April 3, 2016
Charlie Parker continues to inspire and to stir controversy to this day. Would he have enjoyed an opera that suggests the twilight between his life and death, a time when his spirit could wander free of his body as it lay in a morgue waiting for identification? Swiss born composer/arranger Daniel Schnyder has a gem of an idea with his opera Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD, and a provocative one. Probably many an artist could relate to the pressure to create the composition most dear to them in their final hours. As he tries to write, the lead playing Parker, Lawrence Brownlee, sings, “So how do I capture these black dots, blue notes flying out of my horn? How do I freeze these notes on paper?” Bridgette A. Wimberly’s libretto is so strong that a play version of this opera should be explored.
The ladies who gave him life, his mother as sung by the marvelous Angela Brown, and his wives, Emily Pogorelc, Elena Perroni, Chrystal E. Williams, and his Baroness Tamara Mumford visit him on a stage shrunk by suspended photos as he scrambles to compose. As the opera comes to a close, Brownlee finds peace realizing that playing his saxophone was his life’s work, and he sings lines from Paul Lawrence Dumbar’s “I know why the caged bird sings.”
Commissioned by Opera Philadelphia, Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD fascinates with its bold premise. After its successful premiere in Philadelphia last June, the elite of the opera and jazz world arrived at The Apollo Theatre in Harlem, where Parker (1920-1955) the beloved jazz innovator played, for its New York Premiere on April 1, 2016.
Schnyder has created a niche composing works embracing classical and jazz techniques. As an arranger/composer, he has produced albums for many renowned jazz artists, and world music virtuosos. Having caught a thrilling concert this January at Bargemusic that featured Schnyder’s works: Parkour Musical for bass trombone and soprano saxophone, Mensch Blue Suit, Around the World, World Within Music Trio, I had to catch his opera.
From the first sustained notes sung by Brownlee, Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD sounded more starched and calculated. The invigorating invention of both Schnyder and Parker appears in structural contrasts - the extreme highs and lows sought in emotions and pitch, and the style fusion of the singers’ arias with the jazz-laced composition performed by fifteen members of the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Corrado Rovaris. His lovers all jump to a stratosphere where a few pitches meet their eulogistic needs, suggesting, perhaps, that his lovers were inter-changeable in Parker's mind.
This opera will be broadcast in November, 2016 in November, 2016 on NYC’s classical music station 105.9 WQXR and distributed nationally by the WFMT Radio Network.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Deirdre Towers