Opera Profile: Charlie Parker’s Yardbird

By David Salazar
(Credit: Dominic Mercier/Opera Philadelphia)

Few American operas have garnered the same level of popularity over the past few years as “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird.”

The opera, written by composer Daniel Schnyder and librettist Bridgette A. Wimberly had its world premiere at Opera Philadelphia on June 5, 2015 in a production directed by Ron Daniels.

Eventually, the opera would garner performances throughout the U.S with such organizations as Madison Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Atlanta Opera, Arizona Opera, and even overseas at the English National Opera and Hackney Empire.

One of the major champions of the opera in these initial performances was tenor Lawrence Brownlee and soprano Angela Brown.

Short Plot Summary

After his recent death, Charlie Parker’s spirit finds itself in Birdland, a jazz club named after him. Nica finds his spirit in Birdland and wants his wife Chan to identify his body, which is currently at her segregated hotel suite. Bu Charlie wants her to keep his secret for a while so he can composed a new masterwork.

From there, he remembers growing up in Kansas City and remembers his mother and first wife Addie as they worry about the challenges of being a mother and wife to a Black man in the U.S. Charlie promises to make them both proud and asks his mother to take care of his wife and son.

His third wife Doris tries to get him to make peace with God. From there, we get an episode where Dizzy brings inspiration before jumping to a scene where Chan, Charlie’s wife, appears. He reminisces about the first time they met.

From there he encounters the drug dealer Moose the Mooch. Charlie then conquers California’s music scene, but upon his return, his wife breaks the news that his two-year-old daughter is dead.

Charlie suffers a breakdown and is arrested for indecent exposure. He then realizes that his life’s work was playing the saxophone and has no need to compose another masterpiece.

Charlie’s body is identified and his mother and all the major women in his life including his mother and wives argue over where his body should be buried.

As the opera ends, everyone sings their farewell to Charlie before he ends the opera singing from Dunbar’s poem “Sympathy.”

Watch and Listen

Check out this trailer from the Opera Philadelphia world premiere. 


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