USM’s own resident composer and music professor Daniel Sonenberg’s opera “The Summer King” will make its debut on a national stage and its staged world premiere with the Pittsburgh Opera in their upcoming 2016-17 season.
The opera’s world premiere also marks the Pittsburgh Opera’s very first world premiere in its 78-year history, something Sonenberg is extremely proud to be a part of, stating in a Press Herald article, "“I couldn’t have scripted it better.”
“The Summer King” was premiered in concert format in a joint presentation by Portland Ovations and the University of Southern Maine at Portland’s Merrill Auditorium in May 2014.
The opera tells the story of baseball legend Josh Gibson, who went from the sandlots of Pittsburgh’s North Side to the pinnacle of greatness in the Negro Leagues, playing for the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords, and who was ultimately was honored at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. The tragedy of the story is that Gibson never got to play in the major leagues, as he died of a stroke at age 35, only months before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers and baseball was integrated.
Since the opera premiered in Portland in 2014, Sonenberg has been hard at work rewriting and making extensive changes to be included in the revised piano/vocal score, due in June. As noted by the Pittsburgh Opera’s general director Christopher Hahn, the opera’s score is rich in textures and styles, including scenes that jazz and mariachi.
For the first time in its history, Pittsburgh Opera will feature a cast primarily comprising black performers. The cast thus far includes Kenneth Kellogg, Norman Shankle, Denyce Graves and former resident artists Phillip Gay and Jasmine Muhammad.
At the unveiling of the Pittsburgh Opera’s upcoming season, Sean Gibson, the great grandson of Josh Gibson, mentioned that his family is frequently approached for projects featuring the famous baseball star.
“I remember talking to Daniel years ago about his project… I think for us, and our family, it was a great exposure for us to reach a different audience to learn about Josh Gibson… about the great man he was, off the field as well as on the field.”
View an aria from the opera, introduced by composer Sonenberg. Sam Bankhead’s aria is sung by Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist Matthew Scollin (at the Pittsburgh Opera’s season preview event on February 11, 2016).
The announcement of "The Summer King’s" world premiere is garnering press coverage, thus far in Portland as well as Pittsburgh -- the articles are listed below.
Photos for this article are credited as follows:
Portrait of Daniel Sonenberg is by USM School of Music graduate Will Wohler
Portrait of Josh Gibson is courtesy of the Josh Gibson Foundation.