Opera Philadelphia

Published31 Mar 2015

Opera Philadelphia Presents World Premiere – Company's First in Decades – of Charlie Parker's YARDBIRD

Five Performances in the Aurora Series at the Perelman Theater, June 5-14

Legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker (1920-1955) was “a genius who lived fast and died young, revolutionizing an art form in a few short years” (NPR). The Grammy Award-winning bebop legend is the subject of Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD, the first world premiere in almost four decades for Opera Philadelphia, recognized by Opera News as “one of the leading instigators of new work in the country.” The new chamber opera was created for American tenor Lawrence Brownlee, a nominee for the 2015 International Opera Male Singer of the Year Award, by composer Daniel Schnyder, whose “thrilling classical-tinged jazz blend…constantly pushes the envelope” (Jazz Times), to a libretto by award-winning poet and playwright Bridgette Wimberly. Directed by Ron Daniels under the leadership of Music Director Corrado Rovaris, Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD premieres in Opera Philadelphia’s Aurora Series for Chamber Opera, crowning the company’s 40th Anniversary Season with a five-performance run in the Kimmel Center’s intimate Perelman Theater (June 5–14). Tickets are now SOLD OUT as of June 2, 2015.

Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD was conceived and written for Brownlee’s agile, expressive voice, which Schnyder likens to the color and technical virtuosity of Parker’s music. As the New York Times notes, the tenor “soars easily up to ringing top notes, high Cs and even higher. Mr. Brownlee’s singing is a model of bel canto style.

“Taking on this role is a challenge that I have greatly enjoyed. It is a step outside of the Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini roles that I have been singing for many years,” says Lawrence Brownlee. “I am a great appreciator of jazz, gospel, classical, R&B, and Latin music, and I think this opera has elements of all of those genres of music. Some of the riffs that are associated with Charlie’s jazz virtuosity are reflected in Daniel’s music. Charlie’s life was filled with hardships and trials as well as successes, and I think this opera will bring people an even greater appreciation for the man behind the music that we all love so much.”

“Since launching the American Repertoire Program in 2012, Opera Philadelphia has been committed to supporting composers who are telling American stories, and in Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD we chronicle an iconic musician whose triumphs and tragedies are truly operatic,” says David B. Devan, General Director and President of Opera Philadelphia. “Daniel Schnyder and Bridgette Wimberly have crafted a work that captures Charlie Parker’s complex musical genius and troubled life in an engaging an honest way. We are honored to bring together a diverse group of artists, some of whom are new to opera, to create a work that will expand the boundaries of operatic music through the influence and infusion of Parker’s music.”

Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD owes its inception to Corrado Rovaris, Opera Philadelphia’s Jack Mulroney Music Director, who first met Schnyder in 2011. “I was taken with his compositional style,” explains Rovaris, at whose suggestion the composer devised the idea of writing for Brownlee. “When Daniel listened to Lawrence Brownlee, he immediately likened the color of his voice, the virtuosity of his singing, and his technical command to that of Charlie Parker. Thus, the idea for the opera was born.”

Set in New York City on March 12, 1955, the day Parker died, Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD invites its audience directly into the mind and heart of a musical genius. In the twilight between the here and the hereafter, Parker sets out to write his last great musical work. The famed New York City jazz club Birdland becomes his personal limbo, where he revisits the inspirations, demons, and women who fueled his creativity. In an illuminating preview video, librettist Bridgette A. Wimberly explains: “It’s inspirational, and it’s moving, and it’s colorful, and it’s strong, and it’s American.” Hailed by the New York Times as “one of the country’s most powerful chroniclers of the black underclass,” Wimberly made her off-Broadway debut to sold-out houses in 2001 at the Women’s Project, with the first of her eight plays, Saint Lucy’s Eyes, starring Ruby Dee, under the mentorship of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein.

Composer and performer Daniel Schnyder has won renown in both the classical and jazz fields. An accomplished saxophonist, he has toured Europe and Australia with his trio, playing the music of Gershwin, Bach, Vivaldi, Wagner and Ellington in addition to his own compositions, which bridge the realms of classical, jazz, and world music. His output includes orchestral variations on themes by such non-classical music icons as Duke Ellington, Jimi Hendrix, and the Rolling Stones, and he designs programs for orchestras outside the mainstream concert format, as played by the Calgary Symphony, the Absolute Ensemble, and at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Under the direction of Ron Daniels, who brings to the project his extensive experience in multiple genres, including opera, theater and film, Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD costars soprano Angela Brown, whose “real secret is a purity and presence that can send even the quietest passages floating out to the back of the house” (New York Times), as Parker’s mother, Addie. Familiar from her leading roles at the Metropolitan Opera and her touring recital, “Opera…from a Sistah’s Point of View,” Brown has a long association with Opera Philadelphia, having performed the role of Cilla in the East Coast Premiere of Margaret Garner, as well as the title roles in Aida and Ariadne auf Naxos, and the female leads in Don Carlo, Il Trovatore, and Porgy and Bess. “I hope that people will learn something about Charlie Parker, and be both inspired and entertained by YARDBIRD,” Brown says. “Having operas that represent African-American subjects are very important, because we helped build this country.”

Praised by Opera News for his “noble sound and bearing,” baritone Will Liverman, a member of Opera Philadelphia’s Emerging Artists Program, creates the role of jazz great Dizzy Gillespie, with mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford, who impressed the Wall Street Journal with her “rich tone, incisive phrasing and focused, highly physical acting,” portraying Parker’s longtime friend and patron Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, in whose apartment the legendary jazz master died.

To complement the world premiere production of Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD, Opera Philadelphia offers a trio of enrichment events at community locations around the city: a screening of Clint Eastwood’s movie BIRD (1988), starring Forest Whitaker in the role that won him the Cannes Film Festival’s award for best actor (April 8, Philadelphia Clef Club); a free preview titled A TASTE OF OPERA: Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD (May 15, Philadelphia Museum of Art); and In Recital: Lawrence Brownlee and Damien Sneed, a program of original spiritual arrangements drawn from the tenor’s 2013 album Spiritual Sketches, at the National Historic Landmark where Marian Anderson sang as a child (June 8, Union Baptist Church, Philadelphia).

Opera Philadelphia’s American Repertoire Program has already resulted in such success stories as the East Coast premieres of Kevin Puts’s Silent Night, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize, and of Ricky Ian Gordon’s A Coffin in Egypt, an Opera Philadelphia co-commission starring Frederica von Stade, as well as a production of Nico Muhly’s Dark Sisters that built upon the success of its New York premiere. The new commission of Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD reflects the company’s commitment to programming works relevant to the multicultural Philadelphia community, and to broadening and diversifying opera’s audience; as radio station WRTI-FM observes, Opera Philadelphia “is clearly not your father’s opera. It’s actually more like your hipster nephew’s opera.”


Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD

Music by Daniel Schnyder
Libretto by Bridgette A. Wimberly
Performed in English with English supertitles


June 5, 7m, 10, 12, and 14m, 2015

The Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts

Performance times: Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. The estimated running time is one hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.

Tickets to Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD are now on sale, and may be purchased at operaphila.org or by calling 215.893.1018.

The Aurora Series is underwritten by the Wyncote Foundation. The production of Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD received funding from OPERA America’s Opera Fund. The production is underwritten in part by the Aaron Copland Fund for Music.


Friday, May 15, 2015 | 5:45 p.m.-6:45 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.–8:15 p.m.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, Philadelphia, PA 19130
FREE with Museum admission
$20 for adults with discounts for seniors, students, and youth; Museum members and children 12 & under admitted free.
Opera Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Clef Club pay tribute to bebop virtuoso Charlie Parker and preview the World Premiere of the new opera Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD. This Art After 5 presentation combines a jazz ensemble performing some of Bird’s greatest hits, along with opera singers who will provide a first listen to the music of YARDBIRD by composer Daniel Schnyder and librettist Bridgette A. Wimberly.

Becoming Charlie Parker: A Conversation with Lawrence Brownlee
Wednesday, May 20 | 6:00 p.m.
Art Sanctuary, 628 S. 16th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19146
International operatic superstar Lawrence Brownlee comes to Art Sanctuary’s Celebration of Black Writing for an intimate conversation about his life, work, growing up in the church, and becoming jazz icon Charlie Parker in Opera Philadelphia’s World Premiere production of Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD (June 5-14 at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts). The new opera by composer Daniel Schnyder features a powerful libretto by Bridgette A. Wimberly, hailed by The New York Times as “one of the country’s most powerful chroniclers of the black underclass.” Merging the musical worlds of opera and jazz, Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD is as uncompromising in its artistic vision as the “Yardbird” himself.  Join us at the Art Sanctuary to meet Mr. Brownlee and learn more about this great artist recently hailed by Ebony Magazine for “breaking down barriers in opera.”

Spiritual Sketches with Lawrence Brownlee and Damien Sneed
Monday, June 8 | 7:00 p.m.
Tickets: $15
Union Baptist Church
, 1910 Fitzwater St, Philadelphia, PA 19146

Acclaimed tenor, and star of Charlie Parker's YARDBIRD, Lawrence Brownlee, collaborates with renowned gospel, jazz, and classical musician Damien Sneed for an exciting program of original spiritual arrangements. Many of the selections on the program are from Spiritual Sketches, their 2013 recording which will be available for sale at the event. Selections on the program include inspiring version of such well-known spirituals like “Deep River,” “Every Time I Hear the Spirit,” “Down by the Riverside,” and many more. The program will be held at Union Baptist Church, a National Historic Landmark where trailblazing Philadelphia contralto Marian Anderson sang as a child.


Charlie Parker's YARDBIRD will be broadcast in its entirety on Saturday, July 4, from 12:00 to 2:00 p.m. on WRTI-FM (90.1) and the station’s classical stream at www.wrti.org

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