Opera has not been generous in its portrayal of people of color, with few identifiably non-white leading roles in the classical repertoire. So when prominent tenor Lawrence Brownlee was offered the opportunity to play jazz legend Charlie Parker, he seized on it. The opera, ‘Yardbird,’ which opens Friday at Opera Philadelphia, offers a rare modern, black role in opera and brings the added challenge of incorporating jazz into the quintessentially European art form. ‘As an African American myself and as an artist who had done all my work playing characters who aren’t necessarily African American, I felt it’s part of my responsibility… to realistically portray him,’ Brownlee told AFP ahead of the world premiere. Parker’s life, with all its drama and tragedy, lends itself readily to opera. The saxophonist became one of jazz’s most influential artists, pioneering the fast-paced and improvisation-based genre of bebop, even though he lived only 34 years.

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