Thursday, April 13, 2017

"The Summer King" Pittsburgh Opera to Stage Work Focusing on Baseball Great Josh Gibson



Pittsburgh Opera’s 2016-17 season concludes with the first world premiere in our 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
Pittsburgh Courier.

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.

Pittsburgh Opera’s annual Student Matinee will introduce 2,600+ school children grades 3-
12 to this lively, colorful opera on Thursday, May 4th at the Benedum Center.
J
The Summer King was commissioned by Portland Ovations, with development by
American Opera Projects and deeply appreciated continuing support for the Pittsburgh
Opera world premiere from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The Summer King received its first public presentation as a concert performance on May
8, 2014 at Merrill Auditorium, Portland, Maine under the auspices of Portland Ovations in
collaboration with the University of Southern Maine. Pittsburgh Opera is developing it into a
fully-staged production, with lighting, costumes, sets, a full orchestra in the pit, and so forth
for its world premiere in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh Opera has also worked with the composer to
develop additional material for the world premiere.

Fascinating Facts about The Summer King

1. For crusading Pittsburgh Courier journalist Wendell Smith, seeing baseball's color
barrier broken had an extra level of significance. In college, a major league scout
told Smith he wished that he could sign him, but couldn't due to the color barrier.

2. Five Pittsburgh sports legends will appear as supernumeraries in one or more
performances of The Summer King. Former Pirates Al Oliver and Sean Casey, and
former Steelers Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier and Charlie Batch’s participation
symbolizes that while Josh's athletic greatness may have gone unnoticed by much
of the white public in his day, Pittsburgh's sports heroes recognize him as one of
their own.

3. Many of Josh’s descendants are alive and well, and still live in Pittsburgh. Greatgrandson
Sean Gibson is the Executive Director of The Josh Gibson Foundation,
which develops programs that help children of every ability level reach their
potential.

4. Pittsburgh Opera chorister Skip Napier’s grandfather Eudie Napier was Josh’s
teammate on the 1946 Homestead Grays. Skip, a baritone, is a classicly trained
singer.

The story, in brief

ACT I
SCENE 1 Cut Off Man barbershop, Brooklyn, NY, 1957
Boys playing stickball hit a ball into a barbershop. When the radio plays “Did Ya See Jackie
Robinson Hit That Ball?,” the Elder and Younger Barbers argue about the Negro League
and the legacy of Josh Gibson. The Elder Barber remembers Gibson’s incredible
accomplishments and describes the day that Gibson hit a ball completely out of Yankee
Stadium.

SCENE 2 Yankee Stadium, NY, 1930
The Elder Barber imagines a Radio Announcer describing the epic battle between pitcher
Broadway Connie Rector and a young Josh Gibson.

SCENE 3 A park in Homestead, PA, 1930
Spectators respond to Josh’s tremendous home run. Helen, his young wife, arrives with
blackberry pie. They look forward to their future (Beautiful Afternoon) and Helen tells Josh
that she’s pregnant. A musical interlude turns dark. Josh sadly reflects on Helen’s death
giving birth to their twin children and his commitment to his remaining love—the game of
baseball.

SCENE 4 Crawford Grill, Pittsburgh, PA, 1935
Players and fans of the Pittsburgh Crawfords celebrate and praise Mr. Gus Greenlee,
owner of both the Crawford Grill and the team. Josh arrives with Hattie, and Wendell Smith,
from The Pittsburgh Courier, introduces himself to Josh. The daily number is called. Grace
is the winner; she bet 440, which was Josh’s batting average the previous season. Smith
suggests that with numbers like that, Josh might make history by playing for a white team
and breaking the color barrier, an idea his teammates, led by Double Duty Radcliffe,
disdain. Josh and his teammates scoff at Smith’s idea, but Josh is secretly intrigued by it.
Grace persuades him to consider it.

SCENE 5 Wendell Smith’s office, Pittsburgh Courier, March 1938
Wendell “Smitty” Smith asks Josh to consider working together to break the color barrier.
Smith recalls his experience with segregation in college and admits that he was never
“lightning” like Josh. Smith says Josh could change everything. Josh commits to think about
it.

SCENE 6 Josh’s apartment, Pittsburgh, PA, March 1938
Josh and Grace, now a couple, return from a night on the town. She scolds him, describes
his greatness, and urges him to broaden his dreams.

SCENE 7 Owner’s office, Griffith Stadium, Washington, DC, April 1940

Clark Griffith and his nephew meet with Josh and dangle the notion of playing for the
Senators. The meeting has clearly been set up to appease the black press. After
complimenting Josh’s skills, they warn him about the consequences of playing in the
majors. The exchange grows threatening (Men such as we). The Griffiths pompously
describe their responsibility and their foremost concern with Josh’s best interests, making it
clear they have no intention of signing him. Clark walks Josh to the door and tells him, “Boy,
there’s a colored facility at the top of the stairs.”

SCENE 8 Outside the Griffith Office and Crawford Grill, April 1940
Josh, demoralized and frustrated, says all he ever wanted was his wife Helen and the
game. He arrives at the Crawford Grill, where players are discussing a lucrative offer from
Mexico that hinges on Josh’s participation. Smith wants Josh to stay and fight, but Josh
eagerly accepts the deal (Hello Mexico). Grace agrees, “as long as it’s temporary.”

INTERMISSION

ACT II
SCENE 1 Escambron Stadium, Vera Cruz, Mexico, October 1941
During a celebration featuring Mexican music, Josh is heralded as player of the year by
Señor Alcalde. Sam tells Josh about an offer from back home matching the Mexican pay
they receive. Grace is excited to return home, but Josh celebrates the good life the players
enjoy in Mexico. As the revelers leave, Grace tells Josh that she’s not staying in Mexico.
Hattie, now with Double Duty Radcliffe, shares a joint with Josh as he and his friends
celebrate “high living.” Josh complains that his head isn’t feeling so well, and as the
celebration begins to spin out of control, Josh proclaims his need to go home, and then
loses his balance and collapses.

SCENE 2 Wendell Smith’s office, Pittsburgh Courier, March 1945
Branch Rickey tells Smith that he is proudly ready to hire a black player for the Brooklyn
Dodgers. Rickey needs someone “with the spirit to fight back, but ... the guts not to.” Smith
tells Rickey, “I may have a name for you.”

SCENE 3 An empty ballfield, Homestead, PA, October 1945
Josh, looking haggard and bloated, stands alone on a field hitting balls, lamenting that
nothing’s changed for him in the four years since Mexico, and then expresses agony at
something pressed against his head. Players, including Sam Bankhead, engage in a pickup
game.

Trash Talking Player takes a turn at bat with Josh catching behind him. The two
trade insults, with Josh eventually getting the better of the situation. Sam urges the younger
players to respect Josh, and describes his famous Yankee Stadium home run. Wendell
Smith then arrives, excitedly telling the news that Jackie Robinson has been hired by the
Dodgers. Josh is crestfallen (I got my own league).

SCENE 4 Crawford Grill (now closed), October 1945
Josh has busted into the old Crawford Grill, bringing his own beer cans. Grace chides Josh
for being too caught up in his “own league,” asking him, “You think you can drink your way
into the big leagues?” Josh talks of imaginary conversations with Joe DiMaggio. Grace tells
him that her husband is returning from war, and that she is leaving. She describes the

dreams she had of transcending her dreary existence in a loveless marriage with few
material comforts; she realizes that she has to face her real life and abandon her fantasies
for Josh—fantasies he never shared.

SCENE 5 Josh’s bedroom, Homestead, PA, January 1947
Josh speaks intently to an imaginary Joe DiMaggio, asking “You ain’t gonna answer me?”
Josh says that he will die that night. Sam pays his respects to his dying friend and tells him
that Jackie Robinson is going to join the Dodgers.

They listen to the news on the radio as Josh withdraws into his own delirium. Helen’s ghost visits and the two remember their
hopes for a bright future (Beautiful Afternoon). Helen disappears. Josh realizes where he is
and speaks to Sam about his fabled Yankee Stadium home run: “It went out a long way . . .
I hope you’ll remember that.” Josh dies.

Sam remembers the fallen Summer King, who
led all Negro Leaguers to the Promised Land, but was denied entry himself. He then
contemplates his own plight, and that of his contemporaries—players who were either too
old, or not great enough, to enjoy the fruits of integration. The Elder Barber extolls Josh
Gibson’s greatness as Sam wonders about fate, asking “Did we need to be greater men
than our king to avoid our king’s fate?”

SCENE 6 Cut Off Man barbershop, Brooklyn, NY, 1957
The Elder and Younger Barbers continue their argument until the Younger Barber puts on
“the damn game.”

EPILOGUE Outside Yankee Stadium, NY, 1930
Children play stickball outside Yankee Stadium. The Radio Announcer calls the legendary
home run. The bat cracks and the Streets Kids freeze, looking straight up to the sky, asking
“Where’d it go? Is it fair?” The kids scatter and one boy emerges with the baseball (Did ya
see?).
– Synopsis adapted from Daniel Sonenberg

Tickets and Group Discounts
 Tickets to The Summer King start at just $12
 All performances are at the Benedum Center, 237 7th Street, in downtown
Pittsburgh
 To purchase tickets, call 412-456-6666, visit the Theatre Square Box Office, or buy
online at https://opera.culturaldistrict.org/production/47945/list_performances.
 Group discounts are available. For discounted group tickets (6 or more), contact
Regina Connolly at 412-281-0912, x 213


Conductor Antony Walker
Stage Director Sam Helfrich
Scenery and Properties Designer Andrew Lieberman
Costume Designer Kay Voyce
Video Designer Darrel Maloney
Lighting Designer Robert Wierzel
Asst. Conductor Glenn Lewis
Chorus Master Mark Trawka
Associate Coach/Pianist James Lesniak
+ Pittsburgh Opera debut
* Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist
** Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist alumnus/alumna

Celebrity Special Guests
Josh Gibson deserved to be as famous in his day as Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig. But he was
overlooked by the mainstream white media because of the color of his skin.

These Pittsburgh sports legends are appearing as supernumeraries in The Summer King.
Their participation symbolizes that while Josh's athletic greatness may have gone
unnoticed by much of the general public, Pittsburgh's sports heroes recognize him as one
of their own.

Pittsburgh Opera and the Josh Gibson Foundation are grateful to the following people for
supporting The Summer King by appearing as supernumeraries:
 Al "Scoop" Oliver
 Sean Casey
 Charlie Batch
 Franco Harris
 Rocky Bleier

Related Events for The Summer King
Additional events being added, check pittsburghopera.org for updates
Free Community Event at The Pittsburgh Project
February 22 @ 6:30 PM
Pittsburgh Project, 2801 N Charles St., Pittsburgh, PA 15214
Come join a free roundtable discussion about Josh Gibson, Negro League Baseball, and
The Summer King, led by Sean Gibson, Executive Director of the Josh Gibson
Foundation, and Pittsburgh Opera representatives.

Sean Gibson speaks on Negro League
Baseball on a national basis, and brings a depth of personal and historical knowledge to
any discussion on this topic. Pittsburgh Opera representatives will discuss the opera and
sing sneak previews of Sam Bankhead’s and Wendell Smith’s arias. Alfred Walker, who will
sing the role of Josh in the opera, will talk about the role and why he is looking forward to it.

Space is limited. RSVP at pittsburghopera.org/PghProject or call DeOndra Parker at 412-
321-1678, ext. 536.

Free Community Event at Steel Valley High School
February 23 @ 7:00 PM
Steel Valley High School, 3113 Main Street, Munhall, PA 15120
Come join a free roundtable discussion about Josh Gibson, Negro League Baseball, the
history of baseball in Homestead, and The Summer King. The event is sponsored by the
Steel Valley High School History Club, whose members will serve as moderators.

Sean
Gibson, Executive Director of the Josh Gibson Foundation, will speak about Josh Gibson
and the Negro Leagues. The Battle of Homestead Foundation will discuss the history of
Homestead steel mill baseball teams and their role in providing talent to the Homestead
Grays. Pittsburgh Opera representatives will discuss the opera and sing sneak previews of
Sam Bankhead’s and Wendell Smith’s arias. Alfred Walker, who will sing the role of Josh in
the opera, will talk about the role and why he is looking forward to it. No reservations
needed.

Free Community Event at Hill House Kaufman Center
February 27 @ 7:00 PM
Hill House Kaufman Center, 1825 Centre Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15219
Come join a free roundtable discussion about Josh Gibson, Negro League Baseball, and
The Summer King, led by Sean Gibson, Executive Director of the Josh Gibson
Foundation, and Pittsburgh Opera representatives. Sean Gibson speaks on Negro League
Baseball on a national basis, and brings a depth of personal and historical knowledge to
any discussion on this topic. Pittsburgh Opera representatives will discuss the opera, and
sing sneak previews of Grace’s and Wendell Smith’s arias.
Space is limited— RSVP at pittsburghopera.org/hillhouse or call 412-392-6479.

April Brown Bag concert
Saturday, April 1st from noon - 1:00PM
George R. White Opera Studio, Pittsburgh Opera Headquarters, 2425 Liberty Avenue
You're invited to Pittsburgh Opera’s free April Brown Bag concert. The program includes
some of our 2016-17 Resident Artists' favorite selections. It's free and open to everyone.
Bring a friend and bring a lunch! Meet the Resident Artists afterward in an informal
reception.

Doors open at 11:30AM. Handicapped parking is available by reservation. For more
information: 412-281-0912 or http://www.pittsburghopera.org/calendar/detail/april-brownbag-concert1.


Opera Up Close: The Summer King
Sunday, April 9th from 2:00 PM - 3:30 PM
Founder’s Room, Pittsburgh Opera Headquarters, 2425 Liberty Avenue

Opera Up Close is an in-depth look at the music and story of Daniel Sonenberg's The
Summer King with singers and directors from the production. Admission is $5; the event is
free to members of FRIENDS of Pittsburgh Opera and donors at $50+. Handicapped
parking is available by reservation. For more information: 412-281-0912 or
http://www.pittsburghopera.org/calendar/detail/opera-up-close-the-summer-king.

Free Community Event at Mt. Lebanon Library
Wednesday, April 19, 7:00 - 8:30 PM
Mt. Lebanon Library, 16 Castle Shannon Blvd, Pittsburgh, PA 15228
Get an inside look at how The Summer King was conceived, created, and brought to
Pittsburgh. Composer Daniel Sonenberg will talk about the process of creating an opera.
Pittsburgh Opera representatives will discuss aspects of producing and bringing an opera to
life. Additional details available soon.
The Summer King previews on WQED-FM 89.3 and WQED.ORG

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017 from 12:30 PM - 1:00 PM and
Friday, April 28th, 2017 from 7:00 PM - 7:30 PM
Make time for this half-hour preview of the world premiere of Pittsburgh Opera's The
Summer King with candid commentary from singers and directors. Listen at 89.3 on your
FM dial or at WQED.org. For more information:
http://www.pittsburghopera.org/calendar/detail/wqed-preview-the-summer-king.

Free Community Event at Carnegie Library of Homestead
Sunday, April 23rd, 2017
Carnegie Library of Homestead, 510 E 10th Ave, Munhall, PA 15120
Come join a free roundtable discussion about Josh Gibson, Negro League Baseball, and
The Summer King, led by Sean Gibson, Executive Director of the Josh Gibson
Foundation, and Pittsburgh Opera representatives.

Sean Gibson speaks on Negro League
Baseball on a national basis, and brings a depth of personal and historical knowledge to
any discussion on this topic. Pittsburgh Opera representatives will discuss the opera and
perform musical excerpts. Composer Daniel Sonenberg will talk about the process of
creating an opera.
FRIENDS of Pittsburgh Opera is generously sponsoring a reception afterwards for all
attendees.


Audio Commentary: The Summer King
Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017, 7:00 PM
Benedum Center
Ticketholders with visual impairments are invited to use Pittsburgh Opera’s Audio
Description service at our Tuesday performance of The Summer King. Trained volunteers
describe the scenery, costumes, and stage action. The listeners hear these descriptions via
assistive listening devices. Those wishing to use Audio Description should reserve seats to
the Tuesday, May 2nd performance by contacting Regina Connolly at 412-281-0912, ext.
213 or groups@pittsburghopera.org. Braille and large-print programs are also available at
all performances.

Meet the Artists of The Summer King
Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017 immediately following the opera
Benedum Center Lower Lobby
Ticketholders for the Tuesday, May 2nd performance of The Summer King are invited to
head to the Lower Lobby of the Benedum following the performance for interviews with
General Director Christopher Hahn and the stars of the opera. This event is free to all
Tuesday performance ticketholders.

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