Tag: African-American opera

Story of Negro Leagues Baseball Star Josh Gibson Premieres This April in Opera “The Summer King”

In this photo made on Friday, March 17, 2017, Sean Gibson, great grandson of Josh Gibson and Executive Director of the Josh Gibson Foundation, right, holds a replica Pittsburgh Crawfords jersey with Pittsburgh Opera General Director Christopher Hahn as they pose next to a poster at the Pittsburgh Opera House in Pittsburgh. (Keith Srakocic/Associated Press)

article by Beth J. Harpaz, AP via washingtonpost.com

An opera about Negro Leagues baseball star Josh Gibson, whose power hitting rivaled Babe Ruth’s, will have its world premiere in Pittsburgh this April. “The Summer King,” presented by Pittsburgh Opera, premieres April 29. Gibson’s story also figured in “Fences,” the movie starring Denzel Washington that was originally a play by Pittsburgh native August Wilson.

Baseball and opera “don’t usually inhabit the same universe,” said Christopher Hahn, Pittsburgh Opera’s general director. But opera is the perfect medium for telling Gibson’s story because opera allows people “to sing about emotions and aspirations and fears.”

Gibson was one of the first three Negro Leagues players to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, which lists his career batting average as .350. He was twice named Negro National League batting champ and led the league in home runs three times. He played for two Pittsburgh teams, the Homestead Grays and the Crawfords.

Gibson died at 35, probably from a brain aneurysm, a few months before Jackie Robinson integrated baseball in 1947. Gibson’s story is “the story that came before Jackie Robinson,” says Daniel Sonenberg, composer of “The Summer King.” ‘’Josh’s career made the advent of Jackie Robinson possible. It was Josh who played at this high level that caught the attention of white owners. It was Josh who demonstrated it was competitive suicide not to integrate.”

But baseball’s integration led to the Negro Leagues’ shutdown, ending careers for dozens of black athletes who were not among the few chosen for white teams. Both “Fences” and “The Summer King” honor “a whole generation of wonderful players whose livelihoods and social structures got up-ended,” Hahn said.

“Most people know the story of Josh Gibson as a baseball player, a home run hitter compared to Babe Ruth with outstanding statistics, in the Hall of Fame,” Sean Gibson said. “But behind the uniform was a great man who lived through tragedy outside of dealing with racism and playing baseball: His wife died giving birth to their twins.”

The opera also portrays Gibson’s career playing abroad in Cuba, Mexico and elsewhere. “Over there they didn’t have to deal with racism,” said Sean Gibson. “You’re going over to Latin countries, your skin color is the same color as theirs.” Nearly all 14 principal roles in “The Summer King” are played by African-Americans, a rarity in operas (”Porgy and Bess” notwithstanding). Renowned mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves plays Gibson’s lover. Bass-baritone Alfred Walker, who plays Gibson, told the New Pittsburgh Courier that playing “someone that looks like me” is “an amazing opportunity.”

A ballfield named for Gibson is located in Pittsburgh’s Hill District neighborhood, not far from the August Wilson House, the late playwright’s childhood home. The August Wilson House hosts a block party April 29, starting at noon, just a few hours before the opera premiere, to mark Wilson’s birthday.

The Michigan Opera Theatre in Detroit plans to stage “The Summer King” in March 2018.

To read full article, go to: Opera tells story of Negro Leagues baseball star Josh Gibson – The Washington Post

New Harriet Tubman Opera to Preview at Harlem’s Schomburg Center on 12/9

Harriet Tubman

AOP (American Opera Projects), and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture will co-present an evening of scenes from Nkeiru Okoye‘s folk opera Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom that tells of how a young girl born in slavery, becomes Harriet Tubman, the legendary Underground Railroad conductor. The musical excerpts will be followed by an artist Q&A moderated by WQXR’s Terrance McKnight. The concert will be presented on Monday, December 9, 2013 at 6:30 PM at the Langston Hughes Auditorium: 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, New York, NY 10037-1801. General admission will be $10 ($8 for Schomburg Society Members) and available by calling (212) 491-2206 or visiting www.showclix.com/event/HarrietTubman.

Harriet Tubman will include performances by soprano Sumayya Ali (Lincoln Center, Berkshire Opera, Sarasota Opera), soprano Sequina DuBose (Lyric Opera of Chicago, Opera Memphis, PAB Theater), contralto Nicole Mitchell (Lincoln Center Festival, Sarasota Opera), tenor Clinton Ingram (Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Teatro Real), and baritone Damian Norfleet (Perseverance Theater, AMAS Musical Theater, Prospect Theater Company). The evening will feature a string ensemble with music direction by Mila Henry, stage direction by Beth Greenberg (New York City Opera) and WQXR’s Terrance McKnight moderating a Q&A with the artists.

Using a mixture of opera and vernacular folk music, featuring gospel spirituals, ragtime, early blues, minstrel songs, work songs, call and responses, and field hollers, Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom tells this important chapter of American history in the context of Tubman’s tight-knit family of lively characters and two sisters vowing that nothing but death will separate them, despite the slavery threatening to tear them apart. The work is in development at Brooklyn-based AOP who has featured music from Tubman at venues such as Galapagos Art Space, SUNY Albany, and the Brooklyn Public Library Main Branch.

A semi-staged performance of the entire Harriet Tubman opera will be presented by AOP in February 2014 at Brooklyn’s Irondale Center as part of Lines of Freedom, a theatrical celebration of African-American history. Presentations of Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom are supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Art Works.

To learn more about the show, go to: broadwayworld.com

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