Daniel Sonenberg is 2 for 2.

The Maine composer learned Thursday that Michigan Opera Theatre will produce “The Summer King,” which Sonenberg wrote about Negro League baseball star Josh Gibson.

Michigan Opera is the second national opera company that will stage a full production of the new opera. Pittsburgh Opera premieres the piece on April 29.

Sonenberg said he was “overjoyed” by the news.

“A second production is extremely important for an opera to develop a life of its own, and probably every bit as rare and hard to come by as a world premiere,” he said. “And Detroit is a great baseball town, and one with a rich Negro League history.”

Michigan Opera will perform “The Summer King” from May 12-20, 2018. Stephen Lord is the company’s principal conductor. Lord is a frequent guest conductor for Opera Maine, formerly known as PORTopera.


A longtime baseball fan, Sonenberg has worked on the opera for much of the past decade. He teaches at the University of Southern Maine and lives in Portland. Portland Ovations premiered the opera as a staged concert in May 2014.

Sonenberg flashed some of his baseball knowledge Thursday when he provided the name of a Negro League ballplayer who played in Detroit. “Hall-of-Fame player Turkey Stearnes, like Josh, one of the greatest hitters ever, played the first half of his career with the Detroit Stars,” he said.

He hopes more companies add the opera to their schedules, and is especially interested in seeing it staged in Kansas City, another city with deep Negro League roots, and Cooperstown, New York, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, where Gibson was enshrined in 1972.

Sonenberg rewrote the opera after the Portland staged concert, working with Pulitzer Prize-winning librettist Mark Campbell to refine and focus the story. He’ll travel between Portland and Pittsburgh frequently in April, working with the company there during rehearsals while keeping up with his teaching responsibilities at USM.

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:


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