The Summer King reviews

May 2018

The Summer King

Information about this production


Donna Wessel Walker – Ann Arbor

Loved the Summer King! Great voices, powerful acting, beautiful vocal writing, terrific orchestral score. This opera has it all. Sets and costumes gorgeous.


Bill Betz – Clinton Twp

Normally we do not like contemporary operas, but this one was very good. Excellent music and vocals. We had the pre opera dinner and were not at all happy with it. I have no idea what the salad was supposed to be but it was terrible, also my wife’s meat was half fat, and no dessert.


RW – Grand Blanc

I loved the story and the performers. The music was difficult for me to listen to. there was no aria that I could hum on the way home. I guess I’m just too old to appreciate todays music.


Jonathan Chin-Davis – Brighton

When I first heard about The Summer King I wondered how will they perform an opera about baseball? I’ve never even enjoyed baseball really, but that question perplexed and intrigued me. The Summer King works and then some!!! Functional blocking alternates with Lyric Jazz stylized movements ending in classical static poses. Excellent fusion of traditional Operatic singing and recitative with experimental Jazz /Classical score. The principal roles were excellently cast. Engaging performances of a 3-D Libretto that draw the audience in to form their own opinions about the various character studies. The Civil Rights movement is shown through the less examined stage of the 1940’s sports world complete with glass ceilings, paternalisms and detoured routes to legendary acclaim.


Eleanor – Harrison Twp

We left at the intermission. Enough said.


Susanna – Grosse Pointe Park

My husband and I really enjoyed the Summer King. The setting and the lightning were uniquely astonishing and beautiful, and the music and performance were captivating.


Sandra Tornberg – Shelby Township

It was wonderful! The music and singing were beautiful- a fabulous production! Compliments to the MOT for this presentation and all the activities leading up to it. I was happy to see a diverse audience that included many young people! And the pre-opera discussion with Willie Horton, George Shirley, and composer Daniel Sonenberg was exceptional!


Julie – Farmington Hills

Loved it! The music was a brilliant blend of jazz, mariachi and modern but although atonal at times, still managed to be melodic. Strong performances, especially liked Grace. Sets were simple but conveyed the mood brilliantly with the light projections. Really enjoyed the way opera was fused with baseball to tell the story of not just Josh Gibson but the larger picture of civil rights in America. Especially enjoyed the staging of the baseball scenes. Well worth the trip downtown and the price of admission.


Daryl & Lucie Witte – Roseville

The opera needed a little more story line, especially showing how he was a star. Perhaps a segment of an inning in which he overwhelmed the opposing pitcher and thus won the game or series. The stats were great, but they needed to come alive.
I loved the scenery with the use of great photographs projected as the background. This really made the opera.
The music was good and it contained a wide variety of styles: a touch of Mexican, a touch of ragtime, some serious 20th century. All in all, it was a good contemporary opera.


Mugsy Coplin – Ann Arbor

The score (orchestration) had nothing to do with the singers. In the second act, the instrumental music drowned out the voices. However, the singing was extraordinary especially of the leading roles. Unfortunately the opera doesn’t merit the talent that performed it and the story is not rich enough to inspire an opera.


CB Fontana – Huntington Woods

I was anticipating something different, but I was not anticipating such a wonderful story explaining the professional life of Josh Gibson. Lester Lynch was on stage almost the entire opera and his powerful voice remained pure throughout. The changing sets kept my interest, a well as the orchestration changes incorporating Blues, Jazz, Mariachi so deftly handled by Maestro Mercurio. As I left with Comerica Park lights ablaze, I could only reflect just how baseball mirrors our culture. This work will have staying power.


F-L Family – Bloomfield Hills

Our family truly enjoyed this contemporary opera, including our 10 year-old daughter, a huge opera fan. The fusion of musical genres was very interesting, the set and staging were fantastic, the acting and voices and resonated with both the happy and harsh realities of the era.


Margaret – Bloomfield Hills

We were astonished and moved by this opera Who would have thought a baseball story would make such a wonderful topic, but it was so much more than a baseball story. Excellent acting as well as melodious voices. Bravo to the authors and to outstanding cast.


Alma Petrini – Redford

This is the first contemporary opera I have seen and was not disappointed. The singing and the sets were wonderful. I thought the three light circles on the front part of the stage for the batter, the pitcher and the catcher were very cleverly done.
The pre rehearsal dinner was superb – from the salad, salmon and dessert -just perfect! A real treat. Thank you!


Steve – Huntington Woods

Didn’t love the opera. The part that bothered me the most was the part where Josh Gibson was compared to Moses. Please lose it. Bringing religion into this opera was rather tasteless. Gibson’s dilemma hardly paralled Moses’ besides it was self inflicted.

I also didn’t enjoy the music. There was no real melody, it was just spoken tunes.



Please do NOT perform this opera again. I am sorry I drove 3 hours to see it. Mr. Mercurio seems to think that the orchestra should drown out all the singers–he generally does that. The score does not compliment the singing. I don’t think the orchestra and the singers were ever in the same key. This should have been a powerful story full of emotion. Poor Score with a fair (at best) libretto. If I had not studied the history of the characters prior to the performance, I would have had no idea what was going on.


Keith Otis Edwards – Dearborn

When Is an Aria NOT an Aria?

The word “aria” is Italian for “air.” Air in the sense of a song or a melody such as Bach’s “Air on a G-String” (originally in D). The most popular arias are often performed by themselves, apart from their opera. “Casta Diva” from “Norma” became popular as a trumpet solo. “Nessun dorma” has been performed by every brass band in the UK. Popular among vocalists and instrumentalists alike is the sardonic “A Real Slow Drag” from the opera “Treemonisha” by Scott Joplin. (And when will the MOT at last do a version of that masterpiece?) Arias, airs, melodies are not limited to music of the past either. “Batter My Heart” from “Doctor Atomic” by John Adams is gripping and intensely emotional, and it too is found on a CD collection of great modern arias. And yes, who can forget the rousing Soldier’s Chorus (“Soldaten! Soldaten!”) from “Wozeck” by Alban Berg?

There are passages in “The Summer King” which are referred to as arias, but they are nothing which could be described as a melody. One would think that given the period of the drama and the topic, a jazz style could be employed, and there are a few very brief passages which suggest jazz, but nothing in it lasts for more than four bars, and it quickly reverts to cacophony. If you heard any of the music, such as it is, performed without the singing tomorrow, you would fail to recognize any of it. The sheet music to the entire opera could be shuffled and distributed at random, giving the tuba player the glockenspiel part, and it could then be performed to the same effect as its original form. The only value of this work is as a social drama, and it would be improved were the music to be entirely removed and to have it performed as a play. As it is, it may be staged a few times, but then it will soon disappear over the horizon forever along with all the other non-music operas. Bad movies go direct to video, but this won’t even rate a CD. If the composer burns a few CDs of his own and distributes them to relatives, they will of course thank him graciously, but they’ll never listen to the entire thing, and the CD will end up in a junk drawer. People prefer genuine music, while this score is closer to movie sound effects.

Rather than squander good money on such blague, why not make-up your own opera? Buy a newspaper and take turns reading the editorials aloud with friends all hollering in sing-song voices! A noisy cafeteria could supply the orchestration. Surely you must admit that such cacophony would not be much different and certainly no worse than “The Summer King.”


Tom Taylor – Ann Arbor

Great story with well-drawn characters. Liked the scenes best where the musical language was consonant with the culture being portrayed. Those were the parts with jazz or Mexican styles – they had LIGHTENING.
The singers were all fine and inhabited their roles with conviction.
We had a lovely evening – wished more folks had turned out for this new work about a vital part of our society.


Margaret Winters – Grosse Pointe

The music was very accessible (modern Romantic, perhaps), the singing and acting very good. The story was a heroic one in the sense that the hero, Josh Gibson, had a fatal flaw, but must be admired for what he almost accomplished and for the legacy he left behind. I thought musically and for the plot the second act was more compelling than the first.


Conrad Donakowski – Okemos

The complex music matched the complex subject. Dissonant cadences evading easy resolution seemed a metaphor of America’s struggle that seemed recently to be headed for healing but is now hurting again.
Depth in the cast, plus imaginative staging complemented a challenging, deep score. Kudos to the MOT for including a contemporary extension of opera to our times in our sports-loving, racially conflicted, beloved city.
Let’s hear it for eclectic. Keep challenging us!


Marlene – Detroit

Wonderful! I love the fact that the MOT offers more than the old standards. Great story, great acting, strong vocals and a fine orchestra.


Kelsey – Northville

The opera was not my favorite. The music felt confusing and did not capture my senses or emotions. The theme was very understandable, but the abruptness of the transitions left too many gaps in time and experiences.


Jane – Bloomfield

I was disappointed in the music. Thought it would be more of the style of the era. Rest of it was very enjoyable. Costumes, staging and lighting excellent. Loved the voices.


Robert Hage – Rochester Hills

I was not impressed. There are so many great operas I have never seen to be dealing with this. I also would love to see Treemonisha. I think this was a gimmick that didn’t work.


Harvey – Farmington Hills

Loved the music. The rest was very boring and slowly progressing.


Lois – Plymouth

Very good story, sets, acting and singing. Can’t say I liked the music.


Mary Jo Durivage – Dearborn

LOVED it. The ending was especially moving. I do wonder what happened to the twins. Am glad this contemporary opera wa held at the opera house At least three have NOT. Am looking forward to Grapes of Wrath next season.


UnionSuitHero – St. Clair Shores

Overall I enjoyed the show. The singing of the main roles was VERY well done and I even caught a little tear in my eye at the very end.

A few small criticisms…

(1) There were at least 3 scenes (barber shop at the beginning and end and the the club scene with piano play on raised dais) that were stages so far to stage right that I literally could not see the performers. This is a great disappointing. I essentially looking at an empty stage from the view point of my seat.

(2) Music at the beginning (during the barber shop scene) seemed to be overpowering the singers and if I hadn’t been able to read the supertitles I would have had no idea what was going on (couldn’t see and couldn’t hear).

Again, overall the performance was good, the story was interesting and the set, especially the large projection screen, was very good. Thank you for bringing this opera to Detroit.


PDS – St. Clair Shores

The poor folks who don’t have high priced tickets and set off in the corners are not able to see the scenes set on the stage right . You have a large empty stage, with all the scene crammed on stage right, could not even see the barber chair.


Mad4puccini – Plymouth

Great story, great acting, great sets, wonderful stagecraft . Especially enjoyed the ending. Music?? Can’t understand how one can write 3 hours of Opera w/o a single tune? When the mariachi band was the musical highlight you know something is wrong.


Jack C – Ann Arbor

I support MOT’s decision to stage this opera. Why? It recalls some important history, has music with lots of colorful orchestration, good lyrics that tell the story, good movement on stage that also tells the story, and excellent singling and acting performances by the characters, Josh, Wendell and Grace. The opera will likely appeal, in future, to those who don’t enjoy most contemporary operas. Negatives are perhaps lack of acting by other members of the cast and the final two scenes, after Josh’s death. The opera should end with the stirring music of Sam’s singing at the end of Scene 5.


Pamela Williams – Detroit

I loved it! The singing, and story was so touching. The opera bought to life a Negro baseball player untold story. Lester Lynch voice was amazing. All the cast deserve standing ovations. I feel this opera will be seen again, and again for years. Thank you Detroit Opera House!


AK – Harrison Township

I’ll start with what I liked: the balletic poses of the baseball scenes, the sets , the wonderful rich voices, the infusion of ragtime and mariachi into the score . However, I was disappointed with much of the libretto and found the orchestration clashed with rather than enhanced the arias. As background in several sections, the atonal effects were stirring, but it didn’t work with the singers when the emotional strength of the arias needed it to. As always, kudos to MOT for encouraging contemporary opera, but I guess I’m a traditionalist and want melodic grandeur .


Dave – Avoca

Great show. My wife and I liked the story and history lesson


Maria – Detroit

Story: Good. Happy to learn history of Josh Gibson & integration of baseball.

Music: Mr. Mercurio did a great job. However, there were times that the music drowned out the singers.

Singers: Excellent! Strong, beautiful voices. Very difficult to sing, since the music never matched the melodies that they were singing. I don’t care for that style of opera.

Moses: Really?

On the whole, I’m glad that I heard this Opera, however, I never wish to attend it again. I prefer operas that are more lyrical; with arias or choruses you can find yourself humming or singing as you leave the performances.

As a rule, I have rarely liked contemporary opera for reasons that I have listed above. Show us some contemporary opera that more closely follow the likes of Mozart or Puccini. Can’t lose with them.


Barbara W – Warren

This was a very interesting and sometimes moving modern opera: Josh Gibson was pretty much a cipher before I saw it. Jackie Robinson was, of course, the hero of record; and the link between the two of them was the reporter Wendell Smith, acted and sung beautifully by Sean Panikkar. I wish the narrative had been a little clearer: I did not really get a demonstrated sense of how great Gibson was except by the telling of the other performers. There seemed to be a couple of false endings before the finale. Like a previous reviewer said, the opera should have ended with the singing of Sam, another wonderful artist (Kenneth Kellogg). All in all, I’m very happy that MOT is daring to present “unorthodox” opera.


Lorraine – Detroit

I am not a fan of contemporary operas. I thought the baseball theme would be interesting and different. However, I did not enjoy this opera. The music and story did not flow. I will stick to the Opera classics, they only get better with time.


George Waterman – Plymouth

Powerful story, great powerful singing, interesting staging, and great orchestral part – but, how can the composer not realize that great opera requires at least several great, melodic arias? The recitatives had more musical content than many other contemporary operas, but these great voices deseve soaring, melodic, song-like arias – I’m sure the composer is capable and I strongly recommend he revisit his composition and add this missing element. It might then be come frequently performed & a memorable part of the opera repertoire. Overall I enjoyed it.
By the way the several comments about orchestra overpowering the singers is, I’m reasonably sure, the impression in the balcony – I used to sit in the dress circle and experienced the same. The main floor is better balanced – I suggest Mr. Mercurio listen to the volume up there and try to find a better volume balance – an acoustics expert might have some recommendations.


Teresa Roddy – Sterling Heights

An excellent production. Great singing on the part of all the artists. Acting was super. Enjoyed it tremendously.