Approaching Ali debuts at Washington National Opera

 Photo by Scott Suchman.


In two premiere performances, composer D.J. Sparr and librettists Mark Campbell and Davis Miller‘s hour-long opera tells the story of a reporter’s transformative meeting with the boxing legend Muhammad Ali. Approaching Ali features Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Soloman Howard (Joe in Show Boat) as Muhammad Ali, David Kravitz as Davis Miller, Aundi Marie Moore as Odessa Clay, and Ethan McKelvain as Young Davis. The opera will be performed with a chamber orchestra conducted by Steven Jarvi, and receive a complete staging by director Nicole Watson and a design team with mentorship provided by WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello.

“’Approaching Ali’…features an imaginative score by Baltimore School for the Arts alum D.J. Sparr. His harmonic style is nicely spicy, but fundamentally tonal, and he reveals a good sense of propulsion; like Ali in his prime, the score is nimble on its feet.” –Baltimore Sun

“…Sparr knows how to send a vocal line soaring vividly, and how to extract a great deal of color from a 10-member orchestra…” –Baltimore Sun

“…”Approaching Ali” makes a worthy calling card for the American Opera Initiative. It also demonstrates Sparr’s considerable potential; his first attempt in this tricky genre lands some very solid punches.” –Baltimore Sun

“Creating a modern opera work without alienating audiences seems to be no small feat.” –Maryland Theater Guide

“The audience obviously wanted more after the world premiere of Washington National Opera’s Approaching Ali. The 50 minute work… received a standing ovation from an enthusiastic crowd whom over ninety percent actually stayed for a 15 minute Q&A, an awesome feat for any Modern Opera production…The show is a contemporary human story set to a 21st century score, and polished with an accessible finish.” –Maryland Theater Guide

“Some of the most alluring music was written for the character of Odessa Clay, Mr. Ali’s mother, beautifully enacted by Aundi Marie Moore. She spun out the bluesy humming with a honeyed tone, one of several Americana elements of the score.” –The New York Times

“In a genre dominated by four-hour behemoths, it’s pleasantly rare to feel that a work is too short, with the somewhat abrupt conclusion here leaving you wanting more.” – The New York Times

“… Miller’s well-respected book—reduced to a simple yet surprisingly deep libretto by everyone’s favorite American librettist, the skillful Mark Campbell and set to music by D. J. Sparr, a composer we had previously not encountered—has been transformed into a compact, intensely emotional work of musical theater that explores the tragedies and triumphs of the human inscape in unexpected and at times powerful ways.” –Washington Times

“Some of the best vocal writing, however, fell to Domingo-Cafritz alumna Aundi Marie Moore … who had a coffee-rich tone as Odessa, full of maternal savvy and bluesy vernacular touches.” –Washington Post

Read more about the premiere here.