Feature: APPROACHING ALI showcases the friendship between the Greatest and a fan at Horn Theatre.

Opera Las Vegas celebrates this enduring story with West Coast premiere.

By: Mar. 16, 2023
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Feature: APPROACHING ALI showcases the friendship between the Greatest and a fan at Horn Theatre.

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali was known as the Greatest in many ways, including his wit. He was also a very warm and giving person known to talk to fans, especially children. The legend is celebrated with the West Coast Premiere of Approaching Ali, a new one-act opera by composer D.J. Sparr, and librettists Mark Campbell and Davis Miller, performed by Opera Las Vegas at the Nicholas J. Horn Theatre, College of Southern Nevada, on March 18 and 19.

Based on the best-seller, The Tao of Muhammad Ali, the show chronicles the true story of Miller. He would overcome being a bullied white boy in the South by finding inspiration in the poise and confidence of Ali, as seen on television. When Miller was 40 years old (an accomplished writer), he would knock on the door of Ali's house in Louisville and would be greeted by his idol. Ali's mother invited Davis to stay for dinner, and an unlikely but lifelong friendship was forged. Among the heartening themes are reality versus illusion, integrity instead of falsehood, and the nature of achievement.

Metropolitan Opera bass Soloman Howard embodies the larger-than-life character of Ali, a role he originated in the World Premiere production at Washington National Opera. Winner of the 2021 Washington Performing Arts' Ambassador of the Arts Award and the Kennedy Center's 2019 Marian Anderson Vocal Award, Howard garners high praise.

Las Vegas native and Opera Las Vegas favorite baritone Brian James Myer will perform the central role of Miller. He is well remembered for his star turns in Rossini's Cinderella and Leo Stein in Ricky Ian Gordon's 27, for which Myer was nominated for a Las Vegas Valley Theatre Award.

The role of Ali's caring mother, Odessa Clay, is celebrated by soprano Sheronda McKee-Dollar, who has graced stages throughout the United States. She has traveled to Viterbo and Tarquinia in Italy with the International Lyric Academy. Dr. McKee-Dollar most recently appeared in Opera Legends in Black by Opera Las Vegas.

Tenor Sebastian Haboczki performs as Miller's father and mezzo-soprano Jennifer Matthews appears as his mother. Trenton Mellon and Mel Ibrahim are making their debut solo opera appearances andsharing the role of young Davis. Both are students at Thurman White Academy Middle School.

Opera Las Vegas Music Director Joshua Horsch, who will be leading a chamber orchestra featuring members of the Las Vegas Philharmonic, will conduct Approaching Ali. The show will be staged by Marc Callahan, an award-winning director who has worked on productions at the Royal Opera House, Aldeburgh Festival, Holland Festival, and Miami Music Festival. Catherine Pratt serves as lighting and projection designer, with costumes created by Abby Stroot.

Approaching Ali is part of Opera Las Vegas' innovative Living Composers and Librettists Initiative, which has been honored with three consecutive grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Approaching Ali performs at the Nicholas J. Horn Theatre, College of Southern Nevada, 3200 E. Cheyenne Ave., at 7:30 p.m. on March 18 and 3 p.m. on March 19. For information, visit operalasvegas.com.


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