Right hook, left hook, and then… hit ’em with that gorgeous baritone?

Sports and opera don’t usually mix, but they find some common ground in the dramatic story of closeted bisexual boxer Emile Griffith, whose career in the ring changed forever after one fateful night in 1962.

The athlete’s life and legacy now find an unexpected home on New York City’s famed Metropolitan Opera Stage, where composer Terence Blanchard (an acclaimed trumpeter known for scoring Spike Lee films BlacKkKlansman and Da 5 Bloods) brings a highly anticipated production of his opera, Champion.

Born in the Virgin Islands, Griffith moved to New York as a teen to find his birth mother, and eventually took up work for a hat manufacturer. On a particularly hot day, Griffith worked with his shirt off, which is when—believe it or not—the factory owner noticed his hulking physique and decided to take him to a trainer at a boxing gym!

The opera’s first act details his rise to future welterweight champion, but it ends on—spoiler alert, we suppose, though this is very much a real story—his 1962 match against Benny Paret at Madison Square Garden, where Griffith beat his opponent so intensely that he was completely unconscious. 10 days later, Paret died from the injuries sustained.

(It was later revealed that, during the pre-match weigh in, Paret had been taunting Griffith with homophobic slurs, which was believed to have incensed the athlete.)

The production’s second act, then, deals with the fallout from the match over the ensuing decades, Griffith haunted by both the ghost of Paret, and his public image, which never fully recovered after that deadly match.

In 1972, Griffith eventually married Sadie Donastorg, and would later—years after retiring as a professional athlete—confirm that he identifies as bisexual. In 1992, he was the victim of a brutal hate crime, attacked on the street after leaving a New York gay bar one night. Griffith passed in 2013 at the age of 75.

Griffith’s story is truly larger-than-life, making it an ideal fit for the opera.

Performances of Terence Blanchard’s Champion can be seen at the Met Opera through May 13. Additionally a filmed version of the performance will receive an exclusive theatrical engagement on April 29 and May 3—you can find out more information about those screenings here.

Watch the brief teaser for The Metropolitan Opera’s Champion below:

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