Morgan State alumnus Soloman Howard, who plays Muhammad Ali, rehearses for the new opera "Approaching Ali." The music was composed by D.J. Sparr, a graduate of the Baltimore School for the Arts who was raised in Carroll County. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun / May 29, 2013)
The Baltimore Sun
Maryland roots in new 'Ali' opera: Composer D.J. Sparr grew up in Carroll County, graduated from Baltimore School for the Arts
In his typical rhyming style, Muhammad Ali might call it something like "a whopper of an opera."
The legendary boxer, who floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, has inspired "Approaching Ali," a chamber opera with music by Carroll County native and Baltimore School for the Arts alum D.J. Sparr. The work is based on Davis Miller's 1996 book "The Tao of Muhammad Ali."
Contemporary political figures have ended up in operas, "Nixon in China" by John Adams being the most prominent example. There is at least one opera about the Kennedys, at least two operas about Marilyn Monroe, and another about the slightly less significant, but certainly famous, Anna Nicole Smith.
"Setting Ali as an operatic character made sense," Sparr said. "He's sort of mythological, bigger than real life. He seems more than a single human being."
Washington National Opera gives the world premiere of the hourlong "Approaching Ali" next weekend at the Kennedy Center. It was developed as part of its American Opera Initiative, a project to commission new works by young, emerging American composers writing about American themes.
When Sparr saw a news release about the launch of the initiative a year ago, he was intrigued and sent off an email to the opera company.
"All of a sudden, a week later I was on the phone with them," Sparr, 37, said.
With Ali as the topic for an opera, it's no wonder he got the company's interest. He was quickly accepted into the program.