the summer king

Sponsored by PNC • April 29, May 2, 5 & 7, 2017

The very first world premiere in Pittsburgh Opera’s distinguished 78 year history hits close to home. The Summer King tells the story of baseball legend Josh Gibson. Josh went from the sandlots of Pittsburgh’s North Side to the pinnacle of greatness in the Negro Leagues, before ultimately being enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

The opera begins with a father and son debating about great baseball players. When the father mentions Josh Gibson, the son thinks his father is living in the past. But as his father retorts, “Who’s got those numbers today?”

The Summer King follows Josh at key points in his life, including his playing days in the Negro Leagues as well as in Mexico, where he was awarded the MVP award while playing for the Veracruz Azules. The robust supporting characters include his wife Helen, who dies in childbirth, his girlfriend Grace, sung by the legendary Denyce Graves in her Pittsburgh Opera debut, and teammates such as Sam Bankhead and Cool Papa Bell.

Also featured in prominent roles are the gregarious Gus Greenlee, who owned not just the Pittsburgh Crawfords but also the legendary Crawford Grill in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, and Wendell Smith, an intrepid reporter for the celebrated African American newspaper The Pittsburgh Courier.

Like all African Americans at the time, Josh was prohibited from playing in the Major Leagues by what was disingenuously referred to as a “gentlemen’s agreement” among the Major League clubs. Sadly, Josh died at the age of 35, felled by a stroke shortly before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers. 

Pittsburgh Opera is proud and privileged to premiere The Summer King, Josh Gibson’s story.

Music by Daniel Sonenberg
Libretto by Daniel Sonenberg and Daniel Nester, with additional lyrics by Mark Campbell

Sam Helfrich directs; Antony Walker conducts.

Individual tickets are now on sale. You can buy single tickets now or purchase them as part of a subscription.

Josh Gibson wasn't just a fantastic hitter - he was a great defensive catcher too. Photo courtesy of The Josh Gibson Foundation.

Josh Gibson played for a number of teams, most famously the Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays. Photo courtesy of The Josh Gibson Foundation.

Sean Panikkar (Wendell Smith), Denyce Graves (Grace), and Alfred Walker (Josh Gibson). Photos credit: David Bachman Photography.

Sean Panikkar (Wendell Smith), Alfred Walker (Josh Gibson), and Denyce Graves (Grace),. Photos credit: David Bachman Photography.

Alfred Walker (Josh Gibson), Denyce Graves (Grace), and Sean Panikkar (Wendell Smith). Photos credit: David Bachman Photography.

Cast and Artistic Team

Special Celebrity Appearances

Related videos

The Josh Gibson Foundation


Additional Partners

Student Matinee

Details and Resources

Benedum Center Safety & Security statement and Bag Policy