January 15, 2019 12:50 pm

Opéra de Montréal puts on the story of a champion

WATCH: Boxing meets opera, bet you've never heard that before. Global's Laura Casella is joined by the General Director of the Opéra de Montréal to talk about the contemporary production of Champion, composed by famous jazzman Terence Blanchard.


Jazz meets opera in the boxing ring in Opéra de Montréal’s production of Champion.

Patrick Corrigan, general director of Opéra de Montréal, sat down with Global’s Laura Casella on Global News Morning, to talk about the contemporary production based on a true story.

“Were all very excited about it, this is the biggest show of the season,” Corrigan told Casella.

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The contemporary production comes after several others put on by Opéra de Montréal, such as JFK, Dead Man Walking, Les Feluettes, Another Brick in The Wall and Silent Night.

“This is, of course, an opera but it draws on the tradition of American music theatre, and the opportunity to tell an opera about this icon, this boxing champion, this real-life person,” Corrigan said.

“Opera is really a great medium to tell that story”

Champion is based on a true story about welterweight prize fighting champion Emile Griffith. In 1962, he won a televised national fight against Benny Paret.

“At the weigh-in, Benny Paret had taunted him (Emile Griffith) and called him homosexual,” Corrigan said. “In fact, Emile was secretly a homosexual.”

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Emotions were built up by the time the two took to the ring. In the 12th round, Griffith got Paret over to the ropes, knocking him out with a flurry of punches. Paret fell into a coma and died 10 days later in hospital

“When you talk about that backstory of Emile’s guilt, he’s African American in the ’60s, basically an orphan, and riddled with the guilt of [Paret’s] death his entire life, and of course his secret, it’s a really rich drama,” Corrigan said.

The production is composed by famous jazzman Terence Blanchard who is also responsible for most of the music on Spike Lee’s Films. His most recent work for Lee, BlacKkKlansman could score him his first Oscar nomination.

“He’s in the league with Quincy Jones and the greatest there is,” Corrigan said.

Although Champion is Blanchard’s first opera, opera is in his blood. Corrigan recalled when Opéra de Montréal announced they were going to perform Champion, Blanchard came to Montreal and told a story about how his father had been an opera singer.

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“He had never really thought about the medium but this had really changed everything for him,” Corrigan said.

In addition to the star power of Blanchard, there is also incredible talent on stage from the cast and the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir, which also makes an appearance.

“It’s a great night of theatre. It’s a big show but also very rich musically,” he said.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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