Metropolitan Opera draws LGBTQ+ aficionados with ‘Champion’

The Metropolitan Opera is arguably one of the most famous opera companies in the world. Founded in the late 1800s, the opera house has put on hundreds of shows each season, and according to their website, “more than 800,000 people attend the performances… during the season, and millions more experience the Met through new media distribution initiatives and state-of-the-art technology.”

However, very few of those shows involve representation of the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, a study conducted by GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, found that “the last time the Metropolitan Opera showed a full LGBT work was in 2013 when Nico Muhly’s opera ‘Two Boys’ made its U.S. premiere.”

The Metropolitan Opera House has a maximum capacity of 3,800 attendees. Photo courtesy of Ajay Suresh, Wikipedia

This statistic will change this spring when Terence Blanchard’s “Champion” will hit the stage. The opera follows the story of Emile Griffith, a famous boxer who sadly took the life of fellow boxer Benny Paret in the early 1960s. It was a result, according to Blanchard, of “an environment of hyper-masculinity and homophobia.”

Griffith was bisexual, and was quoted as saying, “I killed a man and the world forgave me, but I loved a man and the world wanted to kill me.” Not only is this quote incredibly powerful, but shows the struggles Griffith faced during his fame.

It was this quote that inspired Blanchard, a six-time Grammy winner, to create the opera. Although “Champion” premiered in 2013 at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, it is the first time it will be shown at the Met. 

The Opera Theatre of Saint Louis does not make any list of the top ten opera houses, and the Met is arguably one of the most famous and most visited. Therefore, adding “Champion” to its long list of performances is revolutionary for the opera world and important in increasing representation in the field. 

The film and television industries have been under fire recently for their lack of inclusion. Opera is a similar form of art, so why didn’t we hold them accountable before? It’s fantastic to finally see some representation, but it is long overdue. 

The show itself focuses more on the fight between Griffith and Paret and the aftermath. I would like to see more of his early life, as I believe it would depict the struggles a bit better, but it is hard to complain when such a momentous story is brought to the stage.

Griffith was also a person of color, further adding to his struggles as his fame took place throughout the 1950s and 60s. It is assumed that these factors led to pent up anger, the reason for the brutality of the fight that killed Paret.

I myself had never heard of Griffith before stumbling upon the news that this opera will be shown at the Met, but I’m glad I know now. This is exactly why it is vital for representation within such a large industry, as it shares the accounts of those who might be lesser known but have inspirational and notable stories. 

Sophomore global communications Larissa Wade, a person of color who also identifies as bisexual, said “it’s a beautiful thing… it’s funny because when Black people identify as gay they get deemed as a disappointment in a Black household,” and “having somebody as strong as him come out and be who he is to represent the LGBTQ community is quite strong… [Representation is] a good thing… and people need to embrace the fact that everybody is different.”

I am happy to see that other forms of art are finally opening themselves up to diverse works, and hope that they continue to share tales of people like Griffith who deserve to be seen for their bravery and ability to beat all odds despite the whole world against them.

Featured photo courtesy of @MetOpera, Twitter