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Vintage TV Room with old, plaid wallpaper.

Approaching Ali

West Coast Premiere

Music by D.J. Sparr, with libretto by Mark Campbell and Davis Miller

Location

The Space, front view

The Space

3460 Cavaretta Court ∙ Las Vegas ∙ 89103

Run Time

60 minutes

Intermission

No intermission

Language

English with English Surtitles

Premiered

West Coast Premiere. Original Premiere, Washington National Opera, 8 June 2013

Refreshments

Bar Service Available

Dress Code

From Dressy Casual to Come as You Are

D.J. Sparr, Mark Campbell and Davis Miller’s Approaching Ali was inspired by the latter’s deeply personal story, My Dinner with Ali, and the subsequent international best seller, The Tao of Muhammed Ali.

The poignant tale recounts how a bullied young boy (Miller) in North Carolina in the early 1960’s is galvanized to overcome some traumatic childhood events when he sees the charismatic and powerful icon, Muhammed Ali on television.  Young Miller follows his idol faithfully, continuing to draw inspiration from him.  More than twenty years later, as a writer on the brink of middle age, he seeks to rekindle that spirit of awe and gratitude, by visiting his boyhood hero in person at Ali’s mother’s home in Louisville, Kentucky.

Miller drives around indecisively, then steels his resolve, parks the car, nervously walks to the front door, and rings the bell.  A lifelong friendship is born.  Approaching Ali is sure to warm hearts with an uplifting message of brotherly accord, performed just days after what would have been Ali’s 80th birthday.

Casting for this West Coast Premiere of Approaching Ali includes the original star, bass Soloman Howard, with baritone David Kravitz, and Soprano Sheronda McKee-Dollar.  Joshua Horsch conducts.

Creators

  • DJ Sparr

    D.J. Sparr

    Composer

  • DJ Sparr

    D.J. Sparr

    Composer

    Composer and electric guitar soloist D. J. SPARR (b. 1975, Westminster, MD), who Gramophone recently hailed as “exemplary,” is one of the preeminent composer-performers of his generation. His eclectic composition style has been described as “pop-Romantic… iridescent and wondrous” (Mercury News) and “suits the boundary-erasing spirit of today’s new-music world” (New York Times). The Los Angeles Times praises him as “an excellent soloist” and the Santa Cruz Sentinel says that he “wowed an enthusiastic audience…Sparr’s guitar sang in a near-human voice.” In 2011, Sparr was named one of NPR listener’s favorite 100 composers under the age 40.
    D. J. was the Young American Composer-in-Residence with the California Symphony from 2011-14 and was Composer-in-Residence with the Richmond Symphony from 2009-11. His compositions have been commissioned and performed by organizations such as the Houston Grand Opera, North Carolina Opera, and Eighth Blackbird. Recent/upcoming works include Katrina: Concerto for Jazz Guitar and Orchestra (Arkansas Symphony) …To me from the earth… (CAM Raleigh, NC Symphony), & On Behalf: Metaphor Fourty-four (Tribeca New Music Festival).

    Of the premiere of Approaching Ali (Washington National Opera), the Baltimore Sun writes, “…Sparr knows how to send a vocal line soaring vividly and how to extract a great deal of color from a 10-member orchestra… It also demonstrates Sparr’s considerable potential; his first attempt in this tricky genre lands some very solid punches…like Ali in his prime, the score is nimble on its feet.”

    As an electric guitar soloist, D. J. has appeared with Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini (Parma, Italy), the New World, Alabama, Dayton, Fort Collins, Space Coast, and Winston-Salem Symphonies, and the Cabrillo Festival of Music under Marin Alsop. He maintains a busy calendar of solo performances from coast to coast, including appearances at the Hirschhorn Museum, Atlas Theater (Washington, DC), Spectrum, and the Flea Theater (NYC). He performed Kenneth Fuchs’s electric guitar concerto, Glacier, on the GRAMMY® award-winning album with the London Symphony under JoAnn Falletta recorded at Abbey Road Studios in August 2017. Glacier is the first electric guitar concerto to be part of a GRAMMY® award-winning project.

    A passion for musical performance grew from family encouragement at a young age. Three-year old D. J. stood in front of a television set holding his great-grandmother Violet Bond’s straw broom in hand pretending it was a guitar while Roy Clark and Buck Owens performed on the Television show Hee Haw. Noticing this, Violet gave him a toy Mickey Mouse guitar for his third birthday and a Ukulele for his fourth birthday. By age five, D. J. was taking guitar lessons and was soon performing original songs for a “captive” audience at his local music store, Coffey Music in Westminster, MD.

    In early high school, D. J. spent his late-night and weekend hours writing and recording music with a Fostex X-26 4-track recorder while attending Baltimore School for the Arts as a jazz guitar major. Surrounded by classical music he began to write compositions for a variety of instruments and attended summer composition programs at The Walden School and the Boston University Tanglewood Institute. D. J. continued honing his compositional craft at the Eastman School of Music (BM) and the University of Michigan (MM, DMA) studying with composers William Bolcom, Michael Daugherty, Christopher Rouse, Joseph Schwantner, and Augusta Read Thomas.

    J. has recently been featured on the Grammy-Award winning all-Kenneth Fuchs recording as the electric guitar soloist. Additionally, his new album, Electric Bands, featuring some of his latest chamber works, is now available through Innova Recordings.

    Hailing from Baltimore, D. J. lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with his wife Kimberly, son Harris, and their dogs Nanette and Bundini. Sparr is a faculty member at the Walden School’s famed Creative Musicians Retreat in Dublin, New Hampshire. D. J. Sparr’s music is published by Bill Holab Music.

  • Mark Campbell

    Mark Campbell

    Librettist

  • Mark Campbell

    Mark Campbell

    Librettist

    Mark Campbell’s work as a librettist is at the forefront of the contemporary opera scene in this country. A prolific writer, Mark has created 39 opera librettos, lyrics for 7 musicals, and the text for 6 song cycles and 2 oratorios. His works for the stage have been performed at more than 90 musical venues around the world and the names of his collaborators comprise a roster of the most eminent composers in classical music and include three Pulitzer Prize winners.

    Mark’s best-known work is Silent Night, which received a Pulitzer Prize in Music and is one of the most frequently produced operas in recent history. The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, an audience favorite, received a 2018 GRAMMY Award for Best Opera Recording. Mark's other successful operas include The Shining, Stonewall, Later the Same Evening, The Nefarious, Immoral but Highly Profitable Enterprise of Mr. Burke & Mr. Hare, The Manchurian Candidate, As One, The Other Room, Empty the House, Approaching Ali, A Letter to East 11th Street, Dinner at Eight, Volpone, Frida Kahlo and the Bravest Girl in the World, Bernadette's Cozy Book Nook, Stone Soup, and Bastianello/Lucrezia.His musicals include Songs from an Unmade Bed, The Audience and Splendora. He has also created a successful new adaptation of  Stravinsky/ Ramuz's The Soldier's Story.

    Mark has received many other prestigious prizes for his work, including the first Kleban Foundation Award for Lyricist, a Grammy nomination for Best Classical Recording, two Richard Rodgers Awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, three Drama Desk nominations, a Jonathan Larson Foundation Award, a New York Foundation for the Arts Playwriting Fellowship, the first Dominic J. Pelliciotti Award, and a grant from the New York State Council of the Arts.

    Recordings of his works include: The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs (Pentatone), Sanctuary Road (Naxos), Silent Night (Naxos), As One (Bright Shiny Things), Volpone (Wolf Trap Records), Bastianello/Lucrezia (Bridge), Rappahannock County (Naxos), Later the Same Evening (Albany) and Songs from an Unmade Bed (Ghostlight).

    Mark is also an advocate for contemporary American opera and serves as a mentor for future generations of writers through such organizations as American Opera Projects, American Lyric Theatre, and Washington National Opera’s American Opera Initiative. In 2020, he created and is funding the Campbell Opera Librettist Prize, the first and only award for opera librettists. The award is given annually and administered by OPERA America.

    Future premieres include The Secret River for Opera Orlando (Stella Sung, composer); A Nation of Others for the Oratorio Society of New York (Paul Moravec, composer); Edward Tulane for Minnesota Opera (Paola Prestini, composer); A Sweet Silence in Cremona for the Villa la Pietra–Continuum Theater, Florence (Roberto Scarcella Perino, composer); Supermax for Saratoga Opera (Stewart Wallace, composer; Michael Korie, co-librettist); A Thousand Acres for Des Moines Metro Opera (Kristin Kuster, composer) and the book for the musical Les Girls (Cole Porter, composer).

  • Davis Miller

    Davis Miller

    Librettist

  • Davis Miller

    Davis Miller

    Librettist

    Davis Miller is the author of The Tao of Muhammad Ali and The Tao of Bruce Lee. His writing has appeared in Rolling Stone, Men's Journal, Esquire, Sport magazine, Sports Illustrated, and numerous other periodicals. His first published story, 'My Dinner with Ali' was voted by the Sunday Magazine Editors Association to be the best essay published in a newspaper magazine in the US in 1989.

Cast

  • Solomon Howard, Bass, in semi-formal clothes and an overcoat.

    Soloman Howard

    Bass

    Muhammad Ali

  • Solomon Howard, Bass, in semi-formal clothes and an overcoat.

    Soloman Howard

    Bass


    Visit Website →

    Winner of the Kennedy Center’s 2019 Marian Anderson Vocal Award, Soloman Howard is a graduate of Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program and garners high praise from the press for his vivid performances on the great opera and concert stages of the world.  Soloman Howard’s voice is described as “sonorous” by The New York Times, “superhuman” by The Denver Post, and “a triumph” by The Guardian.

    Soloman Howard joins San Francisco Opera in the 2021-22 season for no less than three productions: Tosca, Fidelio, and Don Giovanni.  He appears with English National Opera in the role of The Commander in Poul Ruder's The Handmaid's Tale in a new production directed by the Artistic Director Annilese Miskimmon, bows as Colline in La bohème at the Teatro Real in a production by Richard Jones conducted by Nicola Luisotti, and reprises the title role of Approaching Ali, by composer D.J. Sparr and librettists Mark Campbell and Davis Miller, in a site-specific boxing venue with Las Vegas Opera.  Concert appearances of the season include Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with Music Director Fabio Luisi and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra as well as with Jakub Hrůša leading The Philharmonia and an all-Verdi Gala Concert at San Francisco Opera under the baton of Music Director Eun Sun Kim.

    Performances of 2019-20 included debuts at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in the company’s new production by Francesca Zambello of Luisa Miller conducted by Music Director Enrique Mazzola as well as at English National Opera in the same title in a new production by Barbora Horáková Joly conducted by Alexander Joel, and Sarastro in The Magic Flute in a return engagement with the Metropolitan Opera.

    Highlights of the recent past include Jacopo Fiesco in a new production of Simon Boccanegra at the Opéra national de Bordeaux conducted by Paul Daniel, Timur in Turandot at San Francisco Opera for his debut led by Nicola Luisotti, Grand Inquisitor in Don Carlo at Los Angeles Opera under the baton of Music Director James Conlon, Il Re in Aida for a debut at the Teatro Real, and Santa Fe Opera performances as Commendatore in Don Giovanni conducted by John Nelson and Colline in La bohème conducted by Jader Bignamini.  He also achieved great success with the roles of Somnus and Cadmus during an international tour of Semele with Harry Bicket leading The English Concert.

    For the Washington National Opera, Soloman Howard has bowed as Fafner in Der Ring des Nibelungen directed by Artistic Director Francesca Zambello and conducted by Philippe Auguin as well as in leading roles in The Magic Flute, Show Boat, Approaching Ali, Don Giovanni, and Nabucco.  He was heralded for the roles of Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the world premiere of the revised edition of Appomattox composed by Philip Glass in a production by Tazwell Thompson and in the title role of The Lion, the Unicorn, and Me written by Jeanine Tesori and J.D. McClatchy.

    On the concert stage, he has given performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with Music Director Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic on a European tour and with Christian Arming and the Vienna Chamber Orchestra on tour in Asia.  He has joined Harry Christophers and the Handel & Haydn Society for Mozart’s Requiem, Kent Tritle and the Oratorio Society of New York in performances of Mendelssohn’s Die erste Walpurgisnacht at Carnegie Hall, and with Christoph Eschenbach and the National Symphony Orchestra in a concert presentation of Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier.

    The Anti-Defamation League presented Soloman Howard with their “Making a Difference Award” in the summer of 2016 for raising awareness of voting rights though his performances of Appomattox at the Kennedy Center; and for bringing opera into the larger community.  Soloman Howard is a proud graduate of the Manhattan School of Music and of Morgan State University.

  • David Kravitz, baritone headshot, dramatically lit with an empty background.

    David Kravitz

    Baritone

    Davis Miller

  • David Kravitz, baritone headshot, dramatically lit with an empty background.

    David Kravitz

    Baritone


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    Hailed as “a charismatic baritone” by the New York Times, “magnificently stentorian and resonant” by Opera News, and “a first-rate actor” by Opera (UK), David Kravitz’s recent opera engagements include lead roles at Washington National Opera (Davis Miller in the world premiere of Approaching Ali), Chautauqua Opera (Captain Balstrode in Peter Grimes), Skylight Music Theatre (Scarpia in Tosca), Opera Santa Barbara (The Forester in The Cunning Little Vixen), Grand Harmonie (Don Pizarro in Fidelio), Opera Saratoga (Don Magnifico in La Cenerentola), Charlottesville (Ash Lawn) Opera (Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof), Boston Lyric Opera (Abraham in Clemency), Emmanuel Music (Nick Shadow in The Rake’s Progress and Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby), and the New England Philharmonic (Wozzeck in Wozzeck).  He recently created the lead role of De Sade in Nicola Moro’s Love Hurts at the Piccolo Teatro in Milan, Italy, and at Symphony Space in New York.  His many concert appearances include the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony, the Virginia Symphony, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, Emmanuel Music, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, and Boston Baroque.

  • Sheronda McKee-Dollar, D.M.A., Opera Las Vegas Diversity Coordinator

    Sheronda McKee-Dollar

    Soprano

    Odessa Clay

  • Sheronda McKee-Dollar, D.M.A., Opera Las Vegas Diversity Coordinator

    Sheronda McKee-Dollar

    Soprano

  • Jennifer Mathews Headshot

    Jennifer Mathews

    Mezzo-Soprano

    Sara Miller

  • Jennifer Mathews Headshot

    Jennifer Mathews

    Mezzo-Soprano

    Since 2007, Mezzo soprano Jennifer Mathews has sung with Washington National Opera Chorus where she also sang the roles of Cousin in Madame Butterfly (2017), 2nd Bridesmaid in the Marriage of Figaro (2010 and 2016), and Girl in Show Boat (2013).  In 2018, Ms. Mathews performed the role of Hansel in Hansel and Gretel with Opera NOVA in Virginia.  In 2010, she performed in Rigoletto (Madelenda) and The Merry Widow (Valencienne) with Opera Camerata. Before moving to Las Vegas in 2018, Ms. Mathews taught for 12 years.  Her last teaching position was at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology where she was the choral and theatre director and taught AP Music Theory. There, she directed and conducted musicals: Fiddler on the Roof, The Little Mermaid, Les Miserables, and Mary Poppins and directed plays: Connected, The Diary of Anne Frank and Peter and the Star Catcher.

  • Aldo Perrelli

    Aldo Perrelli

    Tenor

    Roy Miller

  • Aldo Perrelli

    Aldo Perrelli

    Tenor

    Tenor Aldo Perrelli is in the DMA program at UNLV, having received a Masters in Music from University of Wisconsin at Madison, and a Bachelor of Music from Northeastern Illinois University. For Opera Las Vegas, he performed Remendado in Carmen and was featured in Our Three Tenors and the One Amazing Evening concert at The Smith Center, celebrating the company’s Twentieth Anniversary celebration. Aldo has played the Rodolfo in La boheme and Lysander in A Midsummer Night's Dream for UNLV Opera Theater. Roles at the U. Wisconsin include Fritz (L’amico Fritz), and Giasone (Medea). For Northeastern, he was Frick (La Vie Parisienne). Concert performances include the Verdi, Saint-Saens, and Brahms Requiems, and Gounod’s Saint Cecilia Mass. Aldo most was most recently cheered by OLV audiences for his commanding performance as Justice Antonin Scalia in the West Coast Premiere of Derrick Wang’s Scalia/Ginsburg.

Creative Team

  • Joshua Horsch, posing with baton.

    Joshua Horsch

    Conductor

  • Joshua Horsch, posing with baton.

    Joshua Horsch

    Conductor


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    Praised for conducting with “steady acumen and considerable aplomb” and “awesome control” (Opera Today), Joshua Horsch is an extremely versatile operatic and symphonic conductor.  A two-time winner of the American Prize in Opera Conducting Joshua serves as Music Director and Principal Conductor of Opera Las Vegas. Joshua’s recent and upcoming conducting engagements include appearances with Atlanta Opera, Des Moines Metro Opera, Opera Orlando, Mobile Opera, Pacific Opera Project, Opera Las Vegas, Tri-Cities Opera, and Chicago Summer Opera.

    With a diverse repertoire of over fifty operas and a broad spectrum of orchestral and choral works, Joshua has recently held positions as a conductor/coach/chorus master on the music staff of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Michigan Opera Theatre, Florida Grand Opera, North Carolina Opera, Opera Saratoga, Pensacola Opera, Fort Worth Opera, the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Colorado Music Festival.  Joshua’s guest and workshop conducting includes work with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Omaha Symphony, the Oregon Bach Festival Orchestra and Chorus, the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, the Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic Orchestra, Orquestra Filharmonia de Chihuahua, the Lyatoshinsky Chamber Orchestra, the Newport Music Festival, the Colorado New Music Ensemble, the PENDULUM New Music Ensemble, the Boston Opera Collaborative, and the Boulder Bach Festival.

    As a dedicated interpreter of new works, Joshua has enjoyed a number of collaborations with many of today’s leading composers including Tom CipulloJennifer Higdon, and Libby Larsen.  For two seasons, Joshua served as Music Director/Conductor of the CU New Opera Workshop where he collaborated with composers Libby Larsen and Alberto Caruso as well as author Colm Tóibín and stage director Ron Daniels.  At Seagle Music Colony’s American Center for New Works Development, Joshua has conducted and played workshops for new works by Libby Larsen and Scott Eyerly.  For four seasons, Joshua served as conductor/co-founder of the Colorado New Music Ensemble where he programmed and conducted works ranging from John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 2 to Susan Botti’s chamber opera Telaio: Desdemona.  While a Festival Artist/Conductor at the Newport Music Festival, Joshua conducted members of the Rhode Island Philharmonic and Providence Singers in a series of contemporary choral/orchestral masterworks.

  • David Carl Toulson Headshot

    David Carl Toulson

    Director

  • David Carl Toulson Headshot

    David Carl Toulson

    Director

    Stage Director David Carl Toulson is consistently praised for his clarity in storytelling and ability to transform an opera’s characters into living breathing people. He has a passion for taking a show from the score to the stage, creating fresh exciting productions that capture the imaginations of his audiences allowing them to be transported into the magical world of opera.

    Since 2016 Mr. Toulson has been the Resident Stage Director for the Miami Beach Classical Music Festival where he has directed exciting repertoire including Janáček’s Cunning Little Vixen, Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, Corligliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles, Wagner’s Der Fliegende Holländer, Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos, Massenet’s Cendrillon and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges. His innovative production of Robert Ward’s The Crucible received considerable critical acclaim. The South Florida Classical Review stated that “…there was a naturalistic feeling to Toulson’s staging…that served the drama well. Toulson managed to imbue his staging with a vivid depiction of a community gripped by fear, hate and distrust…The Crucible is the finest offering to date of The Miami Music Festival…Those who care about opera as a living art form should not miss this opportunity to see this gripping work.”

    Regionally, Mr. Toulson has directed mainstage and education programs at companies such as North Carolina Opera, Central City Opera, Opera Theater of Saint Louis, Opera Idaho, Toledo Opera, Tri-Cities Opera, Winter Opera of St. Louis, Bel Cantanti Opera, Connecticut Opera, Ashville Lyric Opera, Tulsa Opera, and Piedmont Opera; nationally, he has worked for several seasons on the staging staffs of the Lyric Opera of Chicago and Washington National Opera.

    Mr. Toulson is extremely proud of his work training the next generation of opera singers. At the university level, he is currently teaching, directing, and coaching opera at Binghamton University where this past year he developed techniques to keep the students learning and performing in a virtual environment during the pandemic. This culminated in a virtual scenes program of duets & arias and a full production of Mozart’s La finta giardiniera that was filmed individually and edited together to complete the final work. Past university teaching and directing includes work at Temple University, The Catholic University of America, Webster University, and The University of South Carolina.

    Upcoming projects include directing Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Kamala Sankaram’s Monkey and Francine in the City of Tigers for Binghamton University, D.J. Sparr’s Approaching Ali for Opera Las Vegas, and working as the associate director on Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro at Seattle Opera.

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