Thursday, May 4, 2017

Day 212- Summer King- Baseball and Opera- Josh Gibson Story is a Homerun/Vocals a Single

Summer King is a Pittsburgh premier original opera* which tells the story about baseball power hitter, Josh Gibson, who in 1975 was the second player from the Negro League to be elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I have seen the Pittsburgh Opera several times (see Day 134-Nabucco and Day 174-Salome)  but this show was a unique experience.  It is an opera about our city and a man whose hall of fame plaque states that he hit "almost 800 home runs in league and independent baseball during his 17-year career" but he never made it to the Major Leagues because of color.  This is a story that needs to be told and a “hit out of the park” as an innovating Pittsburgh Opera!    

* Music by Daniel Sonenberg, Libretto by Daniel Sonenberg, Daniel Nester and Mark Campbell 

Summer King journals the life of Gibson as a catcher in 1930’s for the Homestead Grays then the Pittsburgh Crawford’s. After being disillusioned when a meeting with the Majors occurred only to placate the Pittsburgh Courier (black press), he plays ball in Mexico before his return back to Pittsburgh. His life parallels tragic and dramatic operatic themes. His wife dies in childbirth, despite his talent he never gets a  chance to play in the Major Leagues but sees Jackie Robinson make it as the first black player, and he has an untimely death at age 35 from a brain aneurysm.

Barbers in NYC tell of  Gibson Legacy

The opera opened with two barbers in NYC telling the story of Gibson’s legacy. The opening lacked a powerful punch in the vocals and the musical infusion of jazz with the classic operatic narration was distracting to my ear initially.  The set was then energized by the tale of how Gibson hit the ball 580 feet out of Yankee Stadium with the display of slow motion action and the beautiful angelic sound of the operatic company.

Josh  and  his wife Helen sing " Beautiful Afternoon"  
Summer King’s set artistically uses the bleachers as the background of the scenes with huge screens taking us to  Pittsburgh’s Homestead, Crawford Grill (a place that still stands) and then to Mexico and Yankee Stadium. My favorite and a high point in the singing, was the pairing  of  Josh (Alfred Walker)  and Helen, his wife (Jacqueline Echols)  in  “Beautiful Afternoon,” a song about their future.  Jacqueline Echols a powerful  soprano  filled the theater and I was glad to see her back in Act II when there was a rendition of this song. I also enjoyed the sound of Wendell Smith, who played the Pittsburgh Courier reporter (Sean Panikkar) each time that he was on the stage.

As the opera  progressed and certainly by the end of the first half, my brain accepted and I enjoyed the unique injection of sounds not common to opera, such as jazz . The song “Hello Mexico” with some Latin influences  was a delightful surprise in a opera.

Wendell Smith (Sean Panikkar) tells the Grays that the Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson
Unlike the operas that I have experienced in my past, the story-line of Summer King was meaningful and currently significant.  This opera is what my  blog  is all about- trying new things and growth. I am so proud of Pittsburgh for telling this story with opera and as it evolves, it will “fly out of the park”!
Sean Gibson Grandson of Josh Gibson

(Summer King with the Pittsburgh Opera  runs May 2, 5, 7, (student Matinee May 4) 2017 at the Benedum Center)

Spiritual Reflection
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2)

Other Sources
Hall of Fame

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