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'Charlie Parker's Yardbird' Makes Midwest Debut at Madison Opera for 2016-17 Season

By Philip Trapp on Mar 28, 2016 07:12 PM EDT

Charlie Parker's Yardbird, the unique "jazz opera" about influential 20th century saxophonist Charlie Parker, will make its debut in the Midwest next season. The opera was recently added to Madison Opera's 2016-17 schedule.

As we previously reported, the opera first opened at Opera Philadelphia, and will make its New York premiere next month at the Apollo Theater.

Madison Opera director Kathryn Smith saw the play last June in Philadelphia. Impressed by the production's incorporation of jazz music in an opera setting, she conceived for Madison to be the second theater company to produce the program. As she told The Cap Times, the staging is a powerful showing of operatic vocals merged with modern jazz inflection:

"It's a 100 minute opera that is written for serious opera voices, but it melds jazz into it quite brilliantly," Smith said. "It's gotten the strongest reviews of any new American opera last year."

Smith indicated that the opera would be promoted in conjunction with the Greater Madison Jazz Consortium, a nonprofit organization that aims to expand the audience for jazz music in the Midwest.

The opera takes a unique approach with its subject matter, beginning with Parker's death in 1955. The bulk of the performance presents a dreamlike scenario with Parker's spirit investigating the immediate future of music and his lasting impression on the art.

The opera's music is produced by Opera Philadelphia's Daniel Schnyder, a seasoned saxophonist himself. Speaking to All About Jazz during the play's original Philadelphia run, the composer discussed examining what Parker's specter may have conjured post-mortem:

"[I]t was certainly one of Parker's dreams to do things with a full orchestra, so the premise of the opera is that in the 48 hours after he dies, he has the chance to do what he couldn't while he was alive. It also allows us to reflect on his life, and it allows me as the composer to go musically into the future as Parker dreams about the music to come after him, music which in fact we have already experienced!"

Be on the lookout for the production to begin with Madison Opera's forthcoming season. If you're in New York City next month, you can catch the play on Friday, April 1 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, April 3 at 3:00 p.m. at the Apollo Theater.

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TagsCharlie Parker, Madison Opera, Madison Jazz Consortium

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