March 12, 1955. New York City. Charlie Parker is dead. But nobody knows it yet. In that twilight between the here and the hereafter, Parker sets out to write his last great musical work.
This is the setting of Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD, a chamber opera that invites the audience directly into the mind and heart of a musical genius. Today, on the 60th anniversary of Charlie Parker’s death, Opera Philadelphia proudly presents this FIRST LISTEN to the opera by Swiss American composer/saxophonist Daniel Schnyder.
We are listening to a portion of the very beginning of the opera, which happens to be Charlie’s first aria. This archival recording took place on the final day of the first workshop at the Academy of Music rehearsal hall in June 2014. The recording has an interesting story. For this workshop, tenor Lawrence Brownlee, who will sing the role of Charlie Parker in the June World Premiere, was not available due to a scheduled appearance at Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. The Opera hired another wonderful tenor who sadly fell very ill at the end of the workshop week. Without missing a beat, Daniel Schnyder gladly played the role of Charlie Parker on his saxophone! “It ended up being a wonderful opportunity for all of us to hear the nuance of the musical style Daniel created out of his own instrument,” said Opera Philadelphia General Director David B. Devan. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Schnyder has said the idea for the opera came to him when he first heard Brownlee sing. The composer immediately likened the color of the tenor’s voice and his technical command to the music of Charlie Parker. Set after-hours in the famed New York City jazz club Birdland, the chamber opera’s intimate setting and small supporting cast shine a spotlight onto Brownlee as the Grammy Award-winning bebop legend, with soprano Angela Brown as his mother, Addie. Additional characters in the opera include fellow jazz great Dizzy Gillespie (charismatic baritone Will Liverman), who once described Parker as “the other half of my heartbeat,” along with Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter (mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford) in whose apartment Parker died. His body would go unclaimed in the morgue for several days (the opera takes place in those hours of limbo), and the world didn’t learn of his death until the following week.
Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD, with a libretto by poet and playwright Bridgette A. Wimberly, receives its World Premiere on Friday, June 5, 2015, in the Aurora Series for Chamber Opera at the Perelman Theater, capping Opera Philadelphia’s 40th Anniversary Season. For tickets and information, visit www.operaphila.org.