An opera inspired by jazz giant Charlie Parker has been announced to open at the Seattle Opera on 22 February 2020. Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, by saxophonist/composer Daniel Schnyder and award-winning poet and playwright Bridgette Wimberly, will run until 7 March.
The work stars two American tenors who alternate in the Parker role, Joshua Stewart and Frederick Ballentine, the latter coming to the opera fresh from playing Don José in Seattle Opera’s Carmen. Tickets for Charlie Parker’s Yardbird are available online at seattleopera.org.
The opera begins as Parker’s body lies unidentified in a New York City morgue, before his ghost goes back to the 1940s and 1950s heyday of the New York club named for him, Birdland. The audience will see Parker’s struggle to complete his final masterpiece, as he revisits the demons, inspirations and women who both helped and hindered his creative genius.
“While I wanted the opera to be about Parker’s real life, I did not want it to be a typical biography,” says Wimberly. “I searched for those private stories that helped us understand him as son, husband, musician, and man. His mother Addie [played by Angela Brown] sings about the fear of her son being lynched, as well as her pride and love for the musician he has become. When he dies, she sings of the pain in her heart. Through her story, we understand Parker’s.”
Parker’s own music is not featured in the show, but excerpts from his storied catalogue will be played by local jazz organisations Seattle JazzED in the lobby of the venue after each Friday and Saturday performance. A musical celebration of Parker’s life and legacy is also set for the Royal Room on 24 February, with a screening of Bird to be presented on the 20th at SIFF.
“Today,” says Naomi André, Seattle Opera scholar in residence, “opera is increasingly an important art form to showcase black talent and black stories — from The Life and Times of Malcom X, Margaret Garner and of course, Charlie Parker’s Yardbird. Opera can be a space of liberation and activism; here in the opera house, Black people and all people of colour should be able to experience a homecoming.”
Bird 100, the year-long celebration of Parker’s life and career, will continue throughout 2020, building towards the 100th anniversary of his birth on 29 August 1920.