Terence Blanchard’s Champion is among Kennedy Center Season Highlights

Terence Blanchard’s Champion is among Kennedy Center Season Highlights

Washington National Opera: Champion

Saturday, March 04, 2017 – Saturday, March 18, 2017

The real-life story of Emile Griffith–the closeted gay boxer whose knockout of a homophobic rival in the early 1960s led to unexpected tragedy–comes roaring to the stage in Terence Blanchard’s haunting and visually stunning “opera in jazz.”


In English with Projected English Titles
New WNO production adapted from Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

“I’m seeing a lot of wonderful African American singers at WNO…
I love it. I have to go sing for Washington.”
–Aubrey Allicock (Opera News)

“I kill a man and the world forgives me. I love a man and the world wants to kill me.” The story of Emile Griffith–the closeted gay welterweight boxer whose knockout of a homophobic rival led to unexpected tragedy–comes roaring to the stage in this riveting and haunting opera. Through flashback, an aging Emile reflects on his tumultuous life, from his Caribbean upbringing and conflicted sexuality to his meteoric rise in the ring and ensuing decline in health. Battling years of guilt, regret, and denial, he now faces his greatest fight: to come to terms with his true self.

Five-time Grammy-winning jazz powerhouse Terence Blanchard, whose music ranges from film to Broadway to the concert hall, has composed a soulful, groundbreaking score filled with jazz-inflected vocals, bluesy harmonies, and Afro-Caribbean beats. Mixing bold characterizations with visually stunning multimedia and a jazz trio within the orchestra, Champion blew critics away when it premiered in 2013. The New York Times said the opera “strikes a resonant chord,” while the Chicago Tribune called it “a new work of quality and staying power.”


Emile Griffith: Arthur Woodley
Young Emile: Aubrey Allicock
Emelda Griffith: Denyce Graves
Benny Paret: Victor Robertson
Howie Albert: Robert Orth
Kathy Hagan: Meredith Arwady

Director: James Robinson
Conductor: George Manahan
Set Designer: Allen Moyer
Costume Designer: James Schuette
Lighting Designer: Christopher Akerlind
Projections: Greg Emetaz
Fight Master: Joe Isenberg

Musicologist Saul Lilienstein leads the Wednesday, Mar. 15 Opera Insight, starting 1 hour and 15 minutes before the performance and lasting 35–40 minutes. All other Opera Insights start 1 hour before the performance and last 20–25 minutes. Informative and entertaining, Opera Insights take you inside the composer’s mind, behind the scenes of planning a production, and into the history and social context of each opera.
These lectures are free, but patrons must present a ticket from any performance of Champion.

Following all performances:
Saturday evening, Mar. 4
Monday evening, Mar. 6
Friday evening, Mar. 10
Sunday matinee, Mar. 12
Wednesday evening, Mar. 15
Saturday evening, Mar. 18
Don’t miss your opportunity to engage directly with our artists and share your thoughts on the experience you just had! Here’s your chance to ask questions and get the inside scoop on the production from members of the cast and creative team.
All discussions begin immediately after the performance and are free with your ticket.

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