February 15, 2017
Pittsburgh Opera’s 2016-17 season concludes with the first world premiere in our illustrious 78-year history. Opera lovers, baseball fans, and Pittsburghers of all stripes will be dazzled by Daniel Sonenberg’s The Summer King - the Josh Gibson Story, at the Benedum Center April 29th – May 7th.
As baseball fans and proud Pittsburgh history enthusiasts know, Josh went from the sandlots of Pittsburgh’s North Side to the pinnacle of greatness on the baseball diamond in the Negro Leagues, before ultimately being enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
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.
Pittsburgh Opera’s annual Student Matinee will introduce 2,600+ school children grades 3-12 to this lively, colorful opera on Thursday, May 4th at the Benedum Center.
Josh Gibson™ used with permission of Josh Gibson Enterprise, Inc., c/o Luminary Group LLC.
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. Pittsburgh Opera is developing it into a fully-staged production, with lighting, costumes, sets, a full orchestra in the pit, and so forth for its world premiere in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh Opera has also worked with the composer to develop additional material for the world premiere.