Portland Ovations, in collaboration with the USM School of Music and American Opera Projects, Brooklyn, NY, presents the world premiere of The Summer King, an Opera on the Life of Josh Gibson, at Merrill Auditorium on Thursday, May 8th at 7:30 pm. The Summer King, composed by Portland resident Daniel Sonenberg, features a talented cast known for their performances around the world. The May 8th concert, an Ovations commission, is The Summer King‘s world premiere.
Daniel Sonenberg, associate professor and resident composer at USM, and a lifelong baseball fan, was drawn to the heartbreaking saga of Negro League ball and became especially interested in the great catcher Josh Gibson. The Summer King portrays the injustice Gibson suffered at the hands of baseball’s “Gentlemen’s Agreement” and also the thriving culture, characterized by black-owned teams, stadiums and taverns, nightlife and humor.
The cast – which includes singers and instrumentalists based in New York City, Boston, Washington DC, Maine, Brussels and Frankfurt – is led by maestro Steven Osgood, an assistant conductor at The Metropolitan Opera. Osgood also created and was artistic director for American Opera Project’s nationally recognized Composers & the Voice Workshop Series, where the first scene of The Summer King had its beginnings. Working closely with Osgood, Chicago native Lemuel Wade is directing the presentation. Wade brings an international, critically acclaimed career as a singer/dancer to his craft as a stage director.
Stephen Salters, baritone, who has performed throughout Europe, the UK, Asia and the United States, will perform the role of Josh Gibson. Salters, who currently resides in Belgium, is well known to Boston audiences especially for his work in a variety of musical mediums including recital, oratorio, opera and orchestra soloist. Salters created the title role in Elena Ruehr’s Toussaint Before the Spirits for Opera Boston. He has also appeared at Tanglewood Opera National in Bordeaux.
Lori-Kaye Miller, mezzo-soprano, has performed with New York City Opera, and made her Carnegie Hall debut as a soloist with the New England Symphony Ensemble. Miller will perform the roles of Grace – Gibson’s lover in later years – as well as the Elder Barber’s Wife. Miller currently lives in Germany and is coming to the US specifically for the premiere presentation.
Kenneth Kellogg, bass, who has performed with Washington National Opera, Wolf Trap Opera and San Francisco Opera, will perform the role of Sam Bankhead, Gibson’s friend and teammate.
Supporting cast includes Jorell Willams as Younger Barber and Cool Papa Bell; Cameo Humes as Elder Barber and Gus Greenlee; Rishi Rane as Wendell Smith; Patrick Miller as Radio Announcer, Clark Griffith and Branch Rickey; Christian Figueroa as Scribe and Alcalde; Candice Hoyes as Helen Gibson and Hattie; Kyle Guglielmo as Calvin Griffith; Martin Bakari as Trash Talking Player and Double Duty Radcliffe.
Maine-based singers include the revered Malcolm Smith as Commissioner Landis; Virgil Bozeman as Judy Johnson; and Matthew LaBerge, Aaren Rivard and Joshua Witham as Mariachi Singers.
The Orchestra musicians reside in Maine, with the exception of Greg Simonds, who lives in Massachusetts. Over half of the musicians are on faculty at the University of Southern Maine. The Orchestra includes: Krysia Tripp, flute and piccolo; Thomas Parchman, clarinet, eb and bass clarinet; Barry Saunders, soprano and tenor saxophone; Wren Saunders, Bassoon and Contra Bassoon; Sophie Flood, horn; Elizabeth Rines, trumpet; Mark Tipton, trumpet; Tom Michaud, bass trombone; Greg Simonds, percussion; John Mehrmann, percussion; Anastasia Antonacos, piano; Robert Lehmann, violin; Ferdinand Liva, violin; Kimberly Lehmann, viola; Benjamin Noyes, cello; George Calvert, bass; Don Pride, guitar.
Two Maine choirs, Vox Nova Chamber Choir and the Boy Singers of Maine, will also perform in The Summer King. Vox Nova Chamber Choir, conducted by Dr. Shannon M. Chase, is comprised of 36-40 mixed voices from the Midcoast and Southern Maine musical communities. The Boy Singers of Maine Concert Choir, directed by Jesse Wakeman, consists of boys from Southern Maine who range in age from 8 through 14.
Tickets for The Summer King range from $32 to $38 for Ovations’ Members and $35 to $42 for the general public. A limited number of student tickets are available for $10. To purchase tickets visit www.portlandovations.org, call PortTIX at 207.842.0800 or go to the box office window at Merrill Auditorium.
Support for The Summer King is generously provided by the Center for Cultural Exchange Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, the Maine Arts Commission, Fund for Performing Arts in Maine of the Maine Community Foundation, the Composer Assistance Program of New Music USA, and Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust. The Summer King is commissioned by Portland Ovations.