Today, the Pittsburgh Opera presents the world première of Daniel Sonenberg's opera The Summer King, with a libretto by the composer and Daniel Nester.
The opera was first performed in a concert performance on May 8, 2014 in Portland, Maine. Since then, the opera has been fully revised.
The opera tells the story of baseball legend Josh Gibson. Josh went from the sandlots of Pittsburgh’s North Side to the pinnacle of greatness in the Negro Leagues, before ultimately being enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. The opera begins with a father and son debating about great baseball players. When the father mentions Josh Gibson, the son thinks his father is living in the past. But as his father retorts, “Who’s got those numbers today ?”. The Summer King follows Josh at key points in his life, including his playing days in the Negro Leagues as well as in Mexico, where he was awarded the MVP award while playing for the Veracruz Azules. Like all African Americans at the time, Josh was prohibited from playing in the Major Leagues by what was disingenuously referred to as a “gentlemen’s agreement” among the Major League clubs. Sadly, Josh died at the age of 35, felled by a stroke shortly before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers. (reproduced from the Pittsburgh Opera website)The cast includes bass baritone Alfred Walker (Josh Gibson), tenor Sean Panikkar (Wendell Smith), mezzo Denyce Graves (Grace), bass Kenneth Kellogg (Sam Bankhead) and soprano Jacqueline Echols (Helen Gibson).Antony Walker conducts and Sam Helfrich directs.
There will be a new production of this opera at the Detroit Opera House by the Michigan Opera Theatre next year, with a first night on May 12, 2018.