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Terence Blanchard and Michael Cristofer’s CHAMPION, which received its world premiere at Opera Theatre in June 2013, is one of five finalists for “World Premiere” of the year in the 2014 International Opera Awards

Three of Opera Theatre’s former Gerdine Young Artists also recognized as finalists in other categories. Winners to be announced at the OPERA Awards ceremony

on Monday, April 7 in London.


St. Louis, MO, February 14, 2014 – Opera Theatre’s 2013 world premiere Champion, which was co-commissioned with Jazz St. Louis, continues to garner international recognition with the February 13 announcement from the 2014 International Opera Awards that the opera, by composer Terence Blanchard and librettist Michael Cristofer, has been named one of five finalists in the category of “world premiere.”  The award will be given on April 7 at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London.  Champion is the only finalist in the category written by both an American composer and an American librettist.

The International Opera Awards were established in 2013 to celebrate excellence in the world of opera and to support emerging opera talent.  They are chosen by OPERA Magazine, founded by Lord Harewood in 1950. As the world’s leading commentator on the lyric stage, OPERA Magazine was recently described in The Daily Telegraph as “the bible of the industry.” 

In the “world premiere” category, Champion shares honors with four other finalists:  The Merchant of Venice (André Tchaikowsky), presented by the Bregenz Festival in Austria; Oscar (Theodore Morrison), presented by the Santa Fe Opera in the United States; Qudsja Zaher (Paweł Szymański), presented by the Polish National Opera in Poland; and Spuren der Verirrten (Philip Glass), presented by the Landestheater Linz in Austria.

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Jazz St. Louis joined forces with an acclaimed team of creators and performers to commission and develop Champion.  The piece was a first opera for both Mr. Blanchard, a five-time Grammy Award-winning jazz, film, and theatrical composer, and Mr. Cristofer, who is both a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and an award-winning filmmaker and actor.  Based on the story of prizefighter Emile Griffith, the opera starred Denyce Graves, Aubrey Allicock, Arthur Woodley, Robert Orth, and Meredith Arwady.  Directed by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis Artistic Director James Robinson and conducted by George Manahan, Champion received its world premiere during Opera Theatre’s 2013 Festival Season.

The opera became the highest-grossing world or American premiere in Opera Theatre history, with ticket sales at 98% of capacity.  “Blanchard’s world premiere opera is a champ in its own right,” wrote The Chicago Tribune, “…a new work of quality and staying power, one that deserves to be taken up by other opera producers, far and wide.”  The Denver Post described the opera as “the rare bit of genre mixing that succeeds once in a generation… a new kind of masterpiece,” while The Financial Times wrote, “Champion has enthralled the audience here.”

Champion was the first in a series titled New Works, Bold Voices: three new operas commissioned by Opera Theatre from American composers and librettists on American themes, supported in part by a $1 million challenge grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  The second opera in the series, Twenty-Seven by Ricky Ian Gordon and Royce Vavrek, opens June 14 as part of Opera Theatre’s 2014 Festival Season. The series will continue with the opera Shalimar the Clown, by Jack Perla and Rajiv Joseph, based on a novel by Salman Rushdie.  

The International Opera Awards finalist list also includes three singers familiar to St. Louis audiences, each of whom made early career appearances at Opera Theatre. Soprano Corinne Winters, nominated in the “Young Singer” category, most recently sang the leading role of Vendulka in Smetana’s The Kiss in 2013, a co-production by Opera Theatre and the Wexford Festival in Ireland.  This was her fifth appearance with the company since 2009, having previously also appeared in starring roles in Carmen and Pelléas and Mélisande, as well supporting roles in The Ghosts of Versailles and A Little Night Music. Originally a Gerdine Young Artist, she was named winner of the company’s first Mabel Dorn Reeder prize in 2012. Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton is also nominated in the “Young Singer” category. A Gerdine Young Artist in 2006 and 2007, she subsequently returned to sing featured roles in The Marriage of Figaro and Madame Butterfly. Soprano Christine Goerke is nominated in the “Best Female Singer” category; an Opera Theatre Ensemble Artist in 1994, she was featured in The Rape of Lucretia in 1996.

The award winners will be announced on April 7, 2014 at a gala event at the Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane in London. Proceeds from ticket sales to the awards ceremony support The Opera Awards Foundation. The Opera Awards Foundation provides grants to singers, conductors, directors, and designers to support careers of burgeoning artists, as well as to institutions that promote youth involvement in opera. The Foundation also promotes and educates the public in the art of opera through direct programming.


Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ upcoming 2014 Festival Season includes the world premiere of Twenty-Seven, as well as new productions of The Magic Flute, conducted by Jane Glover and directed and designed by Isaac Mizrahi, The Elixir of Love, conducted by OTSL Music Director Stephen Lord and directed by Jose Maria Condemi, and Dialogues of the Carmelites, conducted by Ward Stare and directed by Robin Guarino. Single tickets to the 2014 Season go on sale to the public Saturday, February 22.



The Story of Champion

Emile Griffith was a three-time World Welterweight Champion and twice a World Middleweight Champion, fighting from the late 1950s into the 1970s. However, one of his greatest professional triumphs – winning back the Welterweight Championship from Benny “The Kid” Paret in 1962 – was also one of his greatest personal tragedies. The seventeen punches he landed on Paret in seven seconds resulted in not only a knockout, but also a coma from which Paret would never recover. Paret would die ten days later. 

Before that life-changing televised fight, in a room full of press and officials, Paret mocked Griffith repeatedly with a derogatory term for a homosexual. Years later, Griffith’s sexuality as a gay man was revealed to the public after he was nearly killed by a gang outside a gay bar in New York. “I kill a man,” Griffith was quoted to have said, “and most people understand and forgive me. I love a man, and to so many people this is an unforgiveable sin.” In an inspiring, moving, and painful journey of self-discovery, Champion presents audiences with a great contemporary tragic hero – a man of strength and courage consumed ultimately by rage, regret, and the terrible consequences of his actions. 

About Opera Theatre of Saint Louis


Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is one of the leading American opera companies, known for a spring festival of inventive new productions, sung in English, featuring the finest American singers and accompanied by members of the St. Louis Symphony. With the 2014 Season, Opera Theatre will have presented 24 world premieres and 23 American premieres – which may be the highest percentage of new work in the repertory of any U.S. company. Described by The Sunday Times of London as “one of the few American companies worth the transatlantic fare,” Opera Theatre of Saint Louis annually welcomes visitors from nearly every state and close to a dozen foreign countries. Although the size of the theater typically limits box office income to less than a quarter of the budget, the company has consistently produced work of the highest quality while never accumulating a deficit.

Opera Theatre also has a long tradition of discovering and promoting the careers of the finest operatic artists of the current generation. Among the artists who had important early opportunities at Opera Theatre are Christine Brewer, Susan Graham, Nathan Gunn, Patricia Racette, Thomas Hampson, Jerry Hadley, Dawn Upshaw, Sylvia McNair, Erie Mills, Dwayne Croft, Kelly Kaduce, and Lawrence Brownlee. Opera Theatre has always been known for distinguished leadership: founding general director Richard Gaddes was succeeded in 1985 by general director Charles MacKay, with famed British stage director Colin Graham as artistic director and Stephen Lord (1992 – present) as music director. Timothy O’Leary was named general director in October 2008 with acclaimed stage director James Robinson succeeding Colin Graham. For more information, visit


Opera Theatre gratefully acknowledges season presenting sponsor Wells Fargo Advisors.

Opera Theatre is a sustaining member of the Arts and Education Council of Greater Saint Louis, and receives major support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Missouri Arts Council.