Charlie Parker’s Yardbird
Daniel Schnyder & Bridgette A. Wimberly • Apr. 10, 13, 16, 18, 20, 22, 2021
While the body of the legendary tormented saxophonist Charlie “Yardbird” Parker lies unidentified in a New York City morgue, his ghost travels back to Birdland, the famed New York City jazz club named after him. As he struggles to complete his final masterpiece, the great bebop innovator revisits the demons, inspirations, and women who have both fueled and hindered his creative genius.
With the aid of his strong mother Addie, three of his four wives, and his partner in the bebop jazz revolution, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie will struggle to calm his demons and write his new masterpiece before his body is identified in the morgue and this gig is up forever. Can he do it, or will the demons of his past rear their ugly heads?
Join us on a freeform expedition into the mind, heart, and personal purgatory of the man they called Yardbird.
This production is supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Artistic Team
Conductor - Antony Walker
Stage Director - Tomé Cousin+
Set Designer: Iana Dobreva+
Costume Designer: KJ Gilmer+
Lighting Designer: Todd Nonn
Stage Manager: Alex W. Seidel
Assistant Conductor - Glenn Lewis
Chorus Master - Mark Trawka
Associate Coach/Pianist - James Lesniak
Assistant Stage Director - Kaley Karis Smith*
+ Pittsburgh Opera debut
* Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist
** Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist alumni
- Broadway World - Pittsburgh Opera To Perform Charlie Parker's YARDBIRD For Live, Socially-Distant Audiences, April 10-22
- Opera Wire - Pittsburgh Opera to Present ‘Charlie Parker’s Yardbird’
- Trib Live - Things to do in Western PA - March, 2021
- Observer Reporter - Pittsburgh Opera to present first-ever Pittsburgh performances of "Charlie Parker's Yardbird"
- Broadway World - Photos: Pittsburgh Opera Presents Charlie Parker's YARDBIRD
- Latrobe Bulletin - Events of Area Interest
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Preview: Charlie Parker focus of Pittsburgh Opera's latest live production
- WQED-FM - Voice of the Arts podcast interviews
- Trib Live - Things to do in Western PA - April, 2021
- Pittsburgh Magazine - Top Pick: From home or the Strip, hear “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird” from Pittsburgh Opera
- Entertainment Central Pittsburgh - Pittsburgh Opera’s ‘Charlie Parker’s Yardbird’ Examines the Talented and Troubled Musician’s Life
- KDKA-TV CBS Pittsburgh- Pittsburgh Today Live - PTL Weekend Guide
- Broadway World - Photos: First Look at YARDBIRD from Pittsburgh Opera
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Review: ‘Charlie Parker’s Yardbird’ soars at Pittsburgh Opera
We want you to have the best experience possible at our performances!
- Run time: Approximately 1 hour, 28 minutes with no intermission
- Understand Every Word: Charlie Parker's Yardbird is sung in English with English supertitles projected above the stage at all performances
- Download our official Study Guide
- Recommended Listening and Reading List
- Parking Downtown: get real-time parking availability
- Pre-Opera Talks before each performance
- Audio Description available:
- Pittsburgh Opera provides an Audio Guide that explains the characters, synopsis, and background for Charlie Parker’s Yardbird.
- Please call 412-281-0912 ext. 266 to listen to Charlie Parker’s Yardbird Audio Guide. The recording lasts about seventeen minutes and is available 24/7.
- Braille Programs available
- Large-Print Programs available
As the opera begins, Charlie Parker's spirit finds itself at Birdland, the jazz club named after him. He has just died; his body is still at the segregated hotel suite of Nica de Koenigswarter. Panicking about the scandal that will ensue when his body is found in her rooms, Nica finds his spirit at Birdland. She wants Chan, Charlie's wife, to identify his body; but Charlie begs Nica not to tell Chan where he is, to keep his secret for a while, until he has time to compose a masterpiece.
Looking for inspiration, Charlie remembers growing up in Kansas City. His neighbors complain about all the noise he makes, learning to play saxophone—particularly the tritone, "the Devil's interval"—while his mother, Addie, worries about his lifestyle in the age of Jim Crow laws. Rebecca, Charlie's first wife, joins Addie in a lament about the challenges of being a wife and mother to black males in the United States. Hoping to save his life, Addie tells Charlie he must leave Kansas City. He promises to make her proud one day, and asks her to take care of his wife and son.
Charlie's third wife, Doris, tries to help him find peace; but there are still unanswered questions. Dizzy Gillespie, on the other hand, brings Charlie inspiration, and together the two musicians triumph as Bebop is born.
Charlie then remembers how he met Chan and went off to conquer California with Dizzy, despite his heroin addiction. Meanwhile, Addie remembers her pride upon hearing Charlie play on the radio.
In California, Charlie hears from Chan that their two-year old daughter, Pree, is dead. Charlie breaks down and ends up in Camarillo State Hospital. Music facilitates his recovery.
By now Charlie's body has been discovered. Addie wants him buried in Kansas City, but Chan wants to bury him in New York. Doris and Rebecca join the argument over where Charlie is to be buried while the world sings, "Bird lives!"
Charlie realizes that playing the saxophone was his life's work, his masterpiece. He makes peace with himself, frees his soul, and sings lines from Paul Laurence Dunbar's classic poem, "Sympathy."
Adapted from Opera Philadelphia and Wikipedia
Listen to Pittsburgh Opera General Director Christopher Hahn give a brief synopsis of Charlie Parker's Yardbird featuring excerpts from Opera Philadelphia's 2016 Apollo Theater New York premiere recording.
Click play below or download this excerpt for an offline treat!
- “Bebop's Gonna Change the World” - trumpet/instrumental
- “Twelfth and Vine” - sung by Patricia Angela Brown as Addie Parker and Lawrence Brownlee as Charlie Parker
- “Bebop's Gonna Change the World” - sung by Will Liverman as Dizzie Gillespie and Lawrence Brownlee as Charlie Parker
- “Love Sick” - performed by Emily Pogorelc as Chan
- “My Boy is King” - sung by Angela Brown as Addie Parker
- "My Horn" - sung by Lawrence Brownlee as Charlie Parker
- "Farewell" - performed by the cast of the 2016 Apollo Theater New York premiere