press release: Madison Opera presents the Midwest premiere of Charlie Parker’s Yardbird on Friday, February 10 and Sunday, February 12 in the Capitol Theater at Overture Center for the Arts. With music by Daniel Schnyder and a libretto by Bridgette A. Wimberly, Charlie Parker’s Yardbird tells of the legendary jazz musician and the people closest to him.
The opera is set on the day that saxophone great Charlie Parker died in 1955. As his body lies unclaimed in a New York City morgue, Parker returns in spirit to the jazz club Birdland, determined to compose a final masterpiece. Family and friends blend in and out of his memories, including his three wives, his mother, his friend Dizzy Gillespie, and even his drug dealer.
Charlie Parker’s Yardbird premiered in June 2015 at Opera Philadelphia and was subsequently presented by the company at the Apollo Theater in New York in April 2016. The New York Times praised it for its “pulsing, jazz-infused score,” while the Wall Street Journal said, “its rhythms snap and swing, its melodies – including real arias – seize the ear, its ensembles crackle with energy.” Madison Opera will be only the second company to present this work, which runs 90 minutes without an intermission.
Madison Opera’s cast includes both debuts and returning favorites, as well as a number of singers who created their roles in the world premiere. Joshua Stewart, a young American tenor who has sung at La Scala, Bayerische Staatsoper, and Opera de Lausanne, debuts in the tour de force role of Charlie Parker. Angela Brown returns following her performance at Opera in the Park 2016 as Addie Parker, Charlie’s mother, a role she created in Philadelphia. Will Liverman, who sang Figaro in The Barber of Seville here in 2015, sings jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie, a role he created in Philadelphia. Krysty Swann debuts as Rebecca Parker, Charlie’s first wife. Angela Mortellaro, who sang Galatea in Acis and Galatea in 2013, returns as Doris Parker, Charlie’s third wife, a role she created in Philadelphia. Rachel Sterrenberg debuts as Chan Parker, his final wife, a role she created in Philadelphia. Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, in whose hotel suite Parker died, is sung by Julie Miller in her Madison Opera debut.
Directing this production is Ron Daniels, who staged the world premiere and was the opera’s dramaturg, involved in the creation and workshop process. John DeMain conducts, with members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra in the pit.
Composer Daniel Schynder will attend the opening night performance and join Smith for the Pre-Opera Talk that evening at 7pm in the Wisconsin Studio.
In addition to the performances, Madison Opera and its community partners are hosting a series of related events, collectively known as Extending the Stage, which culminate in a concert of Charlie Parker’s music with composer Daniel Schnyder and the UW-Madison’s Blue Note Ensemble. These events include Opera Novice; community previews; Opera Up Close; discussions of Charlie Parker’s life and music; and presentations of rare jazz films. All events are open to the public and the majority are free of charge.