Opera Philadelphia’s production of ‘Yardbird’ moves on to Harlem’s Apollo

For the first time ever, the Apollo Theater in Harlem will be hosting opera, to be produced by Opera Philadelphia.

“Yardbird,” a new opera about jazz icon Charlie Parker, premiered in Philadelphia last summer. 

Opera Philadelphia co-commissioned “Yardbird” with the New York-based Gotham Chamber Opera, with Philadelphia getting the world premiere in June and Gotham planning the New York premiere in April at the Apollo, the venue where Charlie Parker actually performed.

In October, Gotham folded before it could produce the opera it paid for.

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That’s when the director of Opera Philadelphia, David Devan, called the Apollo to see if he could step in.

“It’s kind of amazing,” said Devan. “Out of adversity comes opportunity, every time.”

On short notice, Devan was able to pull together the original cast from Philadelphia’s premiere, including star tenor Lawrence Brownlee as the ghost of Charlie Parker and baritone Will Liverman as Dizzy Gillespie. While the singing talent will likely draw regular opera fans, Devan hopes their portrayals of bebop legends will attract new audiences.

“We expect there will be a hybrid audience, as it was here in Philadelphia,” said Devan. “But moreso, because the historical importance of the Apollo theater with these jazz greats. It will be a great mashup of operaphiles and jazz fans.”

Opera Philadelphia has never before produced a show outside of Philadelphia. Its new partnership with the Apollo could yield future projects, including a hip-hop opera slated for 2017.

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