Saturday, June 8, 2013

Soloman Howard stars as Muhammid Ali

Soloman Howard in Approaching Ali
We're not sure how this almost slipped by us, but thanks to an alert reader, we've learned that the Washington National Opera is presenting the world premiere of composer D.J. Sparr's "Approaching Ali" today at the Kennedy Center. Bass-barihunk Soloman Howard, who we've featured on this site before,  will sing the role of Muhammad Ali. The opera based on the life of Muhammid Ali, is the second opera to premiere about a boxer within a week. Aubrey Allicock is starring as the bisexual boxer Emile Griffith in the world premiere of Tereence Blanchard' s Champion on June 15th in St. Louis.

Sparr's one-hour opera was created under the auspices of the American Opera Initiative, Washington National Opera’s program for commissioning contemporary American opera. The libretto is by Mark Campbell and Davis Miller, based on Miller’s own autobiographical novella.

The opera tells the story of a young boy in North Carolina in the early 1960s who overcomes the loss of his mother and the trauma of being bullied when he sees Muhammad Ali on television. More than 20 years later, as a writer on the brink of middle age, he seeks to rekindle that spirit by visiting his boyhood hero in person at the home of Ali’s mother in Louisville.

Muhammid Ali and Soloman Howard
A number of contemporary composers are writing operas based on news figures from our lifetime. Some of these include John Adams' "Nixon in China" and "The Death of Klinghoffer," Stewart Wallace's "Harvey Milk," Anthony Davis' "X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X," Mark-Anthony Turnage's "Anna Nicole Smith," Philip Glass' "Satyagraha" and Thomas Adès' "Powder Her Face." These operas have been dubbed "CNN opera" or "MTV operas," although with the new focus on sports figures, perhaps we should add "ESPN opera" to the vocabulary.

"Approaching Ali" will also feature baritone David Kravitz as Davis Miller, Aundi Marie Moore as Ali’s mother Odessa Clay, boy soprano Ethan McKelvain as Young Davis, Tim Augustin as Roy Miller and Catherine Martin as Sara Miller.

In addition to today's performance at 7:30 p.m., the opera will be repeated on Sunday, June 9 at 2 p.m. There will be a Q&A with the artists and creative team following both performances.
All tickets are $30 and are available at the Kennedy Center Box Office, by calling (202) 467-4600 or (800) 444-1324, or online at

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