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Mezzo-Soprano Denyce Graves in Terence Blanchard’s Champion at the Washington National Opera 2017 by Photojournalist Lisa Pacino

Mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves stars in Terence Blanchard’s Champion at the Washington National Opera, March 4, 2017 – March 18, 2017.


Mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, Waldorf-Astoria, New York, 2013. Photograph by Lisa Pacino.

Terence Blanchard and Michael Cristofer’s first opera Champion is in English. It is the real-life story of Emile Griffith – the closeted gay boxer whose knockout of a homophobic rival in the early 1960s led to unexpected tragedy – comes roaring to the stage in Terence Blanchard’s haunting and visually stunning “opera in jazz.” On June 15, 2013, Graves sang in the world premiere of Champion with the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Cast & Creative Team:
 Emile Griffith: Arthur Woodley
Young Emile: Aubrey Allicock
Emelda Griffith: Denyce Graves
Benny Paret: Victor Ryan Robertson
Howie Albert: Wayne Tigges
Kathy Hagan: Meredith Arwady
Director: James Robinson; Conductor: George Manahan; Set Designer: Allen Moyer; Costume Designer: James Schuette; Lighting Designer: Christopher Akerlind; Choreographer: Seán Curran; Projections: Greg Emetaz; Fight Master: Joe Isenberg

Photography by Celebrity Photojournalist Lisa Pacino of Under The Duvet Productions, NY. All Rights Reserved.


Harolyn Blackwell, Jessye Norman, and Denyce Graves, Waldorf-Astoria, New York, 2013. Photograph by Lisa Pacino.


Jessye Norman, Harolyn Blackwell, Denyce Graves, and Ailyn Pérez, Waldorf-Astoria, New York, 2013. Photograph by Lisa Pacino.


Denyce Graves and Thomas Hampson, Waldorf-Astoria, New York, 2013. Photograph by Lisa Pacino.


Opera Legends: Harolyn Blackwell, Maria Ewing, Leona Mitchell, Jessye Norman, Florence Quivar, Denyce Graves, Waldorf-Astoria, New York, 2013. Photograph by Lisa Pacino


Denyce Graves and Eric Owens, Waldorf-Astoria, New York, 2013. Photograph by Lisa Pacino

The new WNO production is adapted from Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Champion was co-commissioned by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Jazz St. Louis and was first performed in June 2013. This event is part of JFKC: A Centennial Celebration of John F. Kennedy, inspired by five enduring ideals often ascribed to JFK: Courage, Freedom, Justice, Service, and Gratitude.
“I’m seeing a lot of wonderful African American singers at WNO… I love it. I have to go sing for Washington.”-Aubrey Allicock (Opera News)
“I kill a man and the world forgives me. I love a man and the world wants to kill me.” The story of Emile Griffith–the closeted gay welterweight boxer whose knockout of a homophobic rival led to unexpected tragedy–comes roaring to the stage in this riveting and haunting opera. Through flashback, an aging Emile reflects on his tumultuous life, from his Caribbean upbringing and conflicted sexuality to his meteoric rise in the ring and ensuing decline in health. Battling years of guilt, regret, and denial, he now faces his greatest fight: to come to terms with his true self.
Five-time Grammy-winning jazz powerhouse Terence Blanchard, whose music ranges from film to Broadway to the concert hall, has composed a soulful, groundbreaking score filled with jazz-inflected vocals, bluesy harmonies, and Afro-Caribbean beats. Mixing bold characterizations with visually stunning multimedia and a jazz trio within the orchestra, Champion blew critics away when it premiered in 2013.
The New York Times said the opera “strikes a resonant chord,” while the Chicago Tribune called it “a new work of quality and staying power.”
Part of Terence Blanchard All-In, is a yearlong residency that includes collaborations, a headlining appearance, and a mentorship role to young D.C. public school students; part of JFKC: A Centennial Celebration of John F. Kennedy.
Denyce Graves is an operatic mezzo-soprano who was born on March 7, 1964, in Washington, D.C. She made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1995. Graves has appeared at many opera houses. Though her repertoire is extensive, her signature parts are the title roles in Carmen and Samson et Dalila. She graduated from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in 1981. Graves studied voice at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the New England Conservatory with Helen Hodam. She worked at the Wolf Trap Opera Company, which provides further training and experience for young singers who are between their academic training and full-time professional careers. Soon after, she was invited by David Gockley to participate in the Houston Opera Studio, from 1988 to 1990, where she studied with Elena Nikolaidi. On January 20, 2005, she sang the patriotic song “American Anthem” during the 55th Presidential Inauguration, between the swearing-in ceremonies of Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush for their second terms in office. Graves sang “America the Beautiful” and “The Lord’s Prayer” at the Washington National Cathedral during a memorial service for the victims of 9/11 on September 14, 2001, attended by President Bush, members of Congress, other politicians and representatives of foreign governments. In 2003, Graves performed in front of a live audience at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia for a television special, Denyce Graves: Breaking the Rules. In 2005, she hosted the radio show Voce di Donna (Voice of a Lady) on Vox!, the vocal classical music channel of XM Satellite Radio, on which she interviewed various opera singers. Graves often was heard on The Tony Kornheiser Show radio program with her rendition of the “Mailbag Theme”. She performed the role of Charlotte in the opera Werther opposite Andrea Bocelli for the Michigan Opera Theatre, the first opera broadcast on the Internet in its entirety in 1999. She is currently an industry panelist on American Idol Underground. On January 2, 2007, Graves performed “The Lord’s Prayer” at the state funeral for Gerald Ford at the Washington National Cathedral. Graves sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” as part of the pre-game ceremonies inaugurating Nationals Park. On April 12, 2009, Graves performed a tribute concert to Marian Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, organized by the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. In May 2010, Graves performed a concert with tenor Lawrence Brownlee in the United States Supreme Court Building for the Supreme Court justices. On the evening of September 11, 2011, Graves performed at the “Concert for Hope” at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks. That same year, she appeared as a Pennington Great Performers series artist with the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra. On June 15, 2013, Graves sang in the world premiere of Terence Blanchard’s and Michael Cristofer’s first opera, Champion with the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. In 2014, Graves served as Artistic Director for the operetta Qadar by Tony Small, commissioned by the Smithsonian and Sultanate of Oman. The world debut was at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center’s Kay Theatre in December 2014. Graves performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing” with the Voices of Tomorrow Choir at the dedication ceremony of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. on September 24, 2016. Graves is currently on the voice faculty at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, Maryland.

WNO Tickets:


Lisa Pacino and Under The Duvet Productions are based in New York. Photography services are available worldwide. If you wish to book photography services, receive information, and/or license images for commercial and/or promotional use please E-mail: UnderTheDuvetProductions@gmail.com

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Sources: Washington National Opera (WNO), Wikipedia

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