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Seattle Opera.

Charlie Parkers
Yardbird

Overview

A swift-paced opera with a pulsing, jazz-infused score.”

The New York Times


Music by Daniel Schnyder
Libretto by Bridgette A. Wimberly

Finding himself in a deserted limbo, the ghost of tormented jazz great and bebop innovator Charlie “Yardbird” Parker struggles to complete one last masterpiece. In a series of flashbacks, the legendary saxophonist remembers the heyday of famous New York City jazz club Birdland and revisits the demons, inspirations, and women who have fueled and hindered his creative genius.

“Marked by long melismatic phrases and highly virtuosic and individualized vocal ornamentation, the pyrotechnic vocal displays in bel canto draw a direct parallel to the rapid fire musical lines of jazz” (The Daily Beast). The dreamlike score for 7 voices and 24-piece classical orchestra showcases the unexpected pairing of a flexible operatic tenor with the fluid, improvisational spirit of bebop: a match made in music heaven.

Listen to the music

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, Lyric Opera of Chicago, 2017 © Todd Rosenberg

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird is currently available to purchase as part of a season ticket package. Individual opera tickets go on sale May 22. Remind Me

In English with English Subtitles | at McCaw Hall
Performance Time: 90 minutes with no intermission

 

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Synopsis

Imagine having an opportunity to realize one final dream before you die. Charlie Parker has just passed away and while his body lies unidentified in the Bellevue morgue, his ghost appears at Birdland, the New York City jazz club named after him. He will try to compose a musical masterpiece before the news of his death becomes public.

“The Secret”
A panicked Nica de Koenigswarter, in whose segregated hotel suite Charlie died, finds him at last. She is searching for Chan, Charlie’s wife, who, Nica hopes, will identify Charlie’s body and thus protect Nica from scandal. Charlie begs her, “Keep this a secret for now. I’ve got to work.”

“Just Us Birds Trying to Fly”
Charlie tries to write, but the notes continue to escape him. “So how do I capture these black dots, blue notes flying out of my horn? How do I freeze these notes on paper?”

“Twelfth and Vine”
Looking for inspiration, Charlie remembers his youth in Kansas City. But the neighbors complain about the noise and sinfulness of his jazz. His mother, Addie, worries about his lifestyle and drug use.

“Calvary”
Charlie’s first wife, Rebecca, is there with their young son. She and Addie lament the challenges of being a wife and mother to black males in the United States. “This land ain’t no place for a black man child, got dreams.”

“Addie’s Blues”
Charlie tells Addie he will make her proud of him one day, but Addie asks him to leave Kansas City for good, hoping to save his life. He asks her to take care of his wife and son.                     

“Charlie’s Angel”
Sensing his anguish, Doris, Charlie’s third wife, tries to help him make peace with himself and God. Charlie asks “So, if there is a God, why does the negro suffer? Is my prayer, is my music lesser, smaller in God’s eye?”

“Scandal”
Nica hopes all will be well but fears the scandal that will occur when the headlines about where Charlie died appear in the morning papers.

“Bebop’s Gonna Change the World” 
Dizzy brings inspiration and the triumph of BeBop with him. 

“Love Sick”
Suddenly, Chan, the mother of two of Charlie’s children, appears. All at once, they are young again and reminisce about the first time they met.

“YATAG” Chan’s solo
But just as quickly Chan is gone from his arms as Moose the Mooch, his drug dealer, beckons. Despite Dizzy’s protest, Charlie leaves with Moose to get a fix. 

“California”
Maybe conquering California holds the key to Charlie's freedom. Dizzy sings, “Come on, Yard! Let’s get out of here! We still have to write that music down.”

“Jazzman”
Charlie sings “I’m a jazzman. I’m blowing all my pain out through this horn. I’m gonna heal the world with my horn. I ain’t gonna sit in the back of the bus no more, ain’t going around the back no more.”

“My Boy is King”
Addie hears Charlie playing for the first time. “Oh, listen, just listen to that. That’s my boy, that’s my boy, what a joy! My boy is King of Sax.”

“Pree is Dead”
While he is in California, Chan breaks the news that his two-year-old daughter is dead. “Pree is dead. Where were you to calm her fears? Where were you to dry her tears?”

“Relaxin’ at Camarillo/Bellevue”
Charlie breaks down. He is arrested for indecent exposure and sent to Camarillo State Hospital.

“My Horn”
Now recovered, Charlie says goodbye to his saxophone. “I chose you, my horn. I don’t believe I ever chose anything else but you.”

“Next of Kin”
Charlie's body has now been discovered in the morgue, and when Addie walks in, she collapses in grief. Chan tries to make peace with her. Chan wants Charlie to remain in New York but Addie wants him buried in Kansas City. Soon Doris and Rebecca are there, and the women argue over where he is to be buried.

“Farewell”
Addie, his three wives, and Dizzy sing of their love for Charlie.

“Starless Night”
Nica, alone on stage, also bids Charlie farewell.

“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”
Charlie realizes that playing the saxophone was his lifes work, and that there is no need to write a masterpiece. He sings lines from Paul Lawrence Dumbar’s classic poem, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

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Cast

Joshua Stewart

Charlie Parker

At Seattle Opera in 2019/20: Charlie Parker, Charlie Parker’s Yardbird

Hometown: New Orleans, LA
Seattle Opera Debut
Recently: Charlie Parker, Charlie Parker’s Yardbird (Atlanta Opera); Charlie Parker, Charlie Parker’s Yardbird (Arizona Opera); Giove, Le nozze di Teti e di Peleo (Rossini in Wildbad)
Upcoming: Tenor, 9. Sinfonie (City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra)

Last Updated: December 2018

Joshua Stewart

Charlie Parker

Seattle Opera Debut
Feb. 22 & 26
Mar. 1 & 6

Frederick Ballentine

Charlie Parker

At Seattle Opera in 2019/20: Charlie Parker, Charlie Parker's Yardbird

Seattle Opera Debut: Armored Man, The Magic Flute ('17)
Hometown: Norfolk, VA
Recently: Sportin' Life, Porgy and Bess (English National Opera); Steersman, The Flying Dutchman (Cincinnati Opera); Cacambo, Candide (Washington National Opera)
Upcoming: Sportin' Life, Porgy and Bess (De Nationale Opera Amsterdam); Don Jose, Carmen (Annapolis Opera); Sportin’ Life, Porgy and Bess (Cincinnati Opera)

Last updated: December 2018

Frederick Ballentine

Charlie Parker

Feb. 23 & 29
Mar. 4 & 7

Angela Brown

Addie Parker

At Seattle Opera in 2019/20: Addie Parker, Charlie Parker's Yardbird

Seattle Opera Debut
Hometown: Indianapolis, IN
Recently: Tosca, Tosca (Portland Summer Musicfest); Addie Parker, Charlie Parker's Yardbird (Atlanta Opera); Yuletide (Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra)
Upcoming:  Porgy and Bess Suite (Phoenix Symphony Orchestra); 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing (US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville)

Last updated: December 2018

Angela Brown

Addie Parker

Seattle Opera Debut
Feb. 22, 23, 26, 29
Mar. 1, 4, 6, & 7

Jorell Williams

Dizzy Gillespie

At Seattle Opera in 2019/20: Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker’s Yardbird

Hometown: Brentwood, NY
Seattle Opera Debut: Hannah Before, As One (’16)
Recently: Genie, Sympathy (Victory Hall Opera); Morales, Carmen (PORTopera); Nardo, La finta giardinera (On-site Opera)

Last Updated: December 2018

 

 

Jorell Williams

Dizzy Gillespie

Mainstage Debut
Feb. 22, 23, 26, 29
Mar. 1, 4, 6, & 7

Shelly Traverse

Chan Parker

At Seattle Opera in 2019/20: Chan Parker, Charlie Parker's Yardbird

Hometown: Seattle, WA
Seattle Opera Debut: Hero, Beatrice and Benedict ('18)
Seattle Opera Chorus Member since 2015
Recently: Valencienne, The Merry Widow (Tacoma Opera); Pamina, The Magic Flute (Vashon Opera) 

Last updated: January 2019

Shelly Traverse

Chan Parker

Feb. 22, 23, 26, 29
Mar. 1, 4, 6, & 7

Jennifer Cross

Doris Parker

At Seattle Opera in 2019/20: Doris Parker, Charlie Parker's Yardbird

Hometown: Boise, Idaho
Seattle Opera Debut: Glasha, Katya Kabanova ('17)
Seattle Opera Chorus Member since 2009
Recently: Chorus, Madame Butterfly, The Barber of Seville, Beatrice and Benedict, Aida (Seattle Opera)
Upcoming: Chorus, Il trovatore, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, Carmen (Seattle Opera)

Last updated: January 2019

Jennifer Cross

Doris Parker

Feb. 22, 23, 26, 29
Mar. 1, 4, 6, & 7

Chrystal E. Williams

Rebecca Parker

At Seattle Opera 2019/20: Rebecca Parker, Charlie Parker's Yardbird

Hometown: Virgina
Seattle Opera Debut
Recently: Rebecca Parker, Charlie Parker's Yardbird (Arizona Opera); Charlotte Werther (Opera Deleware); Rebecca Parker, Charlie Parker's Yardbird (English National Opera)

Last Updated: December 2018

Chrystal E. Williams

Rebecca Parker

Seattle Opera Debut
Feb. 22, 23, 26, 29
Mar. 1, 4, 6, & 7

Cast

Creative Team

Kelly Kuo

Conductor

At Seattle Opera in 2019/20: Charlie Parker’s Yardbird

Hometown: Oregon
Seattle Opera Debut
Recently: La traviata (Kentucky Opera); Macbeth (Anchorage Opera); Charlie Parker’s Yardbird (Lyric Opera of Chicago)
Upcoming: Camelot (Indianapolis Opera)

Last Updated: December 2018

Kelly Kuo

Conductor

Seattle Opera Debut

Ron Daniels

Director

At Seattle Opera in 2019/20: Charlie Parker’s Yardbird

Hometown: Cambridge, MA
Seattle Opera Debut
Recently: Madame Butterfly (Lyric Opera of Kansas City); Orfeo ed Euridice (Opera Theatre of Saint Louis); Lucia di Lammermoor (Santa Fe Opera)

Last Updated: December 2018

Ron Daniels

Director

Seattle Opera Debut

Riccardo Hernandez

Scenic Designer

At Seattle Opera in 2019/20: Charlie Parker’s Yardbird

Hometown: Cuba
Seattle Opera Debut
Recently: La traviata (Houston Grand Opera); Lucia di Lammermoor (Santa Fe Opera); Charlie Parker’s Yardbird (English National Opera)
Upcoming: La traviata (Lyric Opera of Chicago)

Last Updated: December 2018

Riccardo Hernandez

Scenic Designer

Seattle Opera Debut

Emily Rebholz

Costume Designer

At Seattle Opera in 2019/20: Charlie Parker’s Yardbird

Hometown: New York, NY
Seattle Opera Debut
Recently: Orfeo ed Euridice (Opera Theatre of Saint Louis); Lucia di Lammermoor (Santa Fe Opera); Charlie Parker’s Yardbird (English National Opera)

Last Updated: December 2018

Emily Rebholz

Costume Designer

Seattle Opera Debut

Creative Team

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Sponsors

2019/20 Season Sponsor

In memory of Karyl Winn

Production Sponsor

Tagney Jones Family Fund at Seattle Foundation
Office of Arts & Culture | Seattle

 

Main Image © iStock/pidjoe | Photos: Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, Lyric Opera of Chicago, 2017 © Todd Rosenberg