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Arts Desk

Charlie Parker Returns To The Apollo

YardbirdOperaPhila.jpg
Charlie Parker's YARDBIRD, a production of Opera Philadelphia, is making its Harlem debut at the famed Appolo Theater.

Saxophonist Charlie Parker is returning to Harlem's Apollo Theater more than 60 yeas after his death thanks to Opera Philadelphia's production of Charlie Parker's Yardbird. The Philadelphia Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns reports from Harlem.

David Patrick Stearns: The gift shop of the Apollo Theater has baby shirts that say "Future Legend" - recognizing the many who started out here, beginning with Ella Fitzgerald in 1934. But in a theater that has seen everything, opera is new.

Mikki Shepard: People say, Why opera? It's about voice and guess what? That's what the Apollo is about too, right? Great voices, great singers. People who may not love jazz, who may not love opera, but they love to hear a good voice. And so for us it checks all the boxes off.

DPS: Yet, the Apollo's Mikki Shepard and Opera Philadelphia's David Devan momentarily despaired that Charlie Parker's Yardbird wouldn't make its announced debut in Harlem. Following a successful premiere at the Kimmel Center, the opera was to be presented at the Apollo by Gotham Chamber Opera, which abruptly went out of business in the fall of 2015. Devan recalls the moment he heard that news.

David Devan: For, I don't know, 30 minutes I thought it wasn't happening and then I literally  started calling the Apollo. But Mikki Shepard from the Apollo was dialing me at the same time and we both said, how are we going to do this?

DPS: The $400,000 needed to present the opera without Gotham came together quickly. 

MS: You know, it's a situation where the whole could be greater than the sum of its parts.  We've never been funded for opera. But I think the combination made it interesting to people and made them commit to it.

DPS: Opposites attract? Maybe they aren't so opposite after all. Many stories at the Apollo have operatic scope.  And Charlie Parker's Yardbird is just one of them.