A few hours ago, I came back from watching the Metropolitan Opera HD presentation of Champion, the Terence Blanchard opera about the welterweight boxing champion Emile Griffith, who in a 1962 match-turned-assault pummeled into a pulp opponent Benny Paret, a hyper-macho boxer who had mocked Griffith for being a closeted homosexual, sending Paret into a coma that ten days took his life.
Powerful stuff, one would think, but at three hours plus intermission, the composer, and Michael Cristofer, his librettist, don’t land many musical and dramatic punches. Even with the support of a first-class production team led by stage director James Robinson, set designer Allen Moyer, projections designer Greg Emetaz, choreographer Camille A. Brown, and with conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin in the pit, the opera stays busy telling us how we should feel, but is not so good at making us feel the emotions it begs for.
Many of the major opera houses in Europe have a staff dramaturge who works alongside the directors, composers, and librettists of the operas in their repertoire, looking after ways to reinforce the dramatic elements and clarify the storytelling of the works being staged. The MET could use a strong dramaturge, especially when staging new works such as CHAMPION, whose pacing causes the interest of the audience to flag, more than ever in the repetitive expository scenes that involve the old Emile endlessly dealing with his dementia and his guilt.
The cast, led by the excellent Ryan Speedo Green as the young Emile, bass-baritone Eric Owens as Griffith’s older self, and soprano Latonia Moore as the domineering Emelda Griffith is splendid, supported by a dozen singing actors in supporting roles. All of them work hard, acting with honesty and singing with commitment. What they lack is a strong guiding force, the kind that excels in pairing down things dramatic to nothing but the essentials.
Rafael de Acha © 2023
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