Sunday, March 19, 2017

Washington National Opera: "Champion"

Round two--most appropriately, was "Champion" an Opera by Terrance Blanchard and Michael Cristofer about the life of Boxer Emile Griffith. The focal moment of the Opera is when Griffith, a closeted Homosexual kills one of his opponent’s, the Cuban boxer Benny Paret, after it's clear that Paret has been tormenting Griffith for his Homosexuality. The production uses the convention of an elderly Griffith in the throws of dementia fading in and out of the past up to a culminated moment when he meets Paret's son, Benny, Jr. and cannot distinguish the son from the man he has killed and seeks forgiveness. Here are my thoughts:

1) Opera! I often listen to the Metropolitan broadcasts on Saturday afternoons over the radio. I get how contemporary composers do not want to be labeled as derivative of the classical composers from Mozart to Wagner, Beethoven to Verdi. I get that. But what happens is a lack of melody and a fairly lame libretto. There are moments of clarity and even profundity akin to the medium, but in between is just a lot of dissonance.

2) Beefcake alert! The vast majority of this Opera troop is a "P x90" fitness commercial in the wings! Men and women alike were not just svelte but buff. Lots of eye candy to get you through the discord.

3) The show was preceded by a statement from the Washington National Opera's Artistic Director that took no prisoners over the opera's subject matter and the need to tell the stories of diversity. As fate would have it, I made to new friends in my section: Betty and Eunice--Black women of a certain age who were more than happy to tell me about their memories of this historical event. Both were nurses who worked on the front lines of the AIDs epidemic and one has a gay son just a little younger than I. They were delightful! I may go to the theater alone, but one way or another, I am never alone when I'm there.

4) Bravissimos all around for the principals Arthur Woodley, Aubrey Allicock, Denyce Graves and Victor Ryan Robertson. Victor wins extra accolades for singing a rather demanding duet while jumping rope as vigorously as any double-Dutching school girls. It was awe-inspiring.

5) Finally, the lyrics were graphic and blunt and words like Maricon, and very sexually explicit acts were sung. The lyrics were also projected on a screen over the stage--a common practice with Operas nowadays. But whenever the word fuck was used it was truncated! It wasn't bleeped. It was clear as day when spoken or sung. But it was displayed like this: "F--k," "F--king," "Mother-F--king," "Ass-F--king," "Butt F--king," "F--k my Butt!" I mean, really! What the Fuck was up with that!?  There were also two other words with omitted letters, "c--ksucker," and "c--ksucking."  It's a wonder they didn't spell the name of the actor in the co-principle role of the young Emile Griffith, Aubrey "Allic--k"!  
The Young Emile Griffith (Aubrey Allicock) with his coach,  Howie Albert (Wayne Tigges)
The set up for the big fight with and aged Emile (Arthur Woodley) looking down as if upon a dream.  His younger self is on the right in the white trunks and his opponent, Benny Paret (Victor Ryan Robertson) is in the white trunks on the left.
The choreography of this scene was really outstanding and performed in a mock slow motion that gave it a surreal quality.
Emile's mother, Emelda was played by the amazing Denyce Graves, and her aria in the second half
In the Gay Bar that Emilio frequents, Momma Hagan (Meredith Arwady) rules the house with her entourage of Drag Queens.
The darkness of the night and seedy clubs are the only place Emilio finds comfort.  Here with Andrew McLaughlin.

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