Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Opera Composer in Residency Here Teaches and Learns

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Opera Composer in Residency Here Teaches and Learns

Article excerpt

Terence Blanchard has an impressive resume: trumpeter, composer, Grammy winner, musical voice of Louis the Alligator in Disneys The Princess and the Frog. He spent a week as another kind of musical voice: ambassador for Opera Theatre of St. Louis, trumpeting the message of his new opera, Champion.

The opera is a first for Blanchard, 50, who has written extensively for film and occasionally for choir, but who had never written for solo voices. Its been a real education, he says. In film, Im there to enhance the story; here, I have to create the story. The film itself has visuals and color. Here, Im creating all that. Its taken two years to complete. The average film score gets just eight weeks.

Champion tells the true story of world welterweight champion Emile Griffith, who killed his opponent, Benny Paret, in a televised match in 1962. Thirty years later, the boxer was beaten and almost killed himself as he left a gay bar in New York City. Griffith, who asked and received forgiveness from Parets son, now suffers from dementia. His is a complex and relevant story. The opera, a co- commission by OTSL and Jazz St. Louis, has its world premiere here June 15.

In workshops, Blanchard asked singers to help him understand what kinds of phrasing work for them. Among other things, he learned that, unlike jazz performers, classically trained singers need to be able to read where the accents should go. They had the unusual experience of working with a composer interested in what singers had to say.

Blanchard also got a different kind of education last week, as he spoke to groups ranging from elementary school children to academics, music students to the general public, OTSLs donors to docent corps, young professionals to Whitaker Foundation trustees, African-American churchgoers to African-American business leaders, in four or five events each day.

Its been a real privilege to have Terence in town, to have observed all kinds of audiences getting to know him as an artist and a person, says Timothy OLeary, OTSL general director. Hes an artist of tremendous commitment, courage and talent.

Opera Theatre has a long history of commissioning and producing new and neglected works. …

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