the summer king
April 29, May 2, 5 & 7, 2017
The very first world premiere in Pittsburgh Opera’s distinguished 78 year history hits close to home. The Summer King tells the story of baseball legend Josh Gibson. Josh went from the sandlots of Pittsburgh’s North Side to the pinnacle of greatness in the Negro Leagues, before ultimately being enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
The opera begins with a father and son debating about great baseball players. When the father mentions Josh Gibson, the son thinks his father is living in the past. But as his father retorts, “Who’s got those numbers today?”
The Summer King follows Josh at key points in his life, including his playing days in the Negro Leagues as well as in Mexico, where he was awarded the MVP award while playing for the Veracruz Azules. The robust supporting characters include his wife Helen, who dies in childbirth, his girlfriend Grace, sung by the legendary Denyce Graves in her Pittsburgh Opera debut, and teammates such as Sam Bankhead and Cool Papa Bell.
Also featured in prominent roles are the gregarious Gus Greenlee, who owned not just the Pittsburgh Crawfords but also the legendary Crawford Grill in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, and Wendell Smith, an intrepid reporter for the celebrated African American newspaper The Pittsburgh Courier.
Like all African Americans at the time, Josh was prohibited from playing in the Major Leagues by what was disingenuously referred to as a “gentlemen’s agreement” among the Major League clubs. Sadly, Josh died at the age of 35, felled by a stroke shortly before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Pittsburgh Opera is proud and privileged to premiere The Summer King, Josh Gibson’s story.
+Alfred Walker: Josh Gibson
**Sean Pannikar: Wendell Smith
+Denyce Graves: Grace
+Kenneth Kellogg: Sam Bankhead
+Norman Shankle: Gus Greenlee
**Phillip Gay: Cool Papa Bell
Raymond Very: Branch Rickey, Clark Griffith, Radio Announcer
**Kyle Oliver: Dave Hoskins
+Robert Mack: Judy Johnson
+Terrence Chin-Loy: Double Duty Radcliffe
*Brian Vu: Calvin Griffith
*Eric Ferring: Senor Alcalde
*Taylor Raven: Girlfriend
Martin Bakari: Trash Talking Player, Scribe
Rober Spondike: Mariachi Singer 2
The Artistic Team
Conductor - Antony Walker
Stage Director - Sam Helfrich
Set Designer - Andrew Lieberman
Costume Designer - Kaye Voyce
Lighting Designer - Robert Wierzel
Video Designer - Darrel Maloney
Wig & Make-up Designer - James Geier
Stage Manager- Cindy Knight
Asst. Conductor - Glenn Lewis
Chorus Master - Mark Trawka
Associate Coach/Pianist - James Lesniak
+ Pittsburgh Opera debut
* Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist
** Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist alumni
Josh Gibson deserved to be as famous in his day as Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig. But he was overlooked by the mainstream white media because of the color of his skin.
These Pittsburgh sports legends are appearing as supernumeraries in The Summer King. Their participation symbolizes that while Josh's athletic greatness may have gone unnoticed by much of the general public, Pittsburgh's sports heroes recognize him as one of their own.
Pittsburgh Opera and the Josh Gibson Foundation are grateful to the following people for supporting The Summer King by appearing as supernumeraries*:
*Celebrity appearances subject to change. Not all celebrities will be in all performances.
These videos help provide context about the life of Josh Gibson, his contemporaries, and The Summer King.
Sam Bankhead's aria
Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist Matthew Scollin performs Sam Bankhead's aria, with an introduction by composer Dan Sonenberg.
Recorded at Pittsburgh Opera headquarters during our 2016-17 Season Preview event on February 11, 2016. Glenn Lewis, Head of Music, on piano.
Legend Behind the Plate: The Josh Gibson Story
New Works Forum 2014: The Summer King - Interview with Daniel Sonenberg
Podcast: WQED-FM's Jim Cunningham interviews director Sam Helfrich and composer Dan Sonenberg, Sept. 9, 2016
New Pittsburgh Courier: Pittsburgh Opera Director Hahn promotes Josh Gibson Story, Oct. 25, 2016
Opera Now magazine, May 2017: Forthcoming US World Premieres (page 25)
Photo: National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Pittsburgh Opera is proud to partner with The Josh Gibson Foundation on The Summer King.
The Josh Gibson Foundation believes in the endless possibilities for potential in today's youth. By providing academic and athletic programs that foster leadership and scholarship, the skills necessary for tomorrow's successes are created today.
Their goal is to carry on the legacy of greatness and accomplishment embodied by Josh Gibson, by developing programs that help children of every level of ability reach their potential, and to create opportunities that set The Josh Gibson Foundation apart from other organizations and provides value for our communities.
Josh Gibson™ used with permission of Josh Gibson Enterprise, Inc., c/o Luminary Group LLC, www.JoshGibson.org.
The 2016-17 Pittsburgh Opera season is generously supported by PNC
Tuesday performance sponsor: Ambridge Regional Distribution and Manufacturing Center.
Production Sponsor: People’s Natural Gas
Student Matinee sponsor: EQT Foundation. The EQT Foundation is the philanthropic arm of EQT Corporation, and is committed to the social and economic vitality of its operating regions. For more than a decade, the EQT Foundation has made a difference by supporting local programs and initiatives that involve education, community and economic development, diversity, the arts, and the environment. Together with a variety of non-profit organizations, the EQT Foundation develops strong partnerships that enrich our communities, sustain the principles of continuous learning and understanding, and focus on environmental protection efforts.
Select community events received funding from OPERA America’s Opera Fund
The Summer King was commissioned by Portland Ovations, with development by American Opera Projects, and deeply appreciated continuing support for the Pittsburgh Opera world premiere from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Summer King has received major support from American Opera Projects, the National Endowment for the Arts, Bob Crewe Foundation, Maine Arts Commission and University of Southern Maine. The Summer King received its first public presentation as a concert performance on May 8, 2014 at Merrill Auditorium, Portland, Maine under the auspices of Portland Ovations in collaboration with the University of Southern Maine.
AOP’s mission is to identify, develop and present innovative works of opera and music theater by established and emerging American artists, and to engage our audiences in unique and transformative theatrical experiences.
Portland Ovations— a Maine based, not for profit performing arts organization— brings highly acclaimed, innovative and masterful artists from around the world, including Maine, representing classical music, jazz, dance, theater, and Broadway and connects them to our community through both live performances and season long educational and outreach programs, Ovations Offstage.
The Summer King composer Daniel Sonenberg is associate professor and resident composer at the University of Southern Maine School of Music. Located near the coastal and mountain regions of Maine in the heart of Maine's population center, the School is a vibrant hub of artistic and educational activity. They are the only School of Music in a public university in New England.
We want you to have the best experience possible at our performances!
- Approximate run time will be about 2 hours, 12 minutes with one intermission
- Understand Every Word: Sung in English with English supertitles projected above the stage at all performances
- Study Guide for The Summer King (PDF) created by our Education department
- Parking Downtown: get real-time parking availability
- Pre-Opera Talks before each performance
- Audio Description available at The Benedum Center
- Braille Programs available at The Benedum Center
- Large-Print Programs available at The Benedum Center
The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has implemented new security and bag policies, effective starting October 1, 2016, at the Benedum Center and their other venues.