Photo by Ken Howard
Jazz composer Terence Blanchard was commissioned by Opera Theatre of St. Louis to write an opera, and he chose as his subject, Emile Griffith. A poor Caribbean immigrant who went from being a woman's hat maker to a world boxing champion, the prizefighter fought from the 1950s into the '70s and was struck by tragedy when he killed his opponent in a match after purportedly being mocked for being homosexual.
As Blanchard explains, a line from Griffith's autobiography stood out and inspired him: "I killed a man and the world forgave me, and yet, I loved a man and the world wants to kill me." In a strange coincidence, Griffith died in a New York nursing two weeks after the opera closed.
Champion, an "opera in jazz," as he calls it, premiered this past summer (with a libretto by Michael Cristofer) and included young opera singer Aubrey Allicock as a younger version of Griffith. Growing up in Tucson with a father from Guyana and an African-American mother, Allicock told us before the opera's premiere that he felt a special bond with the material. "It's about a person who is gay and isn't allowed to explore who he is," he explains, before expressing his own relief at never feeling he had to be closeted. "With the Caribbean and ethnic angle, I feel like the role was written for me." Allicock will be performing this fall in the Metropolitan Opera's production of The Death of Klinghoffer.
Despite the opera's critical and audience acclaim, it's still difficult to get the money for a professional opera recording these days. So Blanchard is now seeking support to make a professional recording of the opera through a newly launched IndieGogo campaign.
Blanchard is offering all sorts of killer deals and incentives if one supports the campaign. Check it out and make a lasting legacy for this important contemporary opera by a jazz legend.