Stories » Terence Blanchard's 'Champion' comes out swinging at Kennedy Center / Metro Weekly

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Terence Blanchard's 'Champion' comes out swinging at Kennedy Center / Metro Weekly

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Another contemporary opera following fast on the heels of Dead Man Walking, Terence Blanchard's Champion continues the fascinating conversation on today's opera. It's a great choice for two reasons. First, like Dead Man, it shows that modern opera doesn't have to be a discordant concept-piece. Like the best of traditional opera, it can tell a compelling, deeply enthralling story. But Champion is also a brilliant choice because it sits in fascinating contrast to Dead Man. It is, quite simply, a very different animal.

Whereas Jake Heggie's opera is dialogue-rich and engaged in a real-time narrative, Champion (★★★★) tells its (also true) story of boxer Emile Griffith with greater flights of expressive fancy. The good news is that it's no less accessible. In a wonderful moment, for example, when we first meet the young Emile, he arrives by way of a mini-spectacle of song and dance suggesting a street festival in his home in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It tells us much of what we need to know about this young man's optimism and also his innocence. Later, scenes are often introduced by a boxing ring announcer with the words "And in this corner." This, too, works. It is our invitation to have a look, consider the contender, decide to cheer or boo, be it Emile as a young boy, young man or in old age.  Champion runs to Mar. 18 at The Kennedy Center Opera House