The Metropolitan Opera plans to include Terence Blanchard's opera Champion in the second half of its 2022–2023 season. The announcement arrives following the Met's successful presentation of Blanchard's Fire Shut Up In My Bones, which made history as the New York company's first opera by a Black composer in its 138-year history.
Champion, featuring a libretto by Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Cristofer (The Shadow Box), premiered at Opera Theatre of St. Louis in 2013 (six years before it debuted Fire Shut Up In My Bones). It explores the life and legacy of Emile Griffith, the Black professional boxer who, in a televised 1962 match, beat his opponent Benny Paret to the point that he died 10 days later. Prior to the match, Griffith had faced homophobic taunts from Paret.
Later in his life, Griffith, haunted with guilt by the events of 1962 and after nearly dying in an attack outside a gay bar, came out publicly as bisexual—a move that would have decidedly been career-costing during his world champion tenure.
James Robinson, having helmed both of Blanchard's operas in St. Louis and co-directed the Met's Fire Shut Up in My Bones with Camille A. Brown, will return to direct. He and the writers say they intend to re-approach the material, revising and expanding parts of the score and staging. Met Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin will conduct.
Met regulars Ryan Speedo Green and Eric Owens will pay Griffith at different stages of the boxer's life. (The New York Times reports that Latonia Moore will play Griffith's mother, though the company has yet to confirm any additional casting.)
While Champion is on a relative fast track to reach the Met stage, another previously announced opera by a Black composer will be presented later that year, with Anthony Davis' X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X slated to open November 3 as part of the 2023–2024 season. Robert O. Hara (Slave Play) will direct.