In the western movie “Silverado,” former Monty Python founder John Cleese tells Scott Glenn, in his customary English accent, “As you may have gathered, I am not from these parts.”
Christopher Hahn, director of the Pittsburgh Opera for the last 18 years, made a similar confession while promoting the opera and its upcoming world premiere of “The Summer King” The Josh Gibson Story.
“As you can tell, I’m not from here. I am from South Africa, where we had two sports: cricket and soccer,” he said. “So this thing called baseball was completely foreign to me. We also had a complicated system of apartheid. But I didn’t know about this complicated relationship between sports and the Black community.”
In his capacity as director, Hahn said he has tried to make the Pittsburgh Opera more accessible to younger, newer audiences by presenting modern operas—especially American operas written in English, such as those based on stories such as “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Dead Man Walking,” and “Billy Budd.”
“I’m here to dispel the stereotype that ‘opera isn’t for me’ because its a lot of large, unattractive people singing in some foreign language I don’t understand,” he said. “But we’d never been part of producing a new opera until now, so we needed to find something that would resonate with this city.”
“The Summer King” Hahn explained, was a name given to Gibson by adoring fans in Mexico, where most Negro League stars played in the winter. There is a whole section of the opera that takes place in Mexico, as it ranges from the sandlots of the North Side to the Baseball Hall of Fame.