By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following information to post about a local opera production that is both exciting and an inspired choice to mark February as Black History Month:
For more information about the cast and the production as well as about purchasing tickets ($25-$114), go to:
With music by Swiss composer Daniel Schnyder (below top) and a libretto by writer and poet Bridgette A. Wimberly (below bottom), the acclaimed opera “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird” tells of the legendary jazz musician and the people closest to him.
The opera, which melds jazz and opera, is set on the day that saxophone great Charlie Parker died in 1955. As his body lies unclaimed in a New York City morgue, Parker returns in spirit to the jazz club Birdland, determined to compose a final masterpiece. Family and friends blend in and out of his memories, including his three wives, his mother, his friend Dizzy Gillespie and even his drug dealer.
Charlie Parker’s Yardbird premiered in June 2015 at Opera Philadelphia (below is tenor Lawrence Brownlee, in a photo by Dominic Mercier, in the title role of Charlie Parker in the Philadelphia production) and was subsequently presented by the company at the Apollo Theater in New York City in April 2016. (You can hear an excerpt in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
The New York Times praised it for its “pulsing, jazz-infused score,” while the Wall Street Journal said, “its rhythms snap and swing, its melodies – including real arias – seize the ear, its ensembles crackle with energy.”
Madison Opera will be only the second company to present this work, which is sung in English with projected text and runs 90 minutes without an intermission.
“I saw Charlie Parker’s Yardbird when it premiered in Philadelphia and instantly knew it would be a perfect opera for Madison,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), Madison Opera’s general director. “The very American story and the exciting jazz-inflected music fit perfectly into our ever-expanding range of repertoire.”
She adds, “It’s not a straightforward narrative of Parker’s life, but rather elements of his life as refracted through his memories and imagination, and particularly his relationships with the women in his life.”
Madison Opera’s cast includes both debuts and returning favorites, as well as a number of singers who created their roles in the world premiere.
Joshua Stewart (below), a young American tenor who has sung at La Scala, Bayerische Staatsoper, and Opera de Lausanne, debuts in the tour de force role of Charlie Parker.
Angela Brown (below) returns following her performance at Opera in the Park 2016 as Addie Parker, Charlie’s mother, a role she created in Philadelphia.
Will Liverman, who sang Figaro in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville here in 2015, sings jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie, a role he created in Philadelphia.
Krysty Swann debuts as Rebecca Parker, Charlie’s first wife. Angela Mortellaro, who sang Galatea in Handel’s Acis and Galatea in 2013, returns as Doris Parker, Charlie’s third wife, a role she created in Philadelphia.
Rachel Sterrenberg debuts as Chan Parker, his final wife, a role she created in Philadelphia. Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, in whose hotel suite Parker died, is sung by Julie Miller in her Madison Opera debut.
Directing this production is Ron Daniels (below), who staged the world premiere and was the opera’s dramaturge, involved in the creation and workshop process.
John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) conducts, with members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra in the pit.
DeMain says: “I am so happy to be a part of Madison Opera’s Midwest premiere of Charlie Parker’s Yardbird. Parker was consumed with music, breathing it day and night. All of us who are passionate about performing and listening to music can identify with this phenomenal musician and will not want to miss this jazz-infused opera, the perfect expression of Parker’s range and depth as a musician.”
Composer Daniel Schnyder will attend the opening night performance and join Smith for the Pre-Opera Talk that evening at 7 p.m. in the Wisconsin Studio.
In addition to the performances, Madison Opera and its community partners are hosting a series of related events, collectively known as “Extending the Stage,” which culminate in a concert of Charlie Parker’s music with composer Daniel Schnyder and the UW-Madison’s Blue Note Ensemble.
These events include Opera Novice; community previews; Opera Up Close; discussions of the life and music of Charlie Parker (below); and presentations of rare jazz films.
All events are open to the public and the majority are free of charge.
RELATED EVENTS: EXTENDING THE STAGE
Opera Novice: Jazz Opera? Friday, Jan. 20 | 6-7 p.m. The Margaret C. Winston Madison Opera Center, 335 W. Mifflin Street. FREE and open to the public
New to opera? Passionate about Puccini, but not sure about a jazz opera? Join General Director Kathryn Smith for a short, fun, and informative evening exploring the history of jazz and opera, including a live performance of an aria from Charlie Parker’s Yardbird. With plenty of time to ask questions, it’s the perfect jump-start for the opera-curious.
Community Preview of Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, Tuesday, Jan. 24 | 7-8 p.m. Capitol Lakes Retirement Community, 333 W. Main St. FREE and open to the public
Join a Madison Opera staff member for a multimedia look at Charlie Parker’s life, the history of the opera Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, and some insights into Madison Opera’s production.
Opera Up Close, Sunday, Feb. 5 | 1-3 p.m. The Margaret C. Winston Madison Opera Center, 335 West Mifflin Street. Admission: $20; free for full-season subscribers and full-time students with ID; $10 for two-show subscribers. Tickets available at the door.
Come even closer with a behind-the-scenes preview of Charlie Parker’s Yardbird. A multimedia presentation on Charlie Parker and the history of this opera will be followed by a roundtable discussion with the leading artists of Madison Opera’s production. There is no better way to get “up close” to this acclaimed new opera.
A Charlie Parker Concert and Discussion with Daniel Schnyder and the Blue Note Ensemble Thursday, Feb. 9 | 7:30 p.m. Morphy Recital Hall, UW-Madison. FREE and open to the public
Composer Daniel Schnyder joins UW-Madison’s Blue Note Ensemble for an evening featuring music by Charlie Parker, with solos performed by both Schnyder and UW-Madison saxophone students. The evening includes an aria from Charlie Parker’s Yardbird and a discussion about Parker and the opera with Schnyder, UW-Madison Professor of Saxophone Les Thimmig, and General Director Kathryn Smith.
Pre-Opera Talks: Friday, Feb. 10 |7 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 12 | 1:30 p.m. Wisconsin Studio at Overture Center. FREE to ticket holders
Attend an entertaining introduction to Charlie Parker’s Yardbird one hour prior to curtain. On Friday night, composer Daniel Schnyder will join General Director Kathryn Smith to talk about the piece. Be sure to arrive early, as space is limited.
An Evening of Rare Jazz Films: Alicia Ashman Library. Friday, Feb. 3 | 7 p.m.; Goodman South Madison Library. Tuesday, April 11 | 6 p.m. FREE and open to the public (Below is footage of Charlie Parker playing and of people discussing the man and his artistic achievement.)
Jazz archivist Gary Alderman will present and explain films of the historically significant innovators of modern jazz, including the only two known existing videos with sound of Charlie Parker.
Among the other musicians shown will be those relevant to Parker’s music and career, including Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.
The Life and Music of Charlie Parker: DeForest Area Public Library: Monday, Feb. 13, 6:30 p.m.; Alicia Ashman Library: Friday, Feb. 24, 7 p.m.; Fitchburg Public Library: Sunday, Feb. 26, 2 p.m.; Oregon Public Library: Friday, March 10, 6:30 p.m. FREE and open to the public
UW-Madison Professor of Saxophone Les Thimmig (below) will talk about Charlie Parker’s life and music, as well as the history of bebop.
More information is available at www.madisonopera.org/education.
ALERT: Just a reminder that this morning from 11 a,m. to 1:20 p.m., members of Classical Revolution Madison (below) will perform a free concert a Fair Trade Coffee House, 418 State Street. The program includes the first movement of Franz Schubert‘s sublime cello Quintet in C Major; the first movement of Schubert’s “Arpeggione” Sonata in A Minor for cello as arranged for guitar and viola; “Deh Vieni” from the opera “Don Giovanni” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and “Flow My Tears” by John Dowland.
By Jacob Stockinger
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may remember that twice in the past month or so, I have written about the lack of African-American young people going into or at least studying classical music.
The first blog entry by me, written for Martin Luther King Jr. birthday holiday and the second Inauguration of President Barack Obama (below), brought in some great reader comments that you should be sure to read:
And then I wrote again about this on the occasion of Black History Month, which is held each February, and specifically linked to NPR’s story about conductor Marin Alsop rediscovering the classical side of jazz great James P. Johnson (below, in a photo by William Gottlieb).
Here is a link to that posting:
Now it turns out that I am hardly alone in thinking about this question and about how to draw young black students from hip-hop, rap, pop, R&D and jazz to classical music.
NBC reporter Ron Mott filed a terrific report, one that is even inspirational that aired this past week on the top-rated network news show, the NBC Evening News with Brian Williams.
It is a story about the very accomplished McGill brothers (below), originally from the South Side of Chicago – much in the news these days for gun violence. Their parents supported their music lessons and they played in the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra. (See the joint YouTube video at bottom.)
Brother Anthony is the principal Clarinet player in the prestigious Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.
Brother Demarre is the principal flute player in the well-known and highly respected Seattle Symphony Orchestra.
Both brothers have played with many orchestras and performed a lot of chamber music, Both teacher and do outreach to schools as well as perform. Both won Avery Fisher grants – the only sibling ever to do so. And their list of accomplishments goes on and on.
Both men speak not only musically with eloquence on their chosen instruments; they are also articulate spokesmen for why classical music can be beneficial and should be pursued by more black youth – and, I would add, by more black adults as audience members.
In fact, they are so impressive, I think they should be invited again (Anthony played his clarinet at the first Inauguration) to The White House for a nationally broadcast concert of classical chamber music. What great role model they are for all young people, but especially African-American young people, who often either get negative press coverage or are ignored by the mainstream media.
Here is the report as it appeared on NBC TV:
And here is the version that appeared on NBC’s website devoted to news and features about African-Americans called ‘The Grio” (the name is derived from the West African word for the tribal member who keeps oral history and is a “storyteller” who passes along music, poetry and drama as well as stories and news):
You can keep up with the latest developments of the these two remarkable brothers. You can find a lot of their individual and joint performances and master classes by going to YouTube and typing their names in the search engine. It is well worth the effort, believe me, and was eye-opening.
You find yourself wondering: HOW CAN SUCH ADMIRABLE ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND INSPIRATIONAL HUMAN INTEREST ESCAPE THE NOTICE OF THE MAINSTREAM PRESS AND MEDIA FOR SO LONG? So thank you, Ron Mott, Brian Williams and the NBC crew.
And, most of all, thank Anthony and Demarre McGill and their parents!
By Jacob Stockinger
What is the best way to celebrate Black History Month, which ends on Wednesday?
One way is to recall some uncovered or previously neglected black or African-American composers of art music or concert hall music. Ever hear of Joseph Boulogne, the Chevalier des Saint Georges? I hadn’t either. Maybe someday someone will program his music in concert. In the meantime, here is a clip:
Here is a link to a deeply informative website with several helpful pages about him and lists of all sorts of other neglected black composers of classical music, or so-called “Afri-classical” music:
And here is a link to a daly blog that has helpful information more than one month out of 12:
Another approach is to recall that the influence that black music has had on American music and composers such as Aaron Copland. That may help to explain the burst of programs, local and national, featuring George Gershwin (below), who incorporated blues, jazz and spirituals into his early “crossover” music.
After all, incorporating black music in America was not unlike the way that Brahms incorporated Gypsy tunes and dance rhythms or the way that Haydn and Beethoven used peasant dances like the landler into European music or the way Chopin used Polish idioms such as the mazurka and polonaise.
But this year I decided I wanted to highlight the way that African-American music has influenced very well-known European composers of classical music.
Some obvious ones come to mind, including Antonin Dvorak (the “New World” Symphony), Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel (below) and Francis Poulenc. It’s curious how the French seem especially open to new and foreign cultural influences.
Anyway, the piece that has grabbed my attention this year is the captivating “Blues” movement from Ravel’s Violin Sonata, especially in a stunningly beautiful performance on the outstanding new Sony CD “French Impressions” by violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Jeremy Denk. It is in the YouTube video below and starts at the 11-minute mark.
What pieces would you play to do the same?
The Ear wants to hear.