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Duke Ellington’s Only Opera to be Performed in Oakland

Duke Ellington’s only opera, Queenie Pie is scheduled for 12 performances during May at the Oakland Metro Operahouse in Oakland, Calif. Produced by the Oakland Opera Theater and the Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra, under the artistic direction of Tom Dean and musical direction of Deirdre McClure, it opens on May 10th and runs through May 25th. The stage director and choreographer is Michael Mohammed, the musical orchestrator and arranger is Marc Bolin, and the playwright is Tommy Shepherd.

Originally intended as an hour-long TV special, this production will be set on a television soundstage resembling one from the late 1960s à la The Ed Sullivan Show, and will feature the live big-band sounds of the Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra. Bay Area chanteuse Amanda King, stage and film actress Kathleen Antonia, and stage veteran Noah Griffin will star in the opera, one of Ellington’s final works.

Begun in the 1940s and left unfinished at the time of Ellington’s death in 1974, Queenie Pie, the story of a Harlem beauty queen, was written as a tribute to Madame C. J. Walker, the first female African-American millionaire. The opera was originally commissioned for a television program and designed to be an hour-long work with Ellington as narrator; after the telecast fell through, he continued to work on the piece until he died, leaving the work without a complete score or libretto. The opera has remained unperformed for over 20 years, and virtually lost since the death of Mercer Ellington, Duke Ellington’s bandleader son, in 1996.

The Oakland Metro Operahouse is located at 630 3rd Street (three blocks from Jack London Square). For tickets ($24 seniors; $28 advance; $35 at the door) and information, call 510-763-1146 or visit Oakland Opera.

Originally Published