Marjukka Tepponen

Keeping the winter alive

Yardbird, Onegin and Portland jazz festival stir up the Northwest

In a 1954 radio interview, jazz saxophonist and bebop shaper Charlie Parker said that he wanted to play music that was “clean, precise, something that was beautiful, has a story to tell.” He insisted humbly that “my prime interest is in learning to play music. I never want to lose my horn.” Parker said that around the time he played Seattle’s Civic Auditorium, now McCaw Hall. That was one year before he died at 34 in New York City.

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, the five-year-old 90-minute opera playing at Seattle Opera’s McCaw Hall through March 7, is more about Parker’s life than about his music. A saxophone appears only in the second act—through the radio. (An alto flute and regular flute are part of the orchestration, primarily to represent birds.) The opera is symphonic, in European style, rather than written or improvised as jazz in the American idiom, but several jazz jewels glitter throughout, including bits of Parker’s “Ornithology” and some first-act scatting. There are moments of Stravinsky and Beethoven, whose music Parker admired. The tenor, Joshua Stewart, who sang Parker’s part on Feb. 22, stands in for Charlie Parker’s tunefully relentless tenor saxophone. Stewart alternated performances with Frederick Ballantine as Parker for the run of the show.

Seattle Opera staged the new opera 'Charlie Parker’s Yardbird.' Photo by Sunny Martini.
Tenor Joshua Stewart as Charlie Parker in Seattle Opera’s production of ‘Charlie Parker’s Yardbird.’ Photo by Sunny Martini.

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“Cosi fan Tutte” review: identity crisis

Seattle Opera's production reveals that Mozart's comic opera is about more than sex

by ANGELA ALLEN

In Seattle Opera’s production of Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte, the stage’s main prop, aside from an inviting pile of mattresses, is a tall mirror. Each character pauses in front of it at some time, checking out his or her current reflection, or identity. The mirror is a throwback symbol in this thoroughly contemporary production, but it says more than a selfie, which catches only a moment and can be edited ad infinitum.

Promoted by the company as “Mozart’s comedy about sex. Sort of,” this Cosi, which closes January 27,  is certainly sort of. In fact, this Jonathan Miller production, staged over and over since the 1995 Covent Garden debut that dressed the cast in Armani instead of period costumes and substituted bikers for Albanians, is about more than sex, bad manners and faithlessness. The opera is usually categorized as buffo, or comic, yet Miller argues in several interviews that a thin line separates comedy from tragedy. This piece is more complex than one running joke of mixed-up identities in the bumbling pursuit of love.

Hanna Hipp (Dorabella), Marjukka Tepponen (Fiordiligi), Kevin Burdette (Don Alfonso), Ben Bliss (Ferrando), and Michael Adams (Guglielmo) in Seattle Opera’s ‘Cosi fan Tutte.’ Photo: Philip Newton.

As that prominent mirror suggests, Cosi is more explicitly about identity rather than sex and lust, claims Miller, the distinguished 83-year-old British playwright/director/author/medical doctor. The more the characters switch roles, the more they try on different people (or clothes and makeup), the more they discover who they are, and the more they learn about about love and life. Cosi’s subtitle is the “School of Love,” after all.

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