Everyone knows that boxing legend Muhammad Ali was famous for his witty poetry, but did you know he was also an accomplished opera singer? At least that is how Opera Las Vegas presents him in the West Coast Premiere of Approaching Ali. This new one-act opera by composer D.J. Sparr, and librettists Mark Campbell and Davis Miller, will be performing at the Horn Theatre, College of Southern Nevada, on March 18 and 19.
Based on the best-seller, The Tao of Muhammad Ali, it chronicles the true story of Miller, who overcame being a bullied white boy in the South by finding inspiration in the poise and confidence of Ali, that he saw on television. At forty years old, now an accomplished writer, Miller knocked on the door of Ali’s house in Louisville and came face to face with his idol. Ali’s mother invited Davis to stay for dinner, and an unlikely, but lifelong friendship was forged. Among the heartening themes are reality versus illusion, integrity instead of falsehood, and the nature of achievement.
The larger-than-life character of Ali is embodied by Metropolitan Opera bass, Soloman Howard, a role he originated in the World Premiere production at Washington National Opera. Winner of the 2021 Washington Performing Arts’ Ambassador of the Arts Award and the Kennedy Center’s 2019 Marian Anderson Vocal Award, Soloman garners high praise from the press for his vivid performances on the great opera and concert stages of the world. Recent performances include appearances at London’s Covent Garden, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Dallas Opera, and the San Francisco Opera.
The central role of author Davis Miller will be taken by a Las Vegas native, and Opera Las Vegas favorite, baritone Brian James Myer. Brian is well remembered for his star turns in Rossini’s Cinderella, and Leo Stein in Ricky Ian Gordon’s “27,” for which he was nominated for a Las Vegas Valley Theatre Award.
The important role of Ali’s caring mother, Odessa Clay is portrayed by soprano Sheronda McKee-Dollar, who has graced stages throughout the US. She has traveled to Viterbo and Tarquinia in Italy with the International Lyric Academy and Graz, with the American Institute of Musical Studies program where she was an alternate in the Meistersinger Vocal Competition. Recent awards include the Pasadena Opera Guild Scholarship, the Encouragement Award from the Metropolitan Opera National Council as well as First place in the National Association of Teachers of Singing competition. Dr. McKee-Dollar most recently appeared with Opera Las Vegas in Opera Legends in Black.
The inventive script for Approaching Ali includes flashbacks to Davis’ boyhood and the tragic death of his mother. His father Roy will be performed by tenor Sebastian Haboczki, and his mother Sara by mezzo-soprano Jennifer Matthews.
Dr. Haboczki has earned critical acclaim in Canada, Europe, and the United States as a young tenor with “a rich vibrant voice and an exuberant amount of energy.” Jennifer performed featured roles at Washington National Opera during her tenure with the WNO chorus and recently starred as Hansel in Opera NOVA’s Hansel and Gretel. Trenton Mellon and Mel Ibrahim making their debut solo opera appearances are sharing the role of young Davis. Both are students at Thurman White Academy Middle School.
Approaching Ali will be conducted by OLV Music Director Joshua Horsch, who will be leading a chamber orchestra featuring members of the Las Vegas Philharmonic. This season, Maestro Horsch has been lauded for his conducting of Missy Mazzoli’s Proving Up, and Evan L. Snyder’s A Capacity for Evil. The show will be staged by Marc Callahan, an award-winning director who has worked on productions at the Royal Opera House, Aldeburgh Festival, Holland Festival, and Miami Music Festival, among others. Catherine Pratt serves as lighting and projection designer, with costumes being created by Abby Stroot.
Approaching Ali is part of OLV’s innovative Living Composers and Librettists Initiative, which has been honored with three consecutive grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Approaching Ali performs at the Horn Theatre, College of Southern Nevada, on March 18 at 7:30 pm, and March 19 at 3 p.m. For tickets and information, visit www.operalasvegas.com