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Seattle Opera.

Charlie Parkers

February 22—March 7

“The audience practically raised the roof with their applause.”


Music often touches us in a way words cannot, and Schnyder’s score went straight to the heart.”


Music by Daniel Schnyder
Libretto by Bridgette A. Wimberly

What if you could realize one last dream before you die? While the body of tormented bebop innovator Charlie “Yardbird” Parker lies unidentified in a New York City morgue, his ghost travels back to the 1940s–50s heyday of Birdland, the jazz club named after him. As he struggles to complete his final masterpiece, the legendary saxophonist revisits the demons, inspirations, and women who have fueled and hindered his creative genius.

“The whole opera is about the dream of Charlie Parker to bridge these two worlds (of classical and jazz music), something that was historically true,” writes composer Daniel Schnyder, who is also a saxophonist and regularly melds jazz and classical idioms in his work. His dreamlike score for 7 voices and 24-piece classical orchestra showcases the unexpected pairing of a flexible operatic tenor with the fluid, improvisational spirit of bebop: a match made in music heaven.

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Charlie Parker

Hear from the creators

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, Madison Opera, 2017 © James Gill

In English with English Subtitles | at McCaw Hall
Performance Time: 90 minutes with no intermission

Please read out latest update on the current King County Public Health recommendations on attending events.

Special Events

Friday and Saturday nights post show live jazz at McCaw Hall

After the Friday and Saturday night performances join us in the grand lobby and enjoy the music of Charlie Parker and other Bebop artists performed by students and faculty of Jazz Ed. Concessions will be available and the lobby open for an hour after the opera concludes.

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Imagine having an opportunity to realize one final dream before you die. Charlie Parker has just passed away and while his body lies unidentified in the Bellevue morgue, his ghost appears at Birdland, the New York City jazz club named after him. He will try to compose a musical masterpiece before the news of his death becomes public.

“The Secret”
A panicked Nica de Koenigswarter, in whose segregated hotel suite Charlie died, finds him at last. She is searching for Chan, Charlie’s wife, who, Nica hopes, will identify Charlie’s body and thus protect Nica from scandal. Charlie begs her, “Keep this a secret for now. I’ve got to work.”

“Just Us Birds Trying to Fly”
Charlie tries to write, but the notes continue to escape him. “So how do I capture these black dots, blue notes flying out of my horn? How do I freeze these notes on paper?”

“Twelfth and Vine”
Looking for inspiration, Charlie remembers his youth in Kansas City. But the neighbors complain about the noise and sinfulness of his jazz. His mother, Addie, worries about his lifestyle and drug use.

Charlie’s first wife, Rebecca, is there with their young son. She and Addie lament the challenges of being a wife and mother to black males in the United States. “This land ain’t no place for a black man child, got dreams.”

“Addie’s Blues”
Charlie tells Addie he will make her proud of him one day, but Addie asks him to leave Kansas City for good, hoping to save his life. He asks her to take care of his wife and son.                     

“Charlie’s Angel”
Sensing his anguish, Doris, Charlie’s third wife, tries to help him make peace with himself and God. Charlie asks “So, if there is a God, why does the negro suffer? Is my prayer, is my music lesser, smaller in God’s eye?”

Nica hopes all will be well but fears the scandal that will occur when the headlines about where Charlie died appear in the morning papers.

“Bebop’s Gonna Change the World” 
Dizzy brings inspiration and the triumph of BeBop with him. 

“Love Sick”
Suddenly, Chan, the mother of two of Charlie’s children, appears. All at once, they are young again and reminisce about the first time they met.

“YATAG” Chan’s solo
But just as quickly Chan is gone from his arms as Moose the Mooch, his drug dealer, beckons. Despite Dizzy’s protest, Charlie leaves with Moose to get a fix. 

Maybe conquering California holds the key to Charlie's freedom. Dizzy sings, “Come on, Yard! Let’s get out of here! We still have to write that music down.”

Charlie sings “I’m a jazzman. I’m blowing all my pain out through this horn. I’m gonna heal the world with my horn. I ain’t gonna sit in the back of the bus no more, ain’t going around the back no more.”

“My Boy is King”
Addie hears Charlie playing for the first time. “Oh, listen, just listen to that. That’s my boy, that’s my boy, what a joy! My boy is King of Sax.”

“Pree is Dead”
While he is in California, Chan breaks the news that his two-year-old daughter is dead. “Pree is dead. Where were you to calm her fears? Where were you to dry her tears?”

“Relaxin’ at Camarillo/Bellevue”
Charlie breaks down. He is arrested for indecent exposure and sent to Camarillo State Hospital.

“My Horn”
Charlie realizes that playing the saxophone was his life’s work, and that there is no need to write a masterpiece.

“Next of Kin”
Charlie’s body has been indentified in the morgue, and when Addie walks in, she collapses in grief. Chan tries to make peace with her. Chan wants Charlie to remain in New York but Addie wants him buried in Kansas City. Soon Doris and Rebecca are there, and the women argue over where he is to be buried.

Addie, his three wives, and Dizzy sing of their love for Charlie.

“Starless Night”
Nica, alone on stage, also bids Charlie farewell.

“Why the Caged Bird Sings”
Charlie sings lines from Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s classic poem, “Sympathy.”

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Joshua Stewart

Charlie Parker

At Seattle Opera in 2019/20: Charlie Parker, Charlie Parker’s Yardbird

Hometown: New Orleans, LA
Seattle Opera Debut
Recently: Charlie Parker, Charlie Parker’s Yardbird (Atlanta and Arizona Opera); Tenor, Das Paradies und die Peri (Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra); Antenore, Zelmira (Belcanto Opera Festival)
Upcoming: Charlie Parker, Charlie Parker’s Yardbird (New Orleans Opera); Tenor, I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes (Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra); Tenor, A Child of our Time (City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Carnegie Hall)

Last Updated: January 2020

Joshua Stewart

Charlie Parker

Seattle Opera Debut
Feb. 22 & 26
Mar. 1 & 6

Frederick Ballentine

Charlie Parker

At Seattle Opera in 2020/21: Frederick Ballentine in Recital

Seattle Opera Debut: Armored Man, The Magic Flute ('17)
Previously at Seattle Opera: Charlie Parker, Charlie Parker's Yardbird ('20); Don José, Carmen ('19)
Hometown: Norfolk, VA
Recently: Sportin' Life, Porgy and Bess (English National Opera, Dutch National Opera, and Metropolitan Opera); Steersman, The Flying Dutchman (Cincinnati Opera); Amon, Akhenaten (Los Angeles Opera)
Upcoming: Willy, Impressario (Houston Grand Opera); Hoffmann, The Tales of Hoffmann (Opera Louisiane); Rodolfo, La bohème (Opera Florentine)

Last updated: September 2020

Frederick Ballentine

Charlie Parker

Feb. 23 & 29
Mar. 4 & 7