Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago

The production runs January 27 – February 11, 2024.

By: Jan. 27, 2024

The music of Terence Blanchard has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with his first opera: Champion, an "opera in jazz" inspired by the true story of boxer Emile Griffith, a professional boxer from the U.S. Virgin Islands who threw a fatal punch in the boxing ring in 1962. Audiences were profoundly moved by Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones in Lyric's 2021/22 Season, and Champion explores similarly operatic issues of race, sexuality, and self-discovery.

Check out production photos below!

Grammy Award-winning composer Terence Blanchard uses jazz as the basis for a cinematic and groundbreaking score, while the libretto of Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning playwright Michael Cristofer ably shifts through a number of time periods to bring the many facets of Emile — his boxing career, his sexuality, his hopes and dreams as an American immigrant — to powerful life on the opera stage.

Music Director Enrique Mazzola leads the esteemed Lyric Opera Orchestra in a production that marks his first contemporary work at Lyric. Earlier this season, Mazzola conducted his first Wagner opera at Lyric, and he finishes Lyric’s opera season with his first-ever production of Verdi’s Aida, which also marks the 100th opera of his compelling career. In a final "first" of the 2023/24 Season, Mazzola conducts Mozart’s Requiem later this season, his first Mozart for Lyric audiences.

Champion’s deeply poignant central character of Emile Griffith is portrayed by three singers: Reginald Smith, Jr. as Older Emile, Justin Austin as Younger Emile, and Naya James as Little Emile. The opera also stars Whitney Morrison, Martin Luther Clark, Leroy Davis, and an all-star supporting cast. Champion is directed by James Robinson and features choreography by Camille A. Brown, the team who brought Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones to life at Lyric.

Champion is the latest opera that is part of Lyric’s ongoing commitment to creating and fostering new work. It uses an accessible story set in the world of sports to address broader themes of race and sexuality, and asks audiences to consider what makes a man a man. We look forward to welcoming audiences to the knockout opera of the season.

Photo Credit: Michael Brosilow

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Justin Austin and Meroe Khalia Adeeb

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Justin Austin and Company

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Naya James and Whitney Morrison

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Sankara Harouna and Reginald Smith Jr.

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Justin Austin and Company

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Company

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Reginald Smith Jr, Naya James, and Whitney Morrison

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Company

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Justin Austin

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Paul Groves, Justin Austin, and Whitney Morrison

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Paul Groves

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Justin Austin, Reginald Smith Jr., and Company

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Justin Austin

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Reginald Smith Jr. and Martin Luther Clark

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Justin Austin

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Justin Austin and Paul Groves

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Naya James

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Justin Austin, Paul Groves, Whitney Morrison, and Company

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Justin Austin and Company

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Whitney Morrison, Justin Austin, and More

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Justin Austin and Company

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Reginald Smith, Jr.

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Justin Austin and Company

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Martin Luther Clark and Reginald Smith Jr.

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Justin Austin and Ian Rucker

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Company

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Reginald Smith Jr. and Justin Austin

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Company

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Company

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Justin Austin, Naya James, Reginald Smith Jr.

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Whitney Morrison and Company

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Justin Austin and Paul Groves

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Justin Austin

Photos: First Look at CHAMPION at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Company




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