Boxers Emile Griffith and Benny "The Kid" Paret fought each other three times. In their final bout in 1962, Griffith took the title of world welterweight champion from Paret. But the fight is remembered for other reasons. At the weigh-in, Paret taunted Griffith with an anti-gay slur, effectively outing him. In the 12th round of the fight, Griffith unleashed a flurry of punches to Paret's head, knocking him into a coma. Paret died 10 days later, which haunted Griffith for decades.
Trumpeter Terence Blanchard created Champion: An Opera in Jazz to tell Griffith's story, noting Griffith's words, "I kill a man and most people understand and forgive me. However, I love a man, and to many people this is an unforgivable sin.
Since performing in Lionel Hampton's orchestra and Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Blanchard has had a prolific career, collecting five Grammy Awards. He also has written scores for more than 40 movies, including many of Spike Lee's features and documentaries. Champion is his first opera, and it's written for a full orchestra along with a jazz band. Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner Michael Christofer wrote the libretto.
The opera debuted in St. Louis in 2013, the year Griffith died. The New Orleans Opera Association presents the opera with Aubrey Allicock as the young Griffith, Arthur Woodley as the older Griffith and Anthony P. McGlaun as Paret. At 8 p.m. March 9 and 2:30 p.m. March 11. Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts, 1419 Basin St., (504) 525-1052; www.neworleansopera.org.