Libretto by Michael Cristofer (E)
Loretto-Hilton Center, St. Louis, MO
Arthur Woodly, Aubrey Allicock, Denyce Graves-Montgomery, Robert Orth, Meredith Arwady, Victor Ryan Robertson, Brian Arreola / Opera Theatre of St. Louis / George Manahan
Champion explores more than just the ring of battles of a legendary champion. It takes us from a roped-off arena to a far larger battleground, that of life itself. Having fought 112 fights on five continents, the holder of six championship belts and appreciated as a warrior who took on all comers, Emile Griffith captivated the boxing world with his exciting style and a disarming personality. Enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame as a charter inductee, Emile Griffith’s place in boxing history as one of the greatest prizefighters ever to climb into a ring is assured.
However, Emile Griffith’s toughest battle was waged without gloves and it was fought outside the ring. He battled ethereal demons and devils, and at times, himself. It was an inner conflict, but a battle that he had to wage–a struggle to bring together two lives–both his.
Emile Griffith did not choose his career as a prizefighter. It just happened and it all came so naturally that he accepted that this was his world. Nor did he choose his lifestyle, how he lived it or who he lived it with. It, too, came so naturally that he never questioned that this, also, was his world. However, there was always the apprehension that his two worlds were incompatible.
"I killed a man but did not go to jail. I was angry at him–oh, yes, very angry because he trashed me and insulted me in a very terrible way. He called me a maricón–a faggot. It wasn't just what he said, but the way he was ridiculing me, making a fool, a joke of me in front of a roomful of people who respected me. But even though I was angry, hurt, and upset, I never wanted to kill him. That thought never even crossed my mind. But it happened. We are in a cruel business. I keep thinking how strange it is, though. 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; this makes me an evil person. So even though I never went to jail, I have been in a prison almost all my life. I am a prizefighter. I won six world championships. My life could have and should have been like a wonderful dream. Some of it was but a good part of it was more like a nightmare..."
"...a new work that deserves to be taken up by other opera producers far and wide... It's no mean feat to integrate hard bop, scat singing, driving Afro-Caribbean rhythms and lyrical arioso into a coherent and fluid musical unity, but Blanchard has done so brilliantly. The vocal writing is singable and appealing and nearly always supports and propels the dramatic action."