Photography by Roger Erickson
Aubrey Allicock, currently studying at Juilliard, is explaining his path as a young opera singer. “As a bass-baritone, I’m a baby, I’m a child!” he says, punctuating his confession with a big, hearty laugh. “I’ll probably be 40 before my voice hits its prime.”
Despite his relative youth in his field, the 29-year-old singer has the opportunity of a lifetime this summer when he originates the role of the young boxer Emile Griffith in the world premiere of Champion (June 15–30) at Opera Theatre of St. Louis.
Griffith, a prizefighter who fought from the 1950s into the ’70s, was struck by tragedy when he killed his opponent in a match after purportedly being mocked for being homosexual. His extraordinary life -- a poor Caribbean immigrant who went from being a woman’s hat maker to a world boxing champion -- has inspired movies and books, but it took jazz legend Terence Blanchard to fashion it into a compelling opera.
His unconventional score, “an opera in jazz,” as he calls it, accompanies a libretto by Michael Cristofer and stars Arthur Woodley (Porgy and Bess) as the central Emile, with Allicock portraying his younger counterpart.
Growing up in Tucson with a father from Guyana (adjacent to Brazil) and an African-American mother, Allicock feels a bond to 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.”
It’s Allicock’s solo, “What Makes a Man a Man?” that’s sure to resonate with guys, gay or straight. “It asks, ‘Is it the color of his skin, his voice, his flesh, and his bone?’ I have a deep connection to that,” the singer admits. “I can’t help but cry when I sing it.”
For tickets and more information on Champion visit the Opera Theatre of St. Louis website.