 219 Tremont Street, Boston. Individual tickets start at $25 (plus fees) and are available now at blo.org/champion