Pittsburgh Opera Presents World Premiere of THE SUMMER KING
Pittsburgh Opera is proud and privileged to present the world premiere of Daniel Sonenberg's opera, The Summer King, the story of baseball legend Josh Gibson. This very first world premiere in Pittsburgh Opera's distinguished 78 year history hits close to home as Josh went from the sandlots of Pittsburgh's North Side to the pinnacle of greatness in the Negro Leagues, before ultimately being enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. Featuring AlFRed Walker in the title role, Denyce Graves, Sean Pannikar, Kenneth Kellogg, Norman Shankle, Jacqueline Echols and many more, led by Maestro AnTony Walker and directed by Sam Helfrich. Sonenberg collaborated on the libretto with Daniel Nester and Mark Campbell provided additional lyrics. The Summer King runs Saturday, April 29th (8pm), Tuesday, May 2nd (7pm), Friday, May 5th (7:30pm) and Sunday, May 7th (3pm) at the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts.
The Summer King was commissioned by Portland Ovations, with development by American Opera Projects and deeply appreciated continuing support for the Pittsburgh Opera world premiere from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Summer King has received major support from American Opera Projects, the National Endowment for the Arts, the University of Southern Maine, Bob Crewe Foundation and Maine Arts Commission. The Summer King received its first public presentation as a concert performance on May 8, 2014 at Merrill Auditorium, Portland, Maine under the auspices of Portland Ovations in collaboration with the University of Southern Maine.
The opera begins with a pair of barbers debating great baseball players across a generational divide. When the Elder Barber mentions Josh Gibson, the Younger Barber thinks his co-worker is living in the past.
The Summer King follows Josh at key points in his life, including his playing days in the Negro Leagues as well as in Mexico, where he was awarded the MVP award while playing for the Veracruz Azules. The robust supporting characters include his wife Helen, who dies in childbirth, his girlfriend Grace, sung by the legendary Denyce Graves in her Pittsburgh Opera debut, and teammates such as Sam Bankhead and Cool Papa Bell.
Also featured in prominent roles are the gregarious Gus Greenlee, who owned not just the Pittsburgh Crawfords but also the legendary Crawford Grill in Pittsburgh's Hill District, and Wendell Smith, an intrepid reporter for the celebrated African American newspaper The Pittsburgh Courier.
Like all African Americans at the time, Josh was prohibited from playing in the Major Leagues by what was disingenuously referred to as a "gentlemen's agreement" among the Major League clubs. Sadly, Josh died at the age of 35, felled by a stroke shortly before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Sat., April 29th (8pm), Tues., May 2nd (7pm), Fri., May 5th (7:30pm) & Sun., May 7th (3pm), 2017
Benedum Center for the Performing Arts
237 7th Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Box office phone: 412-456-6666
Photo credit: Will Wohler