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The New “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird” Opera


Lawrence Brownlee as Charlie Parker in the opera "Charlie Parker's Yardbird"
Lawrence Brownlee portraying Charlie Parker in "Charlie Parker's Yardbird" opera, Philadelphia 2015

Charlie Parker’s desire to explore the crossroads of jazz and modern classical music, including the innovations of Stravinsky and Varèse, has become an integral part of his legend. Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, the new opera that premiered in June, running for five sold-out performances under the auspices of Opera Philadelphia, is not an attempt to realize those ambitions, exactly, but it does depict a fantastical last attempt at Bird’s “jazz symphony” via a classical opera with bebop accents.

Parker is already deceased when the opera begins. The piece is set in a black-on-black noir Birdland, a nightclub purgatory where Bird’s spirit spends the two days that Parker’s body sat unidentified in the morgue. He’s determined to use that time to compose his symphonic masterwork, but memories of his tragic life continually intrude, distracting him from the task at hand.

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