Renowned Jazz Musician Portrays The Life Of A Prize Fighter In A New Opera

Feb 18, 2013

As a world-renowned jazz trumpeter, composer and band leader, Terence Blanchard has received five Grammy Awards and has written jazz pieces for small ensembles, symphonic settings, film and stage. But when he was contacted by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis Artistic Director James Robinson about writing an opera, his first question was “are you sure you have the right guy?”  Robinson knew exactly what he was doing.

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis General Director Timothy O’Leary explained to Don Marsh on “St. Louis on the Air” that he and Jazz St. Louis Executive Director Gene Dobbs Bradford had talked for years about collaborating on a jazz opera.  “Jazz is such an American art form,” said O’Leary. “Opera is increasingly becoming a very American art form. We thought we need to do something that is truly American.  It was a fantasy – what if we could get a really great internationally-renowned jazz composer?  Bradford said he knew exactly the guy.  And he’s the one who put Jim Robinson in touch with Terence Blanchard.”

The result of the Jazz St. Louis and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis co-commission is “Champion.” Set to a libretto by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Michael Cristofer, the opera portrays the life of prize fighter Emile Griffith and his struggle to cope with causing the death of his opponent, Benny Paret, while claiming the title of World Welterweight Champion in 1962.   “Champion” will receive its world premiere by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in June in a production starring Denyce Graves, Arthur Woodley, Robert Orth, Aubrey Allicock and Meredith Arwady.

Composer Terence Blanchard is in St. Louis for a week of events providing a behind-the-scenes look at “Champion” and the issues that it raises, including the sexual orientation of Griffith.  He joined Timothy O’Leary in a discussion with Don Marsh on “St. Louis on the Air.”

Related Events

"Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story" Screening
Thursday, February 21, 2013
6:30 - 8:30 p.m.

Terence Blanchard will lead a Q and A session following the screening
Missouri History Museum's Lee Auditorium
(314) 746-4599
Missouri History Museum Website

Washington University Presents the Panel Discussion "Out for the Count: A Legacy in Athletes"
Saturday, February 23, 2013
7:00 - 8:30 p.m.
Washington University's Whitaker Hall
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis Website

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Jazz St. Louis Present Terence Blanchard's "Champion"
June 15, 19, 21, 25 and 27, 2013
8:00 p.m.
Sunday, June 30, 2013
7:00 p.m.
Loretto Hilton Performing Arts Center
(314) 961-0644
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis Website