* Notes *
Champion: An Opera in Jazz had an impressive opening last night in San Francisco. As always, Opera Parallèle, which co-produced the 2013 work with SFJAZZ, gave an impeccable performance as far as playing, singing, and production values. Based on the life of bisexual boxer Emile Griffith, Terence Blanchard's music has much to recommend it, but it is hardly a perfect work and the libretto from Michael Cristofer can sound trite.
The piece shifts from different time periods, so there are three singers that play Emile Griffith, often even at the same time as the character remembers his past. All of the singers are very compelling. Bass Arthur Woodley is Griffith as an elderly man suffering from dementia, his voice is warm and rich, and his performance is sympathetic and haunting. Bass-baritone Kenneth Kellogg as Griffith in his prime has a lighter sound, but is no less convincing. Sharing the role of Little Emile with Evan Holloway, Moses Abrahamson sounded utterly angelic.
Everyone else was fantastic as well, including the twelve person chorus that played paraders, reporters, and boxing fans. Standouts included Robert Orth as Emile's trainer Howie Albert and Karen Slack as his mother Emelda Griffith. The way both of these singers wholly embodied their characters was completely convincing.
Maestra Nicole Paiement seamlessly conducted a small orchestra of twenty-six and a jazz trio. The music has some wonderful percussion, and the upbeat ensembles were particularly good, including a trio from Kellogg, Slack and Orth in Act I. The drama is weirdly static perhaps because we are seeing much of the action through a main character that clearly has brain disease. The pacing could be sluggish, making the opera, which is only 145 minutes of music, feel long, perhaps because some of the words did not sit well with the vocal lines.
Director Brian Staufenbiel has created a characteristically stylish production, using layered platforms and screens to dazzling effect. The video projections took us through the ten scenes without being overwhelming, cheesy, or confusing.
* Tattling *
There was a small child (apparently a student of percussion) in the audience two rows ahead of me (Row H Seat 18 or thereabouts) that managed to be quiet the entire opera.