Bakari, Brown & Company Triumph In Indianapolis Opera’s ‘Yardbird’

March 22, 2024

Martin Bakari – Courtesy of Denis Ryan Kelly Jr. Used with permission.

It had all the elements of a superlative contemporary opera and the art form in general — superb vocals, exceptional acting, compelling music and libretto, and exemplary production values, including appealing costumes, lighting and projections. Making “Yardbird” even more striking was the setting in which it was presented —the historic Madame Walker Theatre.

Angela Brown – Courtesy of Denis Ryan Kelly Jr. Used with permission.

Presented by the Indianapolis Opera, “Yardbird,” composed by Daniel Schnyder with libretto by Bridgette B. Wimberly, follows the life of famed jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker.  The story takes place at Birdland, the NYC jazz club named after him. Essentially a ghost story, gifted composer Parker’s spirit encounters prominent figures from his past, including his mother Addie, three of his four wives, his best friend, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and another close friend Nica, his patron. Their visits reveal the profound grief each of them feel over his untimely death at the age of 34, from poor health, resulting primarily from drug and alcohol addiction. Also prominent in the story is a silent character signifying music who shadows him as Parker strives to compose a symphony which he hopes to leave as his legacy.

L-R Martin Bakari, Jorell Williams & Liz Culpepper. Courtesy of Denis Ryan Kelly Jr. Used with permission.

Skillfully directed by Dr. Jessica Burton, the production’s eight-piece Indianapolis Opera Orchestra was masterly led by Clinton Smith, who conducted three previous productions of “Yardbird.” The stellar cast included tenor Martin Bakari as Charlie Parker, Indiana’s own soprano Angela Brown as Addie, baritone Jorell Willaims as Dizzy Gillespie, soprano Ashley Fabian as Chan, soprano Victoria Korovljev as Doris, mezzo soprano Courtney Porter as Rebecca, mezzo soprano Liz Culpepper as Nica and Gavin Huges as Music.

With each singer turning out stellar vocal and dramatic performances, those of Barkari and Brown were particularly stunning for their musical virtuosity and the believability of their characterizations and chemistry as doting, long suffering mother and brilliant yet demon-plagued son.

L=R Jorell Williams & Martin Bakari – Courtesy of Denis Ryan Kelly Jr. Used with permission.

As mentioned previously, adding to the luster of the event was the venue in which the groundbreaking modern opera was presented. One could not escape both the irony and the significance of this tribute to the life of a genius Black music luminary such as Parker — a survivor of personal and institutional racism — held in what was once the center of Black life on Indiana Avenue, and nearby the former Sunset Club where he once appeared.

It all made for an evening of superlative artistry, coupled with feelings of sadness and regret over a life cut short by tragedy but inspirational for the contributions this incomparable music giant made to the jazz world.

For tickets and information about the Indianapolis Opera 2023-2024 season visit




photo: Josh Humble

About Tom

Journalist, producer, director, Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, arts administrator, TV contributor, actor, model, writer and lyricist, Tom Alvarez has had an extensive career in media and the fine arts and continues to be an enthusiastic and devoted fan of both. His passion and unique background grant him insight, access and perspective to cover, promote and review the arts in Indianapolis, Central Indiana and beyond. Follow him on social media @tomalvarezartswriter and @tomalvarez1.

Alvarez has been writing about theatre, dance, music, cinema and visual arts for 40 years. His work has appeared in the Indianapolis Star, NUVO, Indianapolis Monthly, Arts Indiana, Unite Magazine, Dance Magazine, NOTE Magazine, and, among many other print and online platforms. A former contributor to Across Indiana on WFYI-TV, he currently has a regular performing arts segment on WISH-TV’s Life. Style. Live!

A principal of Klein & Alvarez Productions, LLC, Alvarez co-created “Calder, The Musical” and is the managing director of Magic Thread Cabaret. As an actor-model, he has appeared in numerous TV and print ads and is represented by the Helen Wells Agency and Heyman Talent Artists Agency.

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