CAST— Alfred Walker, Denyce Graves and Sean Pannikar star in ‘The Josh Gibson Story’ at the Benedum Center. (Photo Courtesy Pittsburgh Opera)

Opera celebrates the life of Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords superstar

In a truly unusual pairing, Pittsburgh Opera chose to meld two art forms into one historic work of art: Negro League Baseball and opera.

Odd?

Not really. The National Negro Opera Company (1941-1962) was based in Homewood, a more than significant notation in Pittsburgh’s Black music heritage. And when discussing the Negro Leagues, one must factor in Pittsburgh and the only player to meet (and surpass) the accomplishments of Babe Ruth is a son of Pittsburgh—Josh Gibson, who played with the Homestead Grays (1930-31) and Pittsburgh Crawfords (1932-36).

“The Summer King: The Josh Gibson Story” is the first world premiere in Pittsburgh Opera’s 78-year existence. It also benefits from 2017 marking the centennial of the slugger’s demise. Presented with the blessings of the Josh Gibson Foundation, the opera traces the life of “The Black Babe Ruth.”

“The Summer King” originated as a collaboration of composer Daniel Sonenberg and librettist Daniel Nester in 2003, as part of the American Opera Projects’ “Composer and the Voice” series. The series develops and presents innovative works of opera and music theatre and engages audiences in the creative process.

“The Summer King” is ready for its first performance as a full-fledged operatic work and features the talents of Alfred Walker as Josh Gibson and the internationally-acclaimed soprano Denyce Graves in her Pittsburgh Opera debut.

Sean Gibson, great-grandson of the legendary catcher, gave a thumbs-up to the man who plays Josh. “I think the choice of Alfred Walker to play Josh Gibson is excellent,” he said.

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