|Patrons enjoy themselves at the Crawford Grill Credit: David Bachman Photography|
Pittsburgh Opera’s 2016-17 season concludes with the first world premiere in its illustrious 78-year history. Opera lovers, baseball fans, and Pittsburghers of all stripes will be dazzled
by Daniel Sonenberg’s The Summer King - the Josh Gibson Story, at the Benedum
Center April 29 – May 7.
As baseball fans and proud Pittsburgh history enthusiasts know, Josh went from the
sandlots of Pittsburgh’s North Side to the pinnacle of greatness on the baseball diamond in
the Negro Leagues, before ultimately being enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame
in Cooperstown, New York.
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. The robust supporting characters include his wife Helen, who dies
in childbirth, his girlfriend Grace, sung by the legendary Denyce Graves in her Pittsburgh
Opera debut, and teammates such as Sam Bankhead and Cool Papa Bell.
Also featured in prominent roles are the gregarious Gus Greenlee, who owned not just the
Pittsburgh Crawfords but also the legendary Crawford Grill in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, and
Wendell Smith, an intrepid reporter for the celebrated African American newspaper The
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.
Pittsburgh Opera is proud and privileged to premiere The Summer King, Josh Gibson’s story.
Here's a sneak preview of one of the just-released production photos.
|Josh Gibson (Alfred Walker) charms Grace (Denyce Graves) at the Crawford Grill with his enthusiasm about the future Credit: David Bachman Photography|