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Image for Charlie Parker's Yardbird
Charlie Parker's Yardbird
Dayton Opera

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird (1 hour and 45 minutes)

Music by Daniel Schnyder
Libretto by Bridgette A. Wimberly
Performed in English with English supertitles

This program does not include an intermission. Recommended for ages 12 and up with parental discretion; includes references to drug use.

Opera Series Sponsors

The Opera Guild of Dayton

The Jesse and Caryl Philips Foundation

Jacqueline E. Lockwood Family Trust

Dr. Ron Anderson and Robb Sloan-Anderson

Artistic Director
Kathleen Clawson
Notes on the Production

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird explores the unfinished business and unresolved relationships of one of the greatest jazz musicians in history. Somewhere on the border of fantasy and reality, the opera burrows into a hypothetical dreamscape and asks, what if? What if Charlie Parker had composed a symphony? Or what if he had the chance to apologize to those he had wronged in his tireless pursuit of Bebop? And what if he had kicked his habit once and for all and focused on his music entirely? What if this hero’s journey had continued into the afterlife? What if the eponymous jazz club, Birdland, became Parker’s limbo? What if, in the uncertain period of waiting there, he found the inspiration to write his final masterpiece?

Librettist Bridgette A. Wimberly brings these possibilities to light and frames them
with the women who influenced Parker’s life. His saxophone spoke the language of jazz from all the many influences across the country, from New Orleans to New York City but especially out of the wild west of Kansas City. Parker’s lightning-fast style was born from bandstand battles and mixed with the mournful moans of the blues. But his horn also spoke the language of human experience. Visceral pain, heartache, joy, and celebration came through Parker’s saxophone loud and clear. Ms. Wimberly asks the most vulnerable questions in search of redemption. Working from Parker’s own quote, “If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn,” the vignettes probe his closest relationships. What if his first love, Rebecca, demanded an apology? Or what if his mother, Addie, offered her support and pronounced her pride? What if his beloved Doris renewed his faith in humanity? And what if his dear Chan caressed him one last time? Could his artistic partner, Dizzy Gillespie, inspire Parker to greater musical heights while insisting on sobriety? The influence of his relationships shaped Parker’s creativity in life--what if they were all there to help him after death?

Daniel Schnyder offers a synthesis of two seemingly disparate musical forms. It echoes the evolution of jazz with its inclusive beginnings as each musician brought their individuality to the forefront. Parker’s rapid-fire Bebop translates seamlessly to the vocal fireworks of operatic coloratura. The blue notes of jazz twist effortlessly into the roulades of opera. While jazz music is indelibly linked to improvisation, this opera is written down with Parker’s saxophone styling still ringing clearly through the clarion tones of the operatic tenor voice. And Parker’s music definitely asked questions but never took no for an answer.

As I’ve worked through the libretto and listened to this piece, I’ve found myself asking questions too. How do you lift up the voice of a generation? How do you honor Parker’s outstanding contributions? How do you relate to this genius that sought the oblivion of drugs? I choose to follow the lead of the composer and librettist. To ask questions and listen to a history that’s not always told. To embrace this emotive score with a curious mind and let the story of this bold artist wash over me; to wonder at the physical and vocal embodiment of Charlie Parker’s saxophone as it comes alive in a new medium, a new genre. To engage in the artistry of this cast and let their voices ring true and strong. And as the final stanza of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “Sympathy” falls from our hero’s lips, to honor the tradition of storytelling woven through with suffering yet focused on the limitless sky.

- Fenlon Lamb, Stage Director

Original Production Directed by Fenlon Lamb

Scenery, Properties, and Costumes, for this production were realized at the Arizona Opera

Scenic Studio and the Arizona Opera Costume Shop and are owned by Arizona Opera.

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