Kenneth Kellogg the opera bass performing the enigmatic jazz opera ‘Champion’ with SFJazz and Opera Parallele, has come home to San Francisco, his opera home, as once an Adler Fellow one remains forever spawned from San Francisco Opera. Kellogg, who is married to a female opera singer himself, stands 6’5” says his mother in law, a seasoned family therapist in Berkeley. Not that Kellogg needs family therapy and as a towering bass he must have enormous stage presence. So much so Kellogg blurs the line between professional athlete and professional opera singer, even singing the anthem at the Warriors game last Saturday night, as himself. That’s not the only reason he came to town though. There’s a whole new type of opera making it’s San Francisco premiere after opening in St. Louis.
Kellogg sings the lead role in this new kind of opera, a jazz opera. He will be in eight performances as the young version of a world class boxer, almost nightly, from Friday, February 19 at 7:30 pm to the 28th. It’s staged by SFJazz at it’s hall designed for jazz, Miner Hall, rather than at a traditional opera venue. Miner Hall provides for video and elaborate staging while remaining small enough that any seat looks good. ‘Champion’ features a piano, bass and drums along with a chorus. Check out the cast of characters, including a drag queen and Caribbean paraders. The running time seems more like a dance performance than an opera, as Act One runs 70 minutes, intermission 15 – 20, Act II 75 minutes. Note it’s the SFJazz banner that hangs in the BART station in San Francisco, with the hook, ‘I kill a man and I’m a hero, I love a man and I’m evil’. The boxer is saying he feels forgiven for killing an opponent and unforgiven for preferring men personally.
Kellogg played in a variety of popular and crowd pleasing operas at San Francisco Opera in the past, including the comedic ‘La Fille du Regiment’ and ‘Gianni Schicchi’. Kellogg’s repetoire ranges to devilish as he has played the nemesis such as Mephistopheles in ‘Faust’ or a jailer in ‘Tosca’. This time it’s something new, an enigma. Indeed, that’s the question, is he good or bad, to be forgiven or not, a hero or a demon. He plays a tragic figure in ‘Champion’, a real world champion boxer named Emile Griffith. Kellogg plays the young version and Arthur Woodley plays the older, haunted version. ‘Champion’, composed by trumpeter and composerTerence Blanchard, is a true story out of American history about trying to reconcile one’s identity with one’s world. More specifically it’s about a gay boxer who kills his opponent and finds that accepted or forgiven, yet the boxer as a gay man in a hyper macho world must live marginally because of whom he loves.
The female equivalent would be say being a lesbian among models, actresses or cheerleaders. What’s not to like. It’s interesting that being gay remains outside the perception of what is super feminine or hyper macho, to use the term of SFJazz. Hyper macho images have usually been seen as the object of jokes about being gay. Even Saturday Night Live had the ‘Ambiguously Gay Duo’ of super heroes. Who to this day can resist the Village People. This blogger was in London once at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ‘Planet Hollywood’ in the West End, the theater district. ‘YMCA’ came on the video screen. The mothers in the house who had brought their kids for their birthdays or a special event all got excited and sang along rather than their kids. It makes one proud to be an American. Sing it with me now, come on everybody.
The Imitation Game; and Jeffery Lafayette
Seriously though, we enlightened citizens of the San Francisco Bay Area know men who are gay are every bit the gentlemen and scholars, the athletes, the sons and fathers and brothers, that other men are or should be and in some instances even more so. Consider the British historical film with Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightly, about the World War II code breaker Alan Turing who designed an early computer to decipher German intelligence and end the war. The scientist saved countless lives for the Allies yet after the war he was coerced into hormone therapy to cure his sexual preference. He committed suicide. The government had recruited Turing as a mathematician to break the German code called Enigma, before he was discovered to be a homosexual.
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Let me just say, meanwhile, the attackers who surrounded and punched an innocent young man while he was walking at the San Francisco marina during the Super Bowl will be identified. Jeffery Lafayette says twenty so called straight guys from out of town and in SF for the Super Bowl surrounded him and he did fight back. The newscast showed cuts on his knuckles.
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Tickets to ‘Champion’ cost $40, $65, $125 and $185. SFJazz members save the $7 fee. Miner Hall is an easy walk from Civic Center BART. The two story building features a bar on each floor and a balcony with picture windows all around. Patrons may bring beverages and snacks into the theater. For more information: Champion.