The Metropolitan Opera is known for showcasing some of the most spectacular and breathtaking performances in the world of opera. However, not all of their productions are based on love stories and dramas. In 2013, the Met Opera staged an opera based on the brutal 1962 prize fight between Emile Griffith and Benny Paret. Titled “Champion,” this opera pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable on a stage and proved to be a thought-provoking and challenging production for both the performers and the audience.
“Champion” was composed by Terence Blanchard, a world-renowned jazz musician, and was based on the book “Shadow Boxers” by George Plimpton. The opera explored the life of Emile Griffith, a boxing champion who struggled with his sexuality and the guilt he felt over the death of Benny Paret in the ring.
The staging of this opera was quite unique, as it incorporated actual footage from the 1962 fight, as well as live boxing choreography. The production was directed by Michael Cristofer, who received critical acclaim for his ability to portray the brutality of a prize fight in an opera setting.
The lead role of Emile Griffith was played by Arthur Woodley, who received praise for his powerful and poignant performance. Other notable performers included Denyce Graves, who played the role of Griffith’s mother, and Robert Orth, who played both the referee and Paret’s trainer.
While “Champion” was met with exhilaration and enjoyment, it also sparked controversy and debate. The opera’s depiction of violence and the use of real-life footage from the Paret vs. Griffith fight caused discomfort among some audience members. However, many others argued that the show was a triumph of contemporary opera, tackling difficult and controversial themes in a powerful and sensitive way.
In conclusion, “Champion” is a production that showcased the Met Opera’s willingness to push the boundaries of what was considered acceptable on stage. The use of live boxing choreography and real-life footage of a prize fight helped to create an intense and authentic atmosphere that had never been seen before in an opera. The show offered a challenging and thought-provoking experience that was both captivating and emotionally charged.