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Renowned Jazz Musician Portrays The Life Of A Prize Fighter In A New Opera

Eric Woolsey

As a world-renowned jazz trumpeter, composer and band leader, Terence Blanchard has received five Grammy Awards and has written jazz pieces for small ensembles, symphonic settings, film and stage. But when he was contacted by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis Artistic Director James Robinson about writing an opera, his first question was “are you sure you have the right guy?”  Robinson knew exactly what he was doing.

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis General Director Timothy O’Leary explained to Don Marsh on “St. Louis on the Air” that he and Jazz St. Louis Executive Director Gene Dobbs Bradford had talked for years about collaborating on a jazz opera.  “Jazz is such an American art form,” said O’Leary. “Opera is increasingly becoming a very American art form. We thought we need to do something that is truly American.  It was a fantasy – what if we could get a really great internationally-renowned jazz composer?  Bradford said he knew exactly the guy.  And he’s the one who put Jim Robinson in touch with Terence Blanchard.”

The result of the Jazz St. Louis and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis co-commission is “Champion.” Set to a libretto by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Michael Cristofer, the opera portrays the life of prize fighter Emile Griffith and his struggle to cope with causing the death of his opponent, Benny Paret, while claiming the title of World Welterweight Champion in 1962.   “Champion” will receive its world premiere by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in June in a production starring Denyce Graves, Arthur Woodley, Robert Orth, Aubrey Allicock and Meredith Arwady.

Composer Terence Blanchard is in St. Louis for a week of events providing a behind-the-scenes look at “Champion” and the issues that it raises, including the sexual orientation of Griffith.  He joined Timothy O’Leary in a discussion with Don Marsh on “St. Louis on the Air.”

Related Events

"Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story" Screening
Thursday, February 21, 2013
6:30 - 8:30 p.m.

Terence Blanchard will lead a Q and A session following the screening
Missouri History Museum's Lee Auditorium
(314) 746-4599
Missouri History Museum Website

Washington University Presents the Panel Discussion "Out for the Count: A Legacy in Athletes"
Saturday, February 23, 2013
7:00 - 8:30 p.m.
Washington University's Whitaker Hall
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis Website

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Jazz St. Louis Present Terence Blanchard's "Champion"
June 15, 19, 21, 25 and 27, 2013
8:00 p.m.
Sunday, June 30, 2013
7:00 p.m.
Loretto Hilton Performing Arts Center
(314) 961-0644
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis Website

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Mary Edwards came to St. Louis Public Radio in 1974, just after finishing her Bachelor of Music degree at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She has served the station in a number of capacities over the years. From 1988-2014 she also taught an undergraduate class in radio production at Webster University. Mary was inducted into the St. Louis Media History Foundation Media Hall of Fame in April, 2017 and received the Gateway Media Literacy Partners' Charles Klotzer Media Literacy Award in 2012. Mary retired from St. Louis Public Radio in 2018, but still serves the station as a St. Louis Symphony Producer.
Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
Don Marsh served as host of St. Louis Public Radio’s “St. Louis on the Air" from 2005 to 2019, bringing discussions of significant topics to listeners' ears at noon Monday through Friday. Don has been an active journalist for 58 years in print, radio and television. He has won 12 Regional Emmy Awards for writing, reporting, and producing. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, was inducted into the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame in 2013, and named “Media Person of the Year” by the St. Louis Press Club in 2015. He has published three books: his most recent, “Coming of Age, Liver Spots and All: A Humorous Look at the Wonders of Getting Old,” “Flash Frames: Journey of a Journeyman Journalist” and “How to be Rude (Politely).” He holds an honorary Doctor of Arts and Letters degree from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
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